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Category: Reflections 11 May 14

 

“In this country of just 1.3 million people, there have been 160 murders so far this year. The islands have some of the world’s prettiest beaches and some of the highest murder rates. Most are barely reported. Anyone who knows why Ms Seetahal was killed is not talking. She had been due in court on May 5, where she was a leading member of the prosecution team in a high-profile murder-and-kidnapping case. Ms Seetahal was a fierce campaigner for criminal justice reform, urgently needed in T&T. Creaky ex-colonial judicial systems cannot cope with a flood of drug- and gang-related crime, complex fraud and money-laundering. Routine criminal cases can take ten years to reach a verdict. For the slightest of reasons, hearings may be adjourned for six months or more; and then postponed again. Suspects languish in overcrowded prisons, innocent until proven guilty. Witnesses are intimidated, change their mind about testifying or simply forget what happened. Some are shot, some migrate, some die from natural causes.”

—The Economist, May 6

I have not seen a nation heaving with a grief as big as this since 1990 when our people had a collective breakdown from which we have never recovered. After 1990, nothing was the same. The guns scattered from “hit” to “hit,” some higher profile than others. We can fill an entire issue of this newspaper, if we desire, with the names of the dead since 1990—and that may not be enough. It’s time we remember some key ones.

1994: Dr Chandra Narayansingh shot dead while getting into her car outside the Langmore Health Foundation at Palmyra on June 29. People still speak of her beauty. But it was her brain that people wanted. Her hit man was identified; but although the trial dragged on and on, the people ordering the hit were not. That page is blank. We forget.

1995: Selwyn Richardson, former attorney general under the Robinson government. He was held hostage, shot and beaten at the Red House during the attempted coup. Five years later, unknown assailants assassinated him as he was entering his driveway in Cascade. He was 59. Around his death rolled dark swirls of rumours that linked him to the drug trade. It emerged that Richardson, known as “Mr Fix It” because of his intolerance with corrupt practices and impatience with bureaucracy, died with less than $23,000 in his account. His assassins were assassinated. The page is blank. We forget.

2005: The gruesome beheading of Dr Edward Khoury, a nephew of former minister John Rahael. Who can forget Dr Khoury’s severed head splattered across the newspapers? It was the worst in a spate of kidnappings that almost made us buckle with the exodus of the business and professional middle class. That was linked to a $700,000 Monos Island bust. That page is blank. We forget.

May 3, 2014: Dana Seetahal. Dana Seetahal of the strut, of the lively eyes, every journalist’s encyclopaedia (I automatically called her over points of law). Dana the fearless, who represented (lest we forget) former police commissioner Dwayne Gibbs—who was unjustly pilloried and flayed to bits to allay public anguish over crime. (Yes, that’s the best response.) Dana the just, in her last column, questioning, questioning, questioning; demanding answers: the conflict of interest faced by attorneys; “blatant advertisement” of attorneys involved in prison litigation; “unethical business ventures engaged in by attorneys-at-law,” about “key office holders” taking action to support the unethical business for financial gain.

Dana, of the cracking mind, of the red-alert, switched-on critical thinking, who wasn’t afraid to offend me when it came to the law. The law wasn’t about being “friend friend.” It was about saying it as it is. Dana whom I saw in the gym just two months ago, who gave me her girlish mischievous gaptoothed smile, and tried to run through her injury, always looking slightly amused, as if listening to her inner monologue while talking to me.

Dana, whose number I dialled after hearing of her assassination, just to hear her voice again, before realising her phone was probably in police custody. Dana of the licensed firearm, who refused security after death threats from the Jamaat al Muslimeen, who was damned if she was going to be a coward. Dana the independent, strong, self-contained, private, yet very public woman, with a stiff drink in her hand and a cigarette, destressing at the Ma Pau Casino in Woodbrook. Dana, who, even as her assassins rained bullets on her, died fighting, with every faculty intact, reaching for her firearm, her foot firmly on her brake (no cowardly panic attack here).

I have to say the cries and gnashing of teeth of citizens at the skies (afraid to step out to put out the garbage after eight), feel as empty as the blank white page ahead of me in this computer, because we all know nothing will happen. The more people in power talk, the less they do. I’m sorry, Dana: we can’t promise you justice, but those of us in public life can promise to redouble our fearlessness in your memory. Because, as you knew, living a coward’s life is no life at all.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur