first time I got a taste of Caroni (1975) Ltd, I was a student, home for
the holidays, avid to see a Trinidad about which I knew nothing.
parents had moved here from Tobago while I was in the middle of studying
journalism in England. And before that, there was India. With the naÔve
enthusiasm of a rookie, I fired impatient questions, who, what, where,
when, why about this place to my busy father. I wanted to see the cane
fields, the sugar cane arrows described by VS Naipaul, Sam Selvon and
for some peace, my father called the Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday
(presumably because he was more accessible than the prime minister)
practically pleading with him to show his daughter around. Basdeo Panday
referred my father to the ideal person who would pick me up the next day.
person turned out to be an incredibly animated, energetic woman called
Hulsie Bhaggan with fire in her voice and the idealism of the hopeful and
ambitious. In her well-used pick-up vehicle it seems like we bumped
through every inch of Central Trinidad for hours or perhaps it was over
several days ó to Carapichima, where semi-literate women were forming
cooperatives, to Brechin Castle, past cane fields where I insisted on
having a photo taken, to see a friend of hers who turned out to be Ramesh
Lawrence Maharaj, to a meeting where Caroni workers were jeering at Joe
Pires and Winston Dookeran who were trying to save the workers from the
fate they face today.
much later, of course, I met the (late) brilliant economist Frank
Rampersad, chairman of Caroni and his wife who told me about the threats
he got when he put out his plan for Caroni (1975) Ltd. I saw her recently
and she said: ďFrank was trying to make the farmers diversify, become
self-sufficient, but they thought he betrayed them. Iím glad heís not
around to see this.Ē
a jaded journalist today considering the fate of Caroniís 7,800 sugar
workers, 4,000 administrative, citrus, rice, beef production, dairy and
distillery workers, 6,000 farmers who supply cane to the company, and the
simple calculation that if each of them were bread-winners of a family,
some 64,000 people will be affected, I canít help feeling sad for this
community of descendants of indentured labourers, for a simple,
tight-knit, relatively poor agrarian community still tied to the land.
here are the jaded facts.
market price of sugar at present is $US239 per tonne. We produce it at
about $US679 per tonne. At the end of 2007 the European Union, which buys
our sugar will no longer be able to offer us quotas and we will be
competing in the world market.
outstanding loans and government subventions, Caroni gobbles some $400
million per annum from our coffers. That, divided by the number of
employees and cane farmers, works out to about $25,000 per person per
company sits on 70,000 acres of land and pumps a huge amount of pesticides
and fertilizers into our eco-system.
is almost impossible to make a strong case for Caroni as an independent
sugar producer. In its existing state Caroni is simply not viable.
best person to have created a bridge between old, rural India and modern
Trinidad would have been Basdeo Panday when he was Prime Minister, because
nobody understands the sugar workers like he does, but he couldnít be
bothered because they loved him in their simple, blind way, anyhow. He
didnít have to work for their votes. Not much different from all PNM
leaders, from the eminent Eric Williams to the fortunate Patrick Manning,
who have barely glanced at Morvant, Laventille, knowing their people are
behind them any which way ó but mostly, like the sugar workers, poor and
do we preserve this community?
Frank Rampersad plan for Caroni was based on a VSEP package for all
workers that included an option to lease Caroni lands at market prices
strictly for agricultural purposes. This, if implemented, will ensure
employment for workers directly involved in planting cane, and their
dependents. The farmers could choose to plant whatever they want ó
either for local consumption or export.
advice (not funds) can be given to the trained transport and machine shop
workers using their VSEP to start small businesses in transportation and
can set out land leases for companies who wish to lease agricultural land
to produce crops for export.
factory can be used strictly for refining sugar from the farmers, and one
would assume that at the existing price they pay the farmers (US$170) per
tonne, there may be scope to compete with world prices.
lands designated as non-productive lands may be developed for housing or
other purposes, or light industry. The management of this should be put
out to tender rather than be handled by Government or quasi government
organisations such as the National Housing Authority or the old Industrial
Development Corporation both of which have appalling implementation
werenít these plans implemented?
Clearly, no PNM government was going to lay itself open to the charge of
giving land to the non-PNM supporters.
from the Opposition at the time, there was the fear that the PNM would use
the lands made available for housing to create political strongholds.
political bogeymen still exist, but can be banished by kicking the
squatter regularisation in the East-West Corridor into high gear and
ensuring systems are put in place so artificial voting pools arenít
entire community is at stake here. With a little imagination, and with a
lot of management, the world so carefully constructed and preserved these
157 years can survive, mutate and mesh into this country of ours. Because
no amount of VSEP can give a man a sense of self. Only communities and
jobs can do that.
alternatives of alcoholism, worthlessness, rage and dereliction are
breeding grounds of crime and poverty reporting rather than great