Deadly Machine


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 01 Dec 03

Like grotesque parts of a deadly machine, conversations assembled – slotted neatly into one another to create  – not a weapon of mass destruction exactly - but a dangerous virus that makes human beings self destruct.


The first conversation takes place at the John F Kennedy airport in New York at the BWIA counter. Two men returning to Trinidad talk enthusiastically about where they were last night. The man with the broad friendly face says sheepishly. “I was at the Parrot. In fact the night before I missed my flight because I was liming.” I look incredulous. “There’s a Parrot here in New York??” He grins widely “As in the Pub in Trinidad?” “Yeah,” he replies “not as good as our own Parrot of course.”


I marvel. Here we are in a city where you can hear Toni Morrison or Arthur Miller or Derek Walcott speak in person, take in a range of theatre from classical to fringe, pop into one of the hundreds of art galleries, see Picasso on a whim, get a crash course in film, curl up in book shops and take your pick of any music. So much of it doesn’t cost more than a drink or two and this Trini looks thrilled at the memory of a copycat Parrot Pub in New York. Admirable. Now that’s a Trini. But an uncomfortable thought sneaks up on me. Does this kind of patriotism involve shutting ones eyes from the world? Does this paranoia about “the white man” make us ethnocentric, keep us from engaging with the worlds, shut out treasures that should be shared?


Is this fear of the foreign white, black, yellow, cream, brown man and woman about being a bit scared, and somewhat narrow? And is this mentality part of what keeps us back?


Conversation two. At the BWIA desk the man checking us in looks unhappy. “Any news of Trinidad? I ask . The man checking us in loses it, fails to answer me.  “Don’t TALK about the kidnapping.. Its scary. I worry constantly about my family. Especially those who run businesses. I keep expecting a horrible phone call”. He adds, lowering his voice to our relief: “Did you know that every single day for the past year at least 15 deportees – the worst kind of criminals former murderers, bandits, are put on BWIA flights? They cuff their feet to the chairs until they arrive in Piarco. Then they’re free. Its part of New York’s drive to get rid of its criminals.” He adds unhappily. “I hate this place. Its cold. Its different, and above all its not home.” I say “So go home”. He replies “Its not an option. I cant live like a prisoner.” Then he brightens up “But I hear there are some really nice places in Florida – maybe I’ll go there.”


Multiply 15 by say 300 and that’s the number of returning criminals we’ve had in the last year. Four thousand five hundred deportees.


Conversation three: Back at home. A businessman, the parents of a kidnapped and released child and a political scientist are on the same table at dinner. The victims of kidnapping say they made all arrangements to move abroad, that they sent their children abroad, but are going to give this place one last chance. The businessman tackles the political scientist as if he were a master fencer. “So, are you going to tell me why you journalists and thinkers are not writing about the all powerful state that is failing to protect the business sector from the FTAA competition that could wipe us out in 2005 when all barriers are removed?” The political scientist doesn’t reply. The businessman is relentless and finishes with “Can you tell us why you are all quiet about Patrick Mugabwe Manning?” Stunned silence around the table. I think of Caroni, of Pigeon Point, of CEPEP. Of the mass creation of dependency instead of entrepreneurship. The businessman pauses and attacks again “ I helped get Panday out because he was corrupt and put Patrick Manning where he is now but why has he surrounded himself with incompetent ‘yes men’? He doesn’t understand business. He’s killing business.”


The political scientist mumbles something about “social disorder” makes his excuses and makes as if to leave the table. Not before this fencer gets in another salvo “Tell Patrick he needs to deal with the economy first and when that’s up and running he can deal with the social disorder.”


Conversation four: A jeweler, wearing glasses expertly peering at a broken trinket:

“I am fixing up my papers for Canada. I don’t want to live there but am taking in front as they say. Just in case. My insurance agent told me that this year he lost 15 clients because they are jittery about staying here. He tells me agents are losing clients at the same pace. That means hundreds of people are leaving.”


I said,  “we need to clean up the crime” He said “That wont happen without constitutional reform. Nobody has the power to fire or discipline the police force. Or any public servant. The government will go deeper into debt. People will become more dependent. Oil prices are falling. And I as a businessman, am preparing for the inevitable when that happens. Devaluation. I am preparing to leave”


The conversations clank together. I see the machine destroying us. In the past year since 4000 criminals, deportees, ex-convicts (call em what you like) from New York alone have had their cuffs removed and walked out as free men into our streets They have not been rehabilitated. They are experienced in rape, murder, robberies, kidnapping.


And perhaps a thousand people – professionals, graduates, businessmen, have left or are preparing to leave. As crime rises, business falls. Look at how far we’ve come. These days we either meander through some tired suburb of New York safely looking for a mimic Parrot or shudder our way through posh St Claire thinking this was the scene of trauma. This machine is destroying us. We can’t see it but we better believe it.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur