State Capture: Syrian/Lebanese Style

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 02, 2017

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeLast Sunday Anthony Bourdain presented a well-researched, balanced, and superbly crafted depiction of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) in his program “Parts Unknown.” All the interviewees portrayed T&T as a sophisticated, talented, diverse and intelligent community. Then, without much prompting, Mario Sabga Aboud, reminded Trinbagonians about a truth they know but rarely discuss publicly: The Syrian/Lebanese, a community of approximately 5,000 people, is the most powerful ethnic group in the country.

Sabga-Aboud apologized to the nation on Tuesday for his “careless” words. They may have been careless but no one denies their truth content. This seasoned businessman says the excitement of the moment caused him to drop his guard and reveal his truth. Perhaps, the international setting was the serum he needed to expose his contempt for those of us who labor under the illusion that every creed and race enjoys an equal place in this land of La Trinity.

Once Mario’s truth gushed out, his entire family went into defense mode. Gary Aboud said his cousin’s sentiments “do not represent my value system or my understanding of the part I play in the development of the nation.”

Gregory Aboud, his brother, offered empty sentiments in aid of the cause: “We share space in a country with many others. [T]rue power is the recognition of the rights and needs of everyone else—being proud of our [the Abouds’] accomplishments need not be accompanied by boast of power, especially in an environment where so much suspicion and innuendo exists.”

Gregory believes big Brother Mario erred only in boasting about the group’s power, not in its existence.

When ordinary members of the society objected to Mario’s bombast, Gary concluded: “Some people naturally hate us.”

Playing on the outrage of the populace, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared: [Although] we pride ourselves on being a place for every race and every face [sic]” there is a perception that “one percent of the population is ‘controlling the economy’ while the ‘majority of us have to be fighting down one another.”

Kamla is also responsible for the economic ascendency of the Syrian/Lebanese. Under the PNM and the UNC, the Syrian/Lebanese captured the state at the expense of those of us who have participated in the gymnastics of a general election every five years. Even the Prime Minister’s observation, “there is no law against people seeing themselves and others in a certain way,” is an unfortunate reading of this frightening situation.

Mario never mentioned how the T&T government assisted in his capturing such a large part of the state economy. He said nothing of the several contracts his companies received from the T&T government, or how the $TT 200m dollars they receive each year for transporting prisoners from Piarco to Port of Spain assist in their cash flow. Instead, he looks with scorn upon people upon whom his various businesses build their bank balance each year.

The same day CNN revealed Mario’s claims, the South African government was examining how the Gupta family, an Indian conglomerate, managed to capture the South African economy, almost acting as a state within a state. In fact, the family’s tentacles were buried so deeply into the state economy that by “April last, all of South African major banks had terminated the accounts of the family and close associates, citing suspicions about money laundering” (South Africa Sunday Times, June 25).

According to Laurie Dippenaar, one of Rand Merchant Bank’s founders, “It’s as if the Guptas are running a parallel state.” Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s Deputy President, remarked: “Our country is unravelling. We cannot stand by and watch as the country sinks….We cannot allow anyone, party leaders or foreigners, to come here and loot this country. We worked hard for this freedom currently under siege.”

In the South African case the Deputy President criticized his leader, Jacob Zuma, for what he considered his illegal participation in giving away the country’s resources to an Indian family while the poverty of the black masses in South Africa deepens.

Listening to Mario, I wondered if any of the 23 sitting PNM MPs is willing to call for an investigation of the capture of the present T&T economy by a tiny ethnic minority (less than one percent of the population) that has allowed it to become the richest entity in the land.

I also wonder how many viewers were listing to Mukahil Mohammed, an implicit oppositional voices to this Syrian/Lebanese state takeover. He talked about the faith his grandmother has in the Independence ideal and reflected: “How come I seeing some people (the one percent) are benefitting [from the system] and not I?”

Peter George, a gentleman and a friend, spoke of the barrier the middle class provides between the one percent and the poorer masses. Almost as though he was responding to George’s observation, Muhammad cautioned: “How long can people put up with something [financial oppression] until they say it’s too much?”

Muhammed was not alone. Even Bourdain seems to have felt there was superfluity in the discussion when he asked about the role of carnival as a social tranquilizer wondered about the question social justice as it pertains Afro-Trinbagonians.

Criticize Mario but let us let us not miss the forest for the trees.

2 thoughts on “State Capture: Syrian/Lebanese Style”

  1. The Syrian/Lebanese community do control TNT economy. It is a fact of history. Forty years of PNM rule with all kinds of state contracts ensure the assendency of this powerful ruling class. When SIS was given a massive waste water project in Beetham, they balked knowing that Rowley had promised them such a project. They release the Rottweiler in parliament and he snarled, barked and foamed at the mouth at Kamla for doing such. Then the media jumped in citing corruption, not realizing that the waste water project was price by the PNM. It was the same for the Point Fortin highway. A host of small contractors was hired by Brazilian firm. As Suruj said it was in the contract that up to 90% of the work was to be done by local contractors. But they stopped it because it they could not get their hands on the treasury. It was the PNM who wanted the Brazilian firm to do the work.

    With the PNM favoring Syrian/Lebanese contractors, this is how they raided the treasury.Chancery Lane complex—$300 million over budget—24-month delay.Government campus and Legal Affairs tower—$300 million over budget—18-month delay.. Waterfront project—$1.3 billion over budget—six-month delay.• Education Ministry tower—$300 million over budget—20-month delay. Performing Arts Centre—$234 million over budget—one-year delay.South PRC—$238 million over budget—13 months overdue.Beverly Hills Housing—$106 million cost overrun—65-month delay.Lara Stadium—$800 million cost overrun—41-months delay. Note every project ran into huge cost over runs. They made billions just in cost over run over the 40 years of PNM rule, I just cited one term of the PNM in Office. They had their dirty hands on all these projects because they are the PNM financiers. Nuff said.

  2. The truth that was spoken by Mario Aboud is nevertheless a lie. Why? For the same reason that a witness in court must swear to tell not only the truth, but the whole truth. Leave out part, and it becomes nevertheless a lie.

    In that observation is the forest that Bro. Selwyn would have us not lose sight of.

    What is the missing truth? It is that if the Syrian/Lebanese community, small as it is, is nevertheless the “most powerful” ethnic minority, then it lends credence to the charge that they are in effect a crime family. They didn’t get to be so rich and powerful only selling cloth.

    If T&T is a narco-state, as the evidence fairly persuasively suggests; see Daurius Figueira (2004), Cocaine and Heroin Trafficking in the Caribbean: The Case of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana; then to be the most powerful ethnic minority is also to be the most enriched by the narco-trade, and therefore, ipso facto, to be the biggest crime gang.

    That’s the big forest that most will carefully avoid seeing, including and especially those state actors who have been at the least compromised by it, and at the worst, actually captured.

    I speak dispassionately as I say this. I had some Lebanese and Syrian friends growing up, and a cousin that married one. As people they’re not any worse than any other people, and indeed they’re better than most: warm-hearted, jolly, and generally generous of spirit. But greed and power can lead one to sin, and badly.

    In any case, the Book has got to be fulfilled, as I keep saying. Scripture rebukes the king of Tyre (Lebanon) as follows: “By thy great wisdom and by thy traffick hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches…” (Ezekiel 28:5)

    The spirit of pride and boastfulness slipped out, very much in accordance with this passage of prophecy. The rest of the passage I leave the reader to search out, for there is there cautionary warning.

    I sympathize with Mario. At least he had the wit to recognize the error of boastfulness, and to apologize for it. That will earn merit in Heaven.

    But the greater, unrepented, sin lies in the nature of the “trafficking” that has brought the wealth that is the basis of the power that was boasted about. That is what Daurius Figueira has been blowing the whistle about, and for which he has already paid a heavy price. Other ethnic groups are equally guilty, –taking his findings at face value, — if not as successful. The only ethnic group without a “big fish” is precisely the one whose face is in the frame pointed to and labeled as, “the crime problem”.

    T&T is gripped within the tentacles of a great and growing evil. The face presented for that evil is “gang war” involving the have-not. But only a fool buys that. That is part of the beast with many heads. But the face of that beast that is sought to be kept resolutely hidden is far different.

    For just a few minutes in that Bourdain piece it slipped out. The quick apology seeks to put it back behind the curtain.

    But you can’t unring a bell.

    I continue to pray that in this narco-state that is T&T, the Most High expose the wicked, and protect the innocent.

    Those under oath to discharge high office without fear or favour, should especially take note.


    “And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” (1 Samuel 17:29)

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