Betrayed in our own land

 

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Category: International Date: 11 Sep 05

 

“I’ve seen the desperation in the eyes of people just before their own death, or death of a loved one. I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see in the US.”

(NBC reporter Brian Williams, covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina)

 

“Our country is in such a desperate state. On the government side we are faced with cynical and reckless expenditure, with one eye on the next general election... on self-preservation at any cost.

 

“On the opposition side, we have confusion and selfishness, with much more ambition than ideas.”

(Dr Kirk Meighoo, political analyst, member of the Committee for Transformation and Change in Trinidad)

 

Desperation here and there. There across four American states, the size of England, the desperation is of biblical proportions.

 

Ten thousand people feared dead. The ones that died, orphaned, lost children, lost everything, were mostly the poor, disabled, illiterate, elderly, the isolated, and mostly black.

 

Broadcasters red with shame incredulously wondered how scenes associated with the Third World, of nameless corpses gnawed on by rats, of a city submerged in diseased flood waters with garbage, oil and putrefying bodies floating in the stagnant pools, of stranded starving people deprived of clean water, food or medical care, could happen in America.

 

The mainstream mainly white media reported on the stranded, hundreds of orphans, on the million displaced people on 160,000 flooded homes. They then removed themselves, began calling their own people “refugees.”

 

The world caught on then, as did America. Reuters reported that “the gaping racial divide” in the United States was laid bare by Hurricane Katrina.

 

In New Orleans, a city that was more than two-thirds black, more than 30 per cent of the population lived below the poverty level.

 

The tragedy, said Illinois Senator Barack Obama, showed “how little inner-city African Americans have to fall back on. They could not load up their families in a van, fill it up with $100 of gasoline, throw some bottled water in the back and check into a hotel with a credit card.”

 

The epic disaster put a giant microscope on America’s legacy of slavery, of decades of discrimination “reflected,” as Reuters put it, “in a thousand different ways.”

 

“Black life expectancy at birth is shorter than whites’. Infant mortality for blacks is more than double the white rate. One in four black men is permanently unemployed, a rate double that of white men.

 

“One in three black men spends time in a jail.”

 

The list is endless.

 

So they died. Or lost everything. Without dignity. The Statue of Liberty ought to hang its head. America failed its poor, wretched refuse, brought there against their will.

 

We are not surprised. It’s the American legacy.

 

Cut to Trinidad. See the blood-strewn corpses. We are second after Jamaica in a non-warring country for murder rates. See the kidnap victims. See the fearful population.

 

See the 450,000 people living below the poverty line: in Curepe, in Laventille, in the Beetham, in Couva with no home, no car, no savings, no education.

 

See them brainwashed into dependency, bribed with easy cash into voting for a government that prefers to import skilled labour, carpenters, electricians, rather than train their own people who sit about in the midday sun waiting for their ten-day dollars.

 

See them forgotten on sugar estates.

 

See our functionally illiterate, all 600,000 of them, who can barely read newspaper headlines. See what they’ve become: full-time criminals.

 

Shooting dead innocent children in panyards; shooting one another dead; fighting over drugs.

 

Our sick are left to languish. Our school children can’t read or write. Our professionals are dwindling.

 

See us, despite our oil, freefalling on the UN developmental index based on health and education; 20 countries below Barbados that has neither oil nor gas, but has university graduates and solid health care.

 

We, too, have a legacy of 43 years of independence, self-rule. We expected betrayal of that proportion in Bush’s land, not by our own hand, by our own people.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur