By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 18, 2017
Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, Dr. Eric Williams’s underground companion, tried to console him when he heard about the massive giveaway of the Chaguaramas lands. Dr. Williams informed him it was his party, the United National Congress under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar that started giving away the land.
Dr. Capildeo was genuinely shocked by this revelation. Dr. Williams informed him that Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie initiated the plan to give away Chaguaramas to the rich Syrians, Chinese and Indians. Although these lands were publicly advertised, they were not meant for the small man. Not one descendant of the groundnuts vendor or the Shouter Baptist devotee who was present at Woodford Square on Liberation Day, April 22, 1960 received a lease on this land.
To assuage Dr. Capildeo’s feelings, Dr. Williams reminded Dr. Capildeo of the exchanges that took place between Simboonath Capildeo, Rudranath’s younger brother, and Lionel Seukeran, grandfather of Faris Al-Rawi, during the Budget Debate of 1960.
In his 90-minute contribution, Simboonath accused his DLP colleagues of treachery. He said: “Not content with selling out to foreigners their country, these men now proceed to divide people against people; race against race and the evil malignant, wicked, sinful, vile, despicable and nefarious ends, they are trying to divide brother against brother” (Trinidad Guardian, April 17, 1960).
Simboonath also charged Pope McLean, Stephen Maharaj and Seukeran “with being traitors to my country… spineless, amorphous, jelly-veined, bowing to money, kowtowing to the big boss, depriving thousands of their countrymen of their God-given right to stand up and speak as men” (Guardian, April 17).
Seukeran then accused Simboonath of being “a Judas Iscariot carrying down his country and his people with him….You are doing a piece of dirty work that the government dare not do themselves.” Simboonath responded: “Ste. Madeleine made this man [Seukeran] rich. He got rich off the poor Indian people in the district. Make them sell their lands to Ste. Madeleine and this vagabond calling me a scamp. The man burnt down his house in San Fernando” (December 17, 1960).
Dr. Williams understood the deceptiveness that had intruded into the houses of both political parties since he and Dr. Capildeo left the political scene. No one, it seems, stands up for the groundnuts vendor, the doubles vendor, or the Shouter Baptist devotee. Lawyers willingly parse words and conjugate verbs in legal documents that almost always favor the rich.
Law merely codifies the interests of the rich and powerful to the disadvantage of the poor. Two centuries ago the law said we were slaves and indentures. The lawyers who worked for the planter class always interpreted the laws in favor of their clients. The only consolation of the working people-Indians and Africans-came from their belief in nature’s immutable laws, which promises freedom eventually.
Chaguaramas was allocated to the rich and the powerful under Tewarie’s watch. Elton Prescott, SC, opined that all the leases entered into by the Chaguaramas Development Authority between 2010 and 2015 were illegal. Martin Daly, SC, countered that “it would be difficult to enforce [Prescott’s] legal advice” (Express, December 19, 2016).
What does PNM do? It accepted an illegality that favored the rich and the powerful over the poor, “the red and ready.”
Why did PNM sanctify this illegality?
“It’s not as simple as that,” says Stuart Young. He clarifies: “Whilst there may have been some difficulty in implementing the legal opinion of Senior Counsel Prescott ultimately we recognize…we have the power to utilize compulsory acquisition in the circumstances where we believe it is in the public’s interest” (Express, December 19, 1960).
In 1833 England was faced with a similar dilemma. They decided that the enslavement of black people was immoral and unjust. It borrowed £15 million out of a total of £20 million from the Rothschild family to free the enslaved (Financial Times, June 26, 2009) of which Trinidad planters received £1,021,858, approximately £796,300,00 in today’s currency. The £20 million Britain spent represented half of its annual budget.
The British did not say that since the slave owners invested many pounds in their slaves they had a right to keep them. It was immoral to own people. They did not justify this illegality/immorality by saying, as Young said of the Chaguaramas lands, “the government had managed to reclaim some lands and more shoreline for the taxpayers” (Express, December 19, 2016).
All the land belongs to the taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago.
Deprived Trinbagonians will slide deeper into poverty and want as a tiny minority gobbles up this precious part of our island. Since there is no way to make more land, they shall be condemned to a life of persistent poverty.
When Dr. Williams planted our national flag in Woodford Square in April 1960, he sought to create a society in which every creed and race could find an equal place. I am not sure the present PNM has any interest in living up to this fundamental value that is implicit in our social contract. It is a cruel betrayal of what the early political movement stood for.
I expected such a betrayal from the UNC, not from the PNM.