Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mystery ‘Mr Big’ strikes again

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Mark Fraser

 It has believably come to pass that a “Mr Big”, as conjured up by Patrick Manning, may well be presiding over some operational war council. Trinidad and Tobago

could have got tired laughing off that green figment of the Manning imagination, which never ripened into anything prosecutable, despite alleged recourse to Scotland Yard and to the FBI.

Mr Big retained a haunting pre­sence. Mr Manning himself again invoked the spectre of a figure so called, equally capable of planting dustbin bombs around Port of Spain, and of multimillion-dollar drug trafficking to the US.

“The government has a good idea who Mr Big is in this matter,” prime minister Manning had in 2005 assured the country. Allowing such a reference to go forward in his name last week, Mr Manning traded upon the general unintelligence about what is really going on in this place. 

Mr Big, then, must be the all-know­ing, all-powerful character who, in other places, could be portrayed as a comic-strip or action-video superhero. In T&T, however, he may be operating, live and alive, out of rooms in some highest-end Port of Spain hotel.

He is thus available to be invoked as the spectral force causing up to 7,000 barrels of Petrotrin crude and other hydrocarbons to spill, fearfully and unstoppably, throughout the Christmas season. As mysteriously as the gushing oil polluted land and sea, so it just as inexplicably stopped. 

It was a kind of anti-Christmas present. For the OWTU (Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union), it supplied occasion to call for the removal of Petrotrin directors and managers appointed or retained by the People’s Partnership administration.

In T&T, what we know is that 

we never know. Was it because of pipelines and valves long left under-maintained, from which leaks sprang, as if on 2013 year-end schedule?

Only Mr Big knows for sure. Oth­er than through his mercurial mouthpiece Manning, T&T may never find out what really went wrong to befoul a scenic La Brea beachfront named after someone or something called “Coffee”. 

Where we never know for sure, we are inclined to believe in the agency of a Higher Hand that makes things happen. The infamous Norfolk drug bust occasioned my own introduction to new knowledge about business and industry in this country. 

Until then, I had assumed (unthinkingly) that the two CGAs (citrus growers and coconut growers) were co-operative enterprises. Many years ago, I had got a ride from Mayaro on a truck loaded with damp bags of copra, headed for the Eastern Main Road complex.

Over the years, I picked up information that coconut and citrus production had declined. An expert, I read, had been imported from India to defeat a disease wasting T&T coconuts. It was also noticeable that truckloads of copra and grapefruit no longer appeared on the Laventille roadways. 

I understood that citrus processed at the old complex, eastward, just past John John, along the Eastern Main Road, is imported from Belize. Trinidad became more a processor than a producer of citrus juices.

Here’s an aspect of the largely devastated export agriculture of T&T, headlined by the Manning termination of the sugarcane industry. Since almost no cane is grown here anymore, no such thing as T&T molasses pridefully exists; T&T rum is what’s distilled at the eastern end of Success Village. Origin of the raw materials is not an interesting story.

At this age and stage, I own up to subscribing to a virtual economic morality from the Eric Williams PNM (People’s National Movement) years. It was expressed simply as “buy local”.

I continue to buy local. Now-aging eyes scrutinise labels on supermarket shelves for products made in T&T, or maybe just packaged here, where it seems coconut powder may be imported from as far as Malaysia.

So I look out for products from the two CGAs identified with Laventille, choosing the “carbolic” and other soaps, manufactured round the corner, and the canned juices from down the road, now defamed as containers of cocaine. 

I also scour the supermarket shelves for detergent and other clean­ing stuff produced by Langston Roach, a UWI colleague from the 1970s.  I can hardly claim him as a friend: we last ran into each other at Maracas Bay about five years ago. And I can only trust that the plastic bottles with the Lanher labels still represent his industrial output.

Life goes on. What I grew up know­ing as the La Basse is now called a “landfill”, which was supposed to have been overfilled about six years ago. As about a dozen fires erupted there last week, the mystery cause—Mr Big—was taken for granted. 

Friend and colleague Mark Lyn­dersay reproduced his 2006 photo essay, “Living la vida La Basse”. It profiled a mini-industry, comprising small-timers who trod the dust barefoot and took pains to separate white paper from coloured, and iron from other metals, bagging the result for collection by recycling companies.

Apart from Mark, hardly anyone noted the implications of the smoke, which all but shut down the capital, for the people working the La Basse for a living. And, of course, nobody knows who or what started the fires, which may now also be attributed to Mr Big.