When one places Ferdie Ferreira’s alleged “unquestionable facts” in perspective and provides more comprehensive and relevant details, these so-called facts are seen to be a misleading, distorted and tendentious narrative on Indo-Trinidadians.

1. The gratuitous reference to the infestation of hookworms among Indo-Trinidadians was obviously meant to be contemptuous and demeaning. The PNM ministers also said Indo-Trinidadians had hookworms in their brains which produced high levels of illiteracy and muddled thinking, and caused them to indulge in backward and reactionary politics in opposing the enlightened and progressive PNM. Thus, the PNM’s agenda to eradi­cate hookworms was apparently a project of political cleansing of Indo-Trinidadians’ minds as much as it was to improve their physical health.

2. According to Ferdie, it appears the PNM Government extended the highway from Chaguanas to Golconda exclusively for my benefit as well as that of other Indo-­Trinidadians. I may remind him that Indo-Trinidadians who live in the South also pay taxes. Moreover, tens of thousands of Afro-Trinidadians also live in the South. Thousands of Afro-Trinidadians leave the North to come to the South via the highway for work, business or product sales.

3. In 1974-75, the sugar union led by Basdeo Panday pressed their claim for an increase in the depressingly low wages of sugar workers when world sugar prices rose to a fortuitous and all-time high. At that time, the majority of sugar workers in the field were receiving $5 per day for back-breaking work, the lowest among unionised workers in the country, thanks to the erstwhile representation of PNM ally Bhadase Sagan Maraj.

A 100-per cent increase would bring them to the princely figure of $10 per day, which was a fraction of what workers were paid by the government to those engaged in URP and other ­make-work ­programmes for doing little or nothing. Ferdie should compare sugar workers’ wages to those of dock workers for limited effort.

4. It was the PNM government which summarily closed Caroni (1975) Ltd in 2003 and sent over 8,000 primarily Indo-Trinidadian sugar workers and their families on the breadline.

The promise to the workers of a 30-year lease on two acres of agricultural land was a sweetener to hasten their separation. However, the PNM government never intended to keep its promise. Five years later, in 2008, hardly any distribution had taken place and the workers were forced to take the government to court.

Justice Deyalsingh ruled the government should honour its promise in the separation agreement and forthwith embark on a full-scale distribution. Would you believe the PNM government under Patrick Manning actually appealed this decision, and the matter remained in abeyance until the administration changed in 2010?

In the years after closure, many retrenched sugar workers and their families, now without a regular income, small as it was, became destitute. Some turned to drinking, while others sought the charity of extended family and friends. Still others earnestly looked for casual and unpredictable employment, while some turned to the hazardous occupation of “PH” driving.

The 30-year lease of two acres was hardly a favour to dismissed sugar workers for a number of reasons: (a) Their mindset were those of employees reliant on wages. They were not potential farmers. (b) The government provided little by way of infrastructure. (c) There was no access to water for irrigation. (d) There was no soil survey to determine the type of crops best suited for cultivation. (e) There was little advice on crop cultivation, availability of finance or markets.

Consequently, the vast majority of distributed plots today lie idle and constitute an obscene waste of resources. The closure sought to destroy part of the base of opposition support and thus weaken Basdeo Panday politically.

Incidentally, Caroni (1975) Ltd’s lands earmarked for distribution to dismissed sugar workers comprised 15,000-16,000 acres. However, Caroni (1975) Ltd’s total acreage was about 77,000 acres inclusive of its fixtures, buildings and road infrastructure. Nevertheless, possibly more than 55,000 acres were available for distribution to PNM cronies, friends, financiers and supporters.

5. Caroni (1975) Ltd was not the only State enterprise to incur large losses and have its debt written off. Scores of other State enterprises and utilities were in a similar position, where billions in accumulated debt were absorbed by the Treasury. In Caroni’s case, the production of sugar became unviable due to low international sugar prices, erosion of preferences, operational inefficiencies and refusal to restructure the industry. However, the situation was greatly compounded by the level of PNM government patronage and the corrupt, arbitrary and profligate practices of PNM agents employed to manage the company.

Trevor Sudama

via e-mail

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