By Stephen Kangal
Democrats must celebrate and document for posterity this defining and watershed moment in the victorious enactment of people’s power by our Chatham folk. The script of the politics of post-Chatham T&T has been rewritten by the simple, rural, ordinary God-fearing people of Chatham. Their message to us is that State arrogance, insensitivity and unilateralism have no place in the new people centred political order that they have now ushered in. No government can now afford to underestimate the will and determination of the salt of the earth to defend and conserve the integrity of their living spaces as well as their inalienable right to be consulted and heard in democratic T&T.
These brave and courageous Chathamites must be the first recipients of the Order of the Republic for engaging in a David-Goliath battle with the super power of the State machinery and winning against overwhelming odds. His Excellency, President Richards, must now exercise his Presidential prerogative and independence to make this happen and show that he is the people’s President.
The Xmas Eve hasty retreat on the Alcoa smelter announced by PM Manning was engineered to use the festivities of Xmas to overshadow and dilute the real impact of the people’s victory. The people of Chatham destroyed the current belief that democracy in T&T had been reduced exclusively to the ritual of staining our fingers red once every five years. They have rejected the Manning mantra and duah that his Government has a monopoly on all knowledge on everything. That he and his Cabinet enjoy a divine right to ride roughshod over the community rights of the people in the name of development whether it is in Chatham, Otaheite, Guave Road, Vieux Forts (Fort George), Fyzabad or Barrackpore. Ordinary people now feel really empowered for the first time in the history of T&T. They must now press home the advantage in 2007 and reject any further opportunities for a display of arrogance by tin gods.
The Chatham triumph symbolises the dawn of an emerging new people shaped and driven political culture in T&T. Governments can longer conduct the business of the state within the secrecy of Cabinet. They must not be permitted to fritter away our patrimony to the growing offshore economy. Chathamites have ripped apart the very foundations of a constitutionalised dictatorship imposed on the people by the Westminster model. The people must now be consulted every step of the way in matters that directly affect them including the elephantine monstrosity of the Rapid Rail. The all-powerful Executive President proposal of the Clarke/Principles Drafts must now be consigned to the cobwebs of constitutional history. The people can now appreciate first hand the evil that creeping and “know it all” dictators can spawn on them.
The Chathamites have in fact conducted us into the very threshold of a 2020 developed country people. Developed country status is first and foremost the state of mind of its people. People are not abstractions. It is not only healthy macroeconomic fundamentals, skyscrapers and statistical data. Chathamites have rescued us from the edge of tyranny, provided us with hope and optimism for determining our common future and shaken off an arrogant government from riding our backs any further.
Two factors assured the Chatham people of justice and victory. Firstly it was the internal strength, resilience and acumen displayed by the local leadership of Dr. Raphael Sebastien (CPU), Mr. Fitzroy Beache and Pastor Muriel of the Chatham Women’s Group. That was reinforced, complemented and given legitimacy by the external support provided by UWI committed professors, students, media outfits and commentators and NGO’s. Pastor Muriel won the battle of the pastors because her God came to the rescue of the salt of the earth.
The post-Chatham victory is a moment to be savoured, cherished, documented and labeled for the benefit of a participatory democracy. It brings hope to those communities who at present feel ignored, alienated, marginalised, forgotten and live on the fringes of poverty in our overflowing prosperity.
PM Manning must quickly realise that using the Otaheite (Oropouche) Bank as a soft landing is a non-starter. It must be abandoned forthwith. The Manning’s Island proposal is opening a Pandora’s Box against nature. It can dislocate the wave equilibrium, the maritime dynamics and the fragile and ultra sensitive natural ecosystems connecting the Gulf of Paria with the Oropouche Lagoon and Oropouche Bank. It can potentially generate a domino and catastrophic effect on existing ports, harbours, livelihood on fishing and beaches.
Is there a link among Manning’s Island, tsunami and the Torouba Complex? Yes! The Torouba Complex will provide a safe haven when, God forbid, a tsunami inundates the Alcoa smelter located on the island, pollutes the Gulf and workers seek refuge in the Brian Lara Tsunami Stadium instead of the San Fernando Hill.
The Otaheite/Oropouche Bank artificial island proposal is even more unilateral, arrogant, outlandish and insensitive than the Chatham debacle. Pollution from the Alcoa plant can destroy the whole marine area of the Gulf of Paria including the Spanish Main.
Chatham Gone! The Rapid Rail billion dollar monstrosity next! Such is the depth of the disconnect with the people.