Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Troops at our doorsteps


Kenroy Ambris

The story is becoming alarmingly familiar.

Soldiers in ski masks and battle kit take up positions in Laventille; they mount patrols, without the legally required support of police officers, and a series of abuses against citizens allegedly follows.

Media representatives covering the story are threatened. One soldier is quoted as saying if the Prime Minister was not going to do anything about the gangs in the country they would.

Their operations then spread to a manhunt, with searches of homes in Toco and Couva for persons of interest “to the army” in the murder of Lance Cpl Kayode Thomas.

An armed unit goes to the Guardian car park, questions the attendant about a vehicle, then takes up positions outside. Coincidentally, around that time, a bomb threat call is made to the media house.

The Police Service Social and Welfare Association was the first to frown upon the soldiers’ actions, stating: “We have been warning about this for a while. Soldiers have no investigative powers. It is wrong…it will destroy the democracy and break down every institution that has been constitutionally established.”

On his return to the country last week, the acting Commissioner of Police also condemned soldiers conducting operations and searches on their own, and stated the wearing of masks was illegal.

“I have concerns, as head of the Police Service. I have brought those concerns to the attention of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and he has given me the assurance that he has not authorised any soldier to carry out any operations.”

But on Friday, the National Security Minister gave the House a different story: “What is being conducted in Laventille and environs is a planned, approved operation that involves patrols and other mechanisms of law enforcement that involves the Police Service”.

He added that soldiers work in tandem with the police, and “can be on patrol without a police officer next to them”.

Contrary to the acting COP’s definitive statement on Wednesday, the Minister said that both he and the CDS had said they would support all legal and approved operations.

The CDS had reiterated, he said, that “it was not illegal for the Defence Force to conduct patrols, without a member of the Police Service being present”, and the acting COP had expressed “full support” for soldier patrols in Laventille.

The minister then announced by his reasoning “national security operations” are needed in Laventille, and as such they would be intensified.

A familiar story? The minister’s lines appear to parallel the calls in Germany, Italy and Japan in the 1930s for greater military intervention in state affairs.

Well-intentioned citizens mistakenly believed then that the replacement of civilian authority by the military would end their social crises; instead, the military gave them World War II.

Turn to the experiences of militarised states in South America, post-independent Africa and more recently in North Africa and in Pakistan.

Since the murder of Lance Cpl Thomas, soldiers appear emboldened, and ready to assume extra judicial authority, encouraged, I fear, by the minister’s dictum, which he claims is universal military practice i.e. an attack on one member is an attack on all, regardless.

Laventille, with soldiers dressed for the battlefield, now appears to be occupied enemy territory. The alleged abuses by soldiers, their searches, the warnings to the press, all carry early signs of rising military power.

Left unchecked today, the T&T of tomorrow may not be a “democracy”, but a hell-hole in which neither discussion nor dissent is tolerated.

Mao Zedong once warned that the (legitimate) state must command the gun; the gun must never be allowed to command the state. National Security Minister Gary Griffith has announced plans for “mega-tonnage” military hardware to fight crime.

Mr Griffith should be reminded about the “impulsive id”, which Freud, in his early works, described as “the cauldron full of seething excitations”, the child-like striving for only personal satisfaction —without regard for the balance of goodness, realness, and appropriateness.

Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and management