“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.