While a legislative agenda will, in due course, be hammered out within the limits of political interests, meaningful representation requires that the People’s National Movement step forward now and not merely collaborate with the Government but assume the leadership for bringing peace to the war zone of East Port of Spain.
Of course the Government has the national responsibility and resources to tackle the job. But to pretend that the Persad-Bissessar government is equipped to deal with this problem is to accept that blood must keep flowing. Nothing in the record of the People’s Partnership Government would suggest that it can speak to, or for the people of East Port of Spain- which is why its responses have veered from throwing money at the problem to declaring a state of emergency- and when all else fails, to a helpless collapse into tears.
In meeting this week, Dr Rowley and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar should admit that the Government is not just seeking the PNM’s support for its crime-fighting strategies, but its help in solving a problem for which the PNM has political, constitutional and moral responsibility.
What POS East needs is leadership with the authority to persuade, dissuade, mobilise and organise on the ground.
This cluster of communities is drowning in blood today because of the failure to provide the quality of representation that would’ve blocked the gang culture from taking root and establishing control across the terrain of Laventille and Morvant with encroachment into Belmont, Barataria and beyond. As the political party that has enjoyed the unbroken right to represent the area- bar the 1986-91 NAR exception when only Laventille East kept the PNM faith-and as the party that has presided in Government for all but 15 of the 57 years since arriving on the scene, the PNM must accept its responsibility for both the creation and solution to the problem. If Dr Rowley could meet and master the challenge of POS East, if he could coerce representation out of the slumbering party groups and MPs in the area, and stand up and speak for his people, PNM people, whether living under the gun or with a finger on the trigger, he would have established his authority to lead by breaking the succession line of crapaud politics that has PoS East now roiling in blood.
Instead of clucking over the Government’s ineptitude against the rising tide of crime, the PNM should establish a task force comprised of the MPs of Laventille East/Morvant, Laventille West and Port of Spain South with the support of a range of relevant expertise.
It does not need the Government’s endorsement to act. If the MPs for these constituencies cannot speak to, and for the people of Laventille in ways that could staunch the blood and calm their fear, then they have no business representing them. Not that they ever really did. For had the PNM’s MPs and its successive governments provided representation to Laventille, there would have been no vacuum left to be filled by the gang leaders who have emerged over time as community-anointed and gun-appointed MPs for the masses.
In real terms, Port of Spain East is today a republic on its own. Its population is subject to the rule of gangs who run its government and economy, administer summary justice, control the streets, and determine the freedom of movement of people in and out of its zone.
In political terms, POS East is to Keith Rowley what Chaguanas West was to Kamla Persad-Bissessar. If they cannot lead their own heartlands, how can they lead the country?
The PNM’s decision to abandon the delegation system in favour of one-person one-vote has opened up room for the emergence of real representatives in POS East and elsewhere. But this would depend on whether the leader trusts the system to work, and the extent of political education and confidence on the ground. As we saw in Chaguanas West, the people’s right to a representative of their choice can be snuffed out in an instant by the maximum leader’s retained right to veto at will.
While POS East is the most extreme case, it is not the only community that has fallen through the wide cracks of a political system that is not designed to provide representation. Areas in Diego Martin, San Juan, Tunapuna, Chaguanas, Arima, San Fernando, Point Fortin, Cedros, Princes Town, Mayaro and elsewhere have pockets of power that seem to be impenetrable by the forces of legal and moral authority, such as they are.
Ultimately, the solution to crime will depend on our transition to a system of legitimate power. For a society in which power has its roots in injustice, breaking free from the status quo will be no easy task. The first rule of power is survival. Its instincts are to protect, preserve and regenerate itself while destroying any potential threat. For us in the Caribbean, the entrenched system of central power has no greater enemy than representative power. In a democracy, a political system that disconnects power and representation enjoys no legitimacy and creates room for extra-legal expressions of power.
When it comes to rolling back the forces of crime, only a legitimate political system with a coherent architecture designed to provide representation from the ground upand across will stand a chance.
By definition, beneficiaries of the current system of central power cannot be expected to solve the problem. Unless, of course, they have the capacity for revolutionary politics without blood.