AS published in this newspaper on August 12, the Prime Minister was reported protesting against notion of this country arriving at “failed state” status. He was responding to questions posed to him by listeners on radio station i95.5fm, where he was a guest on a programme hosted by one of his political opponents, David Abdulah, leader of the Movement for Social Justice.
He took issue, in the process, with a front-page editorial in the Guardian the previous Sunday, which called attention to the state of affairs in the country. It was a spectacular, significant point of departure from the Guardian, in which the newspaper used the entire front page of its Sunday edition in its attempt to highlight the dramatic turn of events in T&T. Just days before that, on July 25, we had hit the 300 mark for murders. We had had a dramatic week, in which there were 24 murders during those seven days. There were two, three and four a day, on a stretch.
The Prime Minister was asking for balance, from his perspective. “When cocaine was coming into this country by the truckloads to enrich people and to bring arms and ammunition and this indelible stain was put on our country, I did not see anybody getting up and saying that we are moving to failed state condition,” he said. It probably qualifies as a candidate for nit-picking were one to argue against the measurement of the cocaine shipments as being “by the truckloads.” He was seeking to make a point, it could be held, and it might be pedantic and academic to hold him to exactitudes.
But to say that we have not “been there before” on this prickly “failed state” descriptor of our country is something else again. Very simply, the Prime Minister is not correct.
Dr Bhoe Tewarie, then the principal of the St Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies, remembers being himself involved in such arguments. He gives 2005 as a date and a time when there was similar talk. He himself had been engaged in such public contemplation. He called other names. These included journalist Anthony Wilson, and Anthony Bryan, Florida-based Trinidadian professor emeritus, Fellow at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
At this prompting, a search of the newspaper files for the first six months of 2005 has turned up nothing thus far. The search continues, but richly revealing, was the sense of high anxiety over the very crime noose in which the country’s neck has been placed ever since.
Going backwards a bit from the relevant trawling, a “Gutsy granny” was hailed as having wrestled a gunman to the ground in a successful effort to save her grandson. This was in La Brea. Columnist Leela Ramdeen wrote an argument on June 26 favouring “Getting rid of small arms.” One front page headline on June 26, highlighted a decision on which 14 police officers were detailed to probe murders from Chaguaramas to Toco. Two weeks earlier, on June 12, someone was reported saying that “Laventille mentality” was behind what was said then to be “Diego gang wars.”
The late Martin Joseph was minister of national security at that time. In the earlier part of the year, there was one front page editorial which told him “You have failed.”
Enticingly also, the current Prime Minister was the minister of housing at that time, and he took a matter to the Parliament concerning the establishment of the Housing Development Corporation from what had been the National Housing Authority. He was reported saying that the move held the “solution to the country’s housing woes.” In September 2019, make of that what you will.
Similarly, as minister of trade and industry, the late Ken Valley, was the point person for our national ambitions for hosting a hemispheric organisation designed as the Free Trade Area of the Americas. It was part of the reason why we were tasked with hosting two international summits which took place in 2009. But four years before that, Valley had launched a secretariat for the enthronement of Spanish as the country’s first foreign language. By such projections, as many of us as were of that persuasion would have become fluently bilingual by 2020. Incidentally, that was the year by which, originally, we should have arrived at Developed Country Status.
“Joseph seeks help from FBI, DEA,” a headline roared on June 9, 2005.
Two days prior, we were assured in another headline that “government declares war on crime.” There was a comprehensive plan outlined in Parliament for restricting bail for a number of offences. The government announced it was serving “notice to criminals.” Stories ran over three pages in that day’s paper.
And just to think of it, three months or so earlier that year, there was this number printed in bold on the front page: “201”. That was the murder toll to that point. It was a sign that this was not normal. That was then.