Ralph Maraj

Ralph Maraj

AFTER the 2015 elections, there was great bloodshed amidst the ceremoniousness that included the swearing-in of the present administration and opening the new law term.

In a column, “Blood and Ceremony”, I wrote: “As if to strip us of our wigs and gowns, suits and speeches, guns blazed, bodies fell, and blood flowed in Icacos, San Fernando, Chaguanas, Laventille, Arima and Tobago. Thirty people killed in twenty-one days!” A prologue to coming carnage.

Four months later, in January 2016, newspaper headlines reported “Bodies on the road” and “Merciless” as “gun-toting criminals” killed five persons in 24 hours and 14 in seven days, as though celebrating the arrival of the new Government. “The National Security Minister has fizzled flat,” I wrote. That Saturday a Newsday front page proclaimed “Week of Death!” along with the Prime Minister having “great fun” with a DJ at a cricket match, after frolicking for a week at nuptials in Miami. “It’s getting dark,” I concluded.

I detected escapism early in the new Prime Minister. At a PNM forum in San Fernando, he pointed fingers at the Police Service for the horrifying murder rate, saying it is their responsibility, implying his government has little to do with it. I termed it “dereliction of duty” and in a column ‘Rowley’s Abdication Strategy’ in July 2016, while bodies continued falling and one newspaper headline blared “Bloodshed!”, I wrote, “as long as citizens feel unsafe on the streets and in their homes, the buck stops with you, Prime Minister, not the Police Service.”

But the massacres and abdication continued. In 2017, I recorded: “Every day, our front pages are drenched with blood from street slaughters and home invasions. A pregnant woman, quite filled with child, was shot dead on her porch, as though someone is threatening the continuity of the civilisation.” In December that year, headlines screamed “RAMPAGE, 16 people killed in 96 hours, 25 double murders” as the toll hit 466 for the year, 1,051 persons murdered in two years under this administration! Rowley asked, “how many more must die?” I said, “thousands, unless he does something!”

Then in January 2018, with 14 slaughtered in the first five days of the year, and Rowley pictured in a Carnival fete, I suggested our PM call his Jamaican counterpart Andrew Holness who, unlike Rowley, placed himself at the forefront of the crime battle, saying: “In 2018, I will lead a campaign against all violence in Jamaica.” That year, the Express, sensing “apparent disinterest”, said our “Government seems deaf to the public’s daily SOS on crime” and called for the administration to “step up to the responsibility of making the nation safe from criminals.” Holness had pointed to a whole of government response, with “Zones of Special Operations to reclaim communities captured by criminals.” The initiative has been a continuing success.

But in Trinidad and Tobago, it is unrelenting siege. Just weeks ago, an Express front page declared “Mayhem”, a family of three completely wiped out, a 14-year-old schoolboy killed and a birthday party invaded, guests robbed and brutalised. Later that week, the throats of a husband and wife were slit in their home and a taxi driver shot 20 times. And the next night, in a shoot-out between police and criminal suspects, three people were killed including a 14-year-old girl.

A week earlier, gang warfare had erupted in our capital city, bullets flying, residents running scared. Then two weeks ago, “wild, wild gangs” exploded again in broad daylight, one car chasing another, with shooting back and forth, seen “only in the movies,” said one witness. Just after that, armed with a blow torch, “professional thieves” broke into a home and robbed a family of thousands in cash and valuables, “a different level of crime,” said one victim. And last week opened with “Market Mayhem”, one killed and two injured when a gunman opened fire at a market at dawn. “Death is everywhere”, is the general sentiment.

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At no time in our history have citizens felt so insecure and endangered. Where are the authorities? Don’t we have a prime minister with extraordinary power under the Constitution; a National Security Minister with an annual budget of billions of dollars; a Commissioner of Police leading a Police Service of almost 6,500 personnel; and a Chief of Defence Staff heading an army of 3000 soldiers in four battalions “to assist the civil power in maintaining law and order”? And yet there is such abysmal ineffectiveness?! New York City with 8.5 million people had 289 murders last year. Trinidad and Tobago with a mere 1.3 million citizens had 516! Shame! Where is the leadership? What is the strategy? What do they talk about at the National Security Council?

Enshrined in our Constitution is “the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property.” Our State is failing miserably. But full of “pomp and ceremony.” As I recorded in 2015, in addition to installing the new administration and the new law term, we had the inauguration of a new Parliament and the Republic Day of prayer. The artificial grandeur was on fullest display as the nation’s elites paraded and pontificated pointlessly. Such disconnect between ritual and reality in this country.

Nation and Constitution have never seemed so hollow. Today the murder rate is heading to exceed 2,000 under this administration. And last week, a cabinet minister confessed that every day in his constituency, children fear being killed. It is the same all over the nation. What is to save this failing State?

Martin Daly’s column returns next week

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