Like any reporter trading on "reliable" sources, I ended up so misinformed as to write here last week that President Hugo Chavez once took a neighbourly backdoor route into Port of Spain from Caracas. To attend the Americas Summit, he flew over the Gulf of Paria, landed at the Chaguaramas helipad, and drove to Kapok Hotel.
The late president had arrived "shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday", my source, the Trinidad and Tobago News Blog, reported on April 18, 2009. Today, I put it down to "narrative fulfillment", the tendency of the blogger and the reporter to favour a version of reality that fitted the story we wanted to believe.
Hemispheric heads were being ceremonially greeted at Piarco. Chavez, however, so daring to be different, and to represent himself as "one of us", would show up like a regular visitor.
That "narrative fulfillment" bubble burst last Sunday with a call from the Spanish-speaking T&T Cabinet Minister who had officially received President Chavez at Piarco. The short hop over from Cumana to Chaguaramas, and the show-stopping Western Main Road motorcade, were finally exposed as stuff of a four-year urban legend.
Stick around long enough and, with luck, various fanciful falsehoods, upon being authoritatively denounced, will confirm T&T's continuing information crisis. Not knowing supportable facts, people, from National Security Minister Jack Warner on down, believe what they want to believe.
Mr Warner rejected reports that a throw-back "Flying Squad" had been operating in the shadows of legality and semi-official sanction. He proved eager, however, to credit reports of a shadowy meeting in Maracas, St Joseph—even reading out to Parliament from the roll-call of attending subversives.
Some meeting took place, it appears, but the attendance register relied on by Mr Warner's moles has been denounced by three people who claimed they should have been marked absent. The minister is destined to go through public life as a man who is trusted half the time, without anyone knowing which half.
It is "narrative fulfillment" that bedevils T&T, as the national security-related stories get ever more lurid, and the country gets listed among the top ten places for tourists to avoid. To hear it from Laventille East MP Donna Cox, phones of both opposition and government people are being tapped, presumably on behalf of some darkest directorate. Or so she derives "narrative fulfillment".
As the 2013 murder count climbs into the nineties, women and men sound like people losing their reason. Soldiers don't have unions, nor even, as in the US, their own newspaper in the Stars and Stripes. In T&T, however, associations representing police officers and prisons officers are outrightly opposing or questioning legislative or administrative policy of the elected administration.
In this dirty war on crime, being waged over more than a decade, the success stories keep being told on behalf of the criminal enemy. Police research figures, reported at a UWI conference last week, suggest that the killers of 1,951 people are walking free, and fearless of capture, and likely killing again.
"The detection rate is way below any standard and the police must take full responsibility for that deficiency," said the Law Association last week. To such plain talk, Police Social and Welfare Association president Anand Ramesar responds that the police are "scapegoated" for the level of crime. Acting Commissioner Stephen Williams abstractly defines crime a "social phenomenon".
While the horizon of "social change" (more responsible parents and neighbours; more effective schooling) keeps receding, crime that takes lives and degrades the quality of other life simply continues. To the police everyone inevitably looks. And some officers look at their organisation.
In December 2009, the Police Service was short by 1,400, of its sanctioned strength of 7,000. A Joint Select Committee heard from top officers that, on any given day, only 3,000 officers are on active duty. For two years after that, under Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs, the managerial emphasis was on making smarter use of the available officers.
Jack Warner's arrival at National Security marked a cancellation of such "Canadian" approaches, and a revival of the superstitious T&T belief in overwhelming force and raw numbers. He called for 5,000 more SRPs and, now, for some soldiers to be legally born again as police.
"All hands on deck," said MP Herbert Volney, voicing the consensus urging to boost police capacity by any means necessary. Soldiers, coast guards and air guards look invitingly like policing brains and muscle in reserve.
"The Police Service as we know it is not up to the task," John Jeremie, Attorney General, had said in 2005. Elements of his legislative "package" targeting crime are once again being advanced. When the police last October created a Criminal Gang Intelligence Unit, it was safe to conclude that neither the 2011 anti-gang legislation nor the 2004-2010 specialised focus by SAUTT had much troubled the gangster underworld.
On Old Year's Day 2008, when the annual murder count had reached 545, the commissioner like today was "acting" the part. Deputy Commissioner Gilbert Reyes, facing retirement, encouraged no resort to "narrative fulfillment".
"With all the police activity," he said, "we didn't get the results that we wanted."
It's the story of their lives, and ours.