Hope in a grieving land

 

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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 15 May 05

 

It was an evening that promised escape. The setting was a Movie Towne charity premiere of The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman.

 

Threading my way through the crush of people drinking wine from plastic glasses before the film, I encountered a prominent attorney. After some pleasantries exchanged amidst the rumble of hundreds of human voices, he said abruptly: “This is the lowest I’ve seen this country since I came home in the 60s to practise law here.”

 

He didn’t have to say the other bit, although he did. I know, as you do, that we are all being held ransom by a criminal underworld.

 

The jurors who surprised a judge by freeing the kidnapper of a teenaged girl in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing to his guilt, to the thousands of people who refuse jury service on some pretext or another, fearing for their lives, are holding up their tied hands.

 

We use the term “breakdown in law and order” so glibly it’s begun to lose its meaning. We expect it in the criminals who haven’t been educated or given opportunities by the State, but not in the majority of our citizenry. Now this thing we call justice is in tatters.

 

People providing jury service are either frightened of reprisals, blinded by voting propaganda, or belong to the 50 per cent of people in this country who are functionally illiterate.

 

And reality, as menacing as a hooded executioner crept into that crowded theatre.

 

In the film, a bus blows up in the middle of New York, a television reporter looking into the camera calls it a scene out of the Middle East.

 

The scene dragged my mind out of the cinema to the reality of a young policeman who was shot and burnt to death last week by a grenade thrown at him during a shoot-out with bandits.

 

The television report here called it “a scene out of Hollywood.”

 

I couldn’t walk out of that film about anarchy in a fictitious country with a sense of relief that what I had witnessed in that darkened cinema was play acting, because just outside here, on an inoffensive bench, alongside a strip of bright shops, there was a drive-by execution.

 

I thought about what the prominent attorney said, “a man who has lived here as an adult for 50 years saying this is the worst I’ve seen this country.”

 

I thought again of the policeman blown up by the grenade—they are throwing grenades now? The daily “executions,” sometimes five in one weekend, the unending horror of kidnappings in which the story is always the same, of sudden snatchings, of phone calls, of families gathering, nerves ripped and weighed with stones of fear, panic, uncertainty and no matter what the outcome, an essential belief in our country and people is corroded forever.

 

I recalled while outside the cinema, another conversation just before the film when a colleague said: “The State doesn’t realise it’s dealing with a grieving country. People are grieving for their brutally murdered dead and their snatched and their disappeared.”

 

In the days of the rule of monarchs we could have taken a petition to our king or queen.

 

Today, you and I look for leadership and see a dog fight between Machiavellian creatures of two parties of Government and Opposition. They are fighting, buzzing around the treasury honey pot and don’t hear or see us. The one bright spark in all this is Works Minister Franklin Khan’s resignation, unprecedented in our politics. His resignation acknowledges that people in power are accountable to the people, that some breach against public funds needs to be cleared.

 

Thank you. Thank you. For that spark of hope. Whether you are culpable of pushing your hand in the cookie jar. Even as investigations proceed, your immediate colleague Eric Williams is looking at us bold faced (as he’s seen others doing before and now in the Cabinet) as if to say, “Move me nah.”

 

And that’s the anarchy we see around us today with no recourse anywhere, not in politics, not in the courts.

 

Now do you believe the attorney who said we’ve never had it so bad?

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur