Tony Deyal, Contributor
Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is definitely a state that is always in a state. The latest state is one of emergency, which was initially stated to be 'limited' but seeing that the proclamation stated that it covered the entire state, a correction was made that stated that the status is as was stated in the proclamation but the curfews were limited to several crime 'hot spots' or states within the state.
For the record, let me state the facts. A state of public emergency exists in Trinidad and Tobago. The prime minister declared on Sunday, August 21, that it would be declared by the president (to whom she had not spoken as yet), who then duly declared it the next day. The proclamation by the president states, "I am satisfied that action has been taken or is immediately threatened by persons or bodies of persons of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety."
'Bodies of persons' is the operative phrase, there being hundreds of them - almost two a day - on an extremely extensive scale throughout the country. Since these are promptly despatched to the forensic centre, mortuaries and funeral homes, they do not endanger public safety except when the many funerals create traffic hazards. The endangerment of public safety is an issue, but one is not sure for whom that particular bell tolls.
The Trinidad prime minister adamantly declared when she addressed the state, "The nation will not be held to ransom by marau-ding gangs of thugs bent on creating havoc on our society." Of course, being Trinidad, the first comment that came out was, "Who she talking about? The Cabinet?"
One could say that the comment reflects the cynicism of Trinida-dians who will now once again hold 'curfew' parties as they did during the Musilmeen mess of 1990. While the army was shelling the national television station, and the prime minister and other representatives of the people were held at gunpoint in Parliament, many people found a way around the 'dusk-to-dawn' curfews that were in effect. At the appointed hour, these people left the streets and spent the night in selected locations where they feted or partied until the next morning when the curfew was lifted.
Having thus disposed of the "bodies of persons" referred to by the president, perhaps we should explore who are the persons endangering public safety to the extent that a state of emergency is the only response. A joke that came out of the previous emergency period is instructive. The scene is an area called the 'Croisee' (pronounced 'Qwayzay') on the Eastern Main Road which links Port-of-Spain to the heavily populated northern towns and cities in a conurbation that stretches to the eastern Borough of Arima. With 10 minutes to go before the curfew took effect, a few people were just sitting doing what Trinis do best, regardless of the state of the country. They were lyming, taking a last breath of freedom before being confined to their homes, a place they normally use only to eat, sleep and watch cable television. At the same time, the police had already started coming out with their heavy artillery and were preparing to chase everyone off the streets or shoot, threaten or take bribes from those who were still there.
From the far west they all heard the whine of a powerful vehicle coming at high speed towards them. As the sound of the approaching vehicle became louder, the police got increasingly agitated and were already clicking the safety off the machine guns. Then they saw a red car heading towards them at about 90 miles an hour. Its lone occupant was in a hurry. As the car came close, the police opened fire and a barrage of bullets hit the car from all angles. Tyres burst, the windshield shattered and the car skidded off the street, hit a concrete barrier, then a lamp post and the smoking wreck ended up right in front of the police station.
The people, initially scared, were now angry. "It's not curfew time yet. You had no right to shoot the man," they protested. A policeman, searching the wreckage, took out a driver's permit and showed it to the crowd, "The man living quite in Arima. He wouldn't have reached." It is this sense of discomfort that affects even those who most support the need for the state of emergency.
In some way, the concern is really about the state of the state. As one commentator said, Trinidad is supposed to be a democracy but it is really an ad-hocracy. The police commissioner and assistant commissioner were out of the country when the prime minister declared her intentions. The functionary who signed the curfew order as 'acting commissioner' was not duly appointed at the time when he did it so, the order was illegal. Then he was hastily appointed. People were stranded awaiting transport which never showed up possibly because of what would happen if they were caught on the roads after the curfew took effect. The Police Service Commission added fuel to the fire by threatening action against the commissioner and assistant commissioner for being AWOL. The Opposition claims that the measure was hasty and ill-judged.
There is a map circulating which points out that there is no curfew in areas on the coast at which the majority of illegal weapons are landed. Yet, most people are willing to give the government a chance since the state of emergency amounts to a temporary stay of executions and the murder rate might come back to a healthier figure, one-a-day, like the vitamin brand.
The problem, though, is the police. The way they reduce the crime statistics is to shoot someone and say that person or another murdered 'criminal' was guilty of any number of killings, kidnappings and armed robberies. They always know after the fact. A man who had painted a primary school all day and took a rest on a bench before leaving for his home claimed that at 8:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the curfew went into effect, a policeman "flick out he steel baton and start to beat me all over my body. He said, 'We in charge now'." Essentially, there are marauding gangs of thugs in T&T but stopping them is not the problem. The question is, how do you identify which is which?
Tony Deyal was last seen explaining that the T&T prime minister did not flee to the Philippines and declare the state of emergency from there. Her home is in a rural area of Trinidad named 'Philippine', where the curfew is not in effect.