Already under a state of siege

By Raffique Shah
February 11, 2007

Patrick ManningPrime Minister Patrick Manning must learn to choose his words carefully. He is, after all, the CEO of Trinidad and Tobago, which signals that every word he utters is closely monitored by my colleagues in the media and by the public. He must recall how private statements by US President George Bush resulted in public guffaws when it turned out that mikes close to the “Chief” were switched on, and his ill-informed quips proved to be material-made-for-comics. But one does not expect better from Dubaya who comes across as imbecilic as a failed Junior Secondary school non-graduate: the man expressed shock at the size of Russia! What if he had traversed the expanse of the fallen Soviet Union?

For all his perceived weaknesses, Manning is seen as superior to his US counterpart, much the way Basdeo Panday and many of our other political and civic leaders are. I often wonder what prompted the majority of Americans to vote in a dunce like Bush as president-in two elections. But let me not waste valuable column space on a man who has already been deemed “the worst president ever” in the US. Manning is our PM, and whether we like him or not is not at issue here. What’s at stake is how his government performs, and more than that, how credible he comes across.

At the first post-Cabinet media briefing after his return from Africa, Manning suggested that “drug lords from the south-west peninsula” were behind protests against the proposed Alcoa smelter at Cap-de-Ville. How could he paint ordinary people from the district and environmental activists as being tools of a drug cartel? The incidents he cited, which targeted one anti-smelter-turned-pro-smelter activist, are cause for alarm, especially the rape of the man’s wife and threats to his life.

But where’s the proof that the protestors were behind such heinous acts? None! I dare him to bring evidence to show that Fitzroy Beache, Peter Vine and others are remotely connected with illicit activities, far less consorting with drug lords.

If the PM and the police have such information or evidence, why have the perpetrators not been arrested and charged? In fact, instead of the PM making the seemingly-spurious statement as fact, would it not have been more sensible to make the allegations after the perpetrators were charged? A PM must not be seen to tarnish people’s characters without a shred of evidence. We have seen and heard too much of that kind of crap from Wade Mark. If the PM has evidence that a drug cartel wants to control a huge slice of Trinidad, then we citizens need to know who these subversives are, and more than that, see them slammed behind bars, never to see sunlight again.

This brings me to the other unsubstantiated statement the PM made at the same media briefing. He said that those who are calling for a state of emergency to stem the crime tide have not said what is to be done after that. I have repeatedly written about what must be in place before any emergency is declared, what needs to be done during it, and the follow-up action that will hopefully rescue the citizenry from the current state of siege. Yes, Mr Prime Minister: in case you have not noticed it, law-abiding people have been put under siege by the criminal elements and all your National Security Minister can tell us week after week is that he has “a new plan”.

Already your policemen are being attacked, quite openly, by lawless elements. Twice in the past six months Chaguanas policemen have been subjected to mob rule-and not one person was arrested. Huge swaths of the country are ghost areas after dark – the result of self-imposed curfews. Other districts are subjected to gunfire a la Gaza.

And while thousands like me throw caution to the wind and refuse to be imprisoned by gangs and bandits, the majority of citizens cower behind barricaded doors, deeply fearful of both police and thief. Last Thursday morning, bandits plundered a store in Couva, metres away from the district’s police station, and escaped unscathed. People are being robbed in broad daylight. Policemen are suspects in “hits” in which silenced guns are used. What next, Mr Manning?

And what more must we be subjected to, to indicate to you that we are already under siege? Why is the Government acting ostrich-like, burying its head in manure and telling us all is-or will soon be-well in the rotting state of Trinidad and Tobago? This society is on the verge of collapse, Mr Manning. Either that, or the very drug lords you refer to, along with other criminal elements, would grow bold enough to move violently against your Government. At the rate they are rampaging freely through the country, what I am suggesting here is not as far-fetched as you may want to think.

http://www.trinicenter.com/Raffique/2007/Feb/112007.htm

23 Responses to “Already under a state of siege”


  • Public surveillance greater sophisticated informant data collection and a divorce from the Privy Council. If HK and Macau could improve then Trinidad ain’t no exception. In Singapore every citizen does police duty more over the law ain’t no arse likewise China when you are caught Crapo smoke your pipe. In TnT bail set sail. Trinidad needs an independent prosecutor panel that scrutinize both Police&Thief . police must be accountable for failure after evidences and thieve must pay the price. Early and non-stop trial should be mandatory. How these populous societies managed to curb crime within very very short periods. Paramount though the security services remained firmly under the executive branch and the international community have no say not even a window.

  • Dear Reader:

    We are all so lucky to be a part of this beautiful island “Trinidad & Tobago”. But sadly, we must ask ourselves what is going on here, why is the crime rate so high, why should we be scared of our surroundings, and why should we have to run away form our sweet home (T&T).
    What is right and wrong? Is the feeling “right, wrong” an internal instinct we have based on our upbringing or from society? I’m sure we all agree that murder, rape, kidnapping and stealing are all wrong. Well here is no news to you: these are the crimes that are turning our beautiful country UGLY.
    A man/woman works hard to give his/her family a better life. He should be proud himself; instead he is scared; does one really know about his finances, how much outstanding loans he has? Another person wants to buy a nice car and takes a loan to do so, again, does one know how hard he’s working to pay his installments?
    We are all one and all equal in God eyes. Life is a short journey for us and the next level for us depends on our actions here.
    We together must make our country a better place for our children, the future. We can start now by showing love, kindness and caring for one another. We must look out for thy neighbor, help thy elder and teach thy children.
    Government, we chose you and we need your help! We the people of beautiful T&T ask you for your help to take charge and help us get a handle on the crimes that are being committed here, please figure out a strategy to decrease the crime rate. We also ask for you to please help us educate our children, since they are the future of this great nation and help us create better job opportunities. We love our home and we want to stay here!
    As for the murderers, kidnappers, rapist and robbers, we need your help as well, we need you to please STOP! This is a though battle and together we can bring back the peace, love and unity.
    Let us work hard, HOPE and PRAY together for a safer country, a place where we’re proud to call home.

    True.trini

  • I believe that Raffique Shah’s chiding of the PM is on the mark. Avoiding the reality that crime has gotten out of control, and that there are siege like proportions to the situation is a sad emulation of the tendencies of the Ostrich. And those who critize the Government do not have a compounding obligation to provide answers. If it were so, then Trinidad and Tobago would have no need of a Government, and Manning and Panday would have to find real jobs.

    I do not agree that there should be a divorce from the Privy Council unless a Caribbean Alternative is considered as a replacement. I strongly believe that because of the endemic ethnic tensions that continue to be pervasive in the interactions and relationships between certain groups, legal umpiring or refreeing above and beyond the potential prejudice in any group is crucial.

    Trinidada and Tobago possess the financial wherewithal to secure the most modern electronic tools to fight this crime scourge. Put surveillance cameras everywhere like they have done in London. Create electronic data bases and profiles of perps, including DNA records. We are talking about an Island for Christ Sakes. The Government should be able, with the resources that have become available from the oil and gas bonanza, to equip the Police and Army with the capacity to cover every inch of the main island in an hour or so in an emergency. Crime out of control on a thousand square mile island blessed with fossil fuel recources is an oxymoronic reality as far as I am concerned.

  • A while ago we got out from under colonialism, now we need to break free from neo-colonialism and trust our own citizens and thereby empower them to act like responsible men and women.
    As long as we believe that the “Law Lords” at the Privy Council can save us, then we are doomed.
    Hope lies with the oppressed masses who have been historically denied. We must find a way to convince them that there is a better day ahead. Lets seek to bring about a national refocusing on the needs of the less fortunate among us, and try to raise the floor under all segments of the population.

  • Already, many gangland communities and the gangsters that control them are beyond the traditional reach of law enforcement.

    Police Officers are literally afraid to venture into certain areas where there is absolutely no fear of the forces of law and order and even less respect for the rule of law.

    Police Officers across the length and breadth of the country have on several occasions demonstrated to citizens in distress their unwillingness to venture into these areas, or to confront certain individuals, except in large contingents and not without overwhelming fire power.

    Whether the Prime Minister and National Security Minister realize it or not, the Government has lost, if not effectively surrendered, to these gangs and criminals in general, the most basic element or aspect of its political authority, namely, its monopoly on force and its control over the use of violence.

    The time has come for all three arms of the State to act as one cohesive unit in this war that is being waged against law abiding Society by the steadily growing criminal element.

    The Government cannot do it alone and it must not allow itself to be stifled by its desire to adhere to the Westminster System.

    Democracy can be its own worst enemy at times. The very concept it promotes, is what it must also safeguard against if it is to survive. The very freedoms it guarantees are the ones it must take away, arbitrarily at times, from the criminal minority that seeks to use those freedoms to deprive the law abiding majority of their democratic way of life and the very right to life itself.

    The State, as one cohesive unit, must act to strike a sensible balance between the conflicting imperatives of ensuring the safety and security of Society’s law abiding majority to the natural right to life against the constitutional rights of the criminal minority to “due process”, bail and “the presumption of innocence”.

    The Courts must give the Government the space and flexibility it needs to deal with the criminal element. Court decisions must not act unreasonably like an albatross around the Government’s neck and suffocate its ability to deal effectively with crime and criminals; they must not encase the Government so stringently in a constitutional and semantic straightjacket that the Government is reduced to a state of virtual impotence as is the case in many instances.

    That is neither the function of the Judiciary nor the “raison d’etre” of the Constitution and the Law.

  • Whether the Prime Minister and National Security Minister realize it or not, the Government has lost, if not effectively surrendered, to these gangs and criminals in general, the most basic element or aspect of its political authority, namely, its monopoly on force and its control over the use of violence.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this observation. As a former Law Enforcement Official, it is my opinion that the state lacks the balls to deal with the criminal situation. And I do not believe that they need more legislative powers than they already have in order to do that.

    Policemen in territories with legal systems that originated from the British Commonwealth have more powers than their counterparts in other parts of this world. Those laws were formulated, for the most part, at a time when law enforcement was under the command of expatriates, and its purpose was to control the non white populace. In the US the Police has to have probable cause to arrest and detain. In these territories the Police can arrest and detain on their subjective suspicion.

    I do not believe that Law Enforcement becoming criminals themselves in order to combat criminality is a prudent interventionist policy. Society and posterity is best served when the law is made to work. When the good guys win without becoming bad guys themselves. Taking a dirty piece of cloth to wipe dirt off from your skin, inevitably will transfer more dirt unto you in the process.

  • In the US the theory is that there must be probale cause for arrest or detention. In practice, however, the police use other criteria, such as “racial profiling,” in order to engage in warrantless stops, searches of premises and seizures of property. The conservative courts have virtually erode most of the people’s safeguards against punitive or overzealous law enforcement.

    Since the 9/11 incident, there are relentless attempts by Bush and his ultraconservative cheering section to further erode the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 14th amendments to the US Constitution, under the guise of fighting terrorism.

    Thus, we must look within—our culture, history, customs, mores, traditions, psychology—and come up with crime prevention and enforcement measures that are unique to our situation as a people. This cannot be imported and planted here. It has to grow from our own soil. This is not to say that we must not utilize knowledge and technology developed elsewhere.

  • “I do not believe that Law Enforcement becoming criminals themselves in order to combat criminality is a prudent interventionist policy. Society and posterity is best served when the law is made to work. When the good guys win without becoming bad guys themselves. Taking a dirty piece of cloth to wipe dirt off from your skin, inevitably will transfer more dirt unto you in the process”.

    Under normal circumstances I would agree with you, but the current situation is extreme, we are in a state of war with the criminal elements, a war that they have declared by virtue of their sustained attacks against law abiding society.

    The Government and the Police must not allow themselves to be hamstrung or held to ransom by standards that the criminal minority does not respect or play by. There are times when lofty principles and ideals have to be set aside in the interest of survival. How do you win a war when the enemy is safely entrenched in the gutters? You need to get into those gutters and wage battle against them. Remaining on lofty high moral ground will not win you the battle, getting into the gutter will, regardless of the message that may be sent or the gutter slime that you will have to wallow in for a while.

    Terror does not belong in the minds of the law abiding majority and it has been there for far too long now. The State has the power to impose a violent solution to end the madness and carnage that are taking place and put Terror back where it rightly belongs: in the hearts and minds of the murderous criminal minority.

    We must all recognize that the Government is dealing with a cunning, psychopathic, predacious element that regards Society’s law abiding majority as easy prey and is attempting to bludgeon us into submission and to eventually control our lives.

    Criminals are aware of their constitutional rights and what the State can and cannot do. Those who are not aware are so made aware by their lawyers. The very system, the very freedom and democracy that the Government is fighting to defend is being used by the perpetrators of crime and their lawyers to defeat it and the society at large.

    The Constitution is not the small unexpandable box in which timid judges choose to function. The government cannot be boxed in by narrow interpretations of the Constitution. The right to self defense is an inalienable and universal right that includes the right to preemptive action in response to ongoing and imminent attacks.

    No freedom or right is absolute. Not even in a democracy.
    There must be fetters to each and every constitutional right or freedom otherwise anarchy will result. The rights to “due process” and “the presumption of innocence” are intended to guarantee fundamental justice and fair-play to protect people from the arbitrary and capricious abuse of State power. It was never the intent of the Constitution that the protections offered by “due process” and the “presumption of innocence” be used as weapons in the hands of the criminal minority to abrogate the rights of the law abiding majority, or to undermine, challenge and frustrate the lawful authority of the State.

    Constitutional safeguards are intended to protect the rights of the innocent, not to aid and abet the agenda of the guilty or the criminally predisposed.

    When therefore, these constitutional guarantees become formidable weapons in the hands of the criminal minority and are being used as a shield to wage battle against the law abiding majority, Society has no alternative but to alter the rules of engagement to its greater advantage and to ensure its survival.

    All is fair in war. And this is war, declared on the law abiding majority by the murderous criminal minority. Let them now suffer the consequences of their sustained attacks against us.

    Violent criminals, the majority of whom are beyond redemption, understand only the language of violence. As said earlier the government has the power to impose a violent solution as a short term response to shock the criminal element into a state of awe and compliance, if not to obliterate them entirely.

    While the bleeding hearts, the liberally inclined and those gifted in the art of psychoanalytical babble will mouth banal admonitions that violence breeds more violence and quote every conceivable reason why the state must not resort to the use of violence to deal with a problem of violence, they will not tell us that rehabilitative and preventive strategies seldom work and that obliterative violence by the State will put an immediate end to ongoing acts of violence.

    The writing on the wall is clear. If only the Government has the eyes to read and understand. The choice is simple. There is no moral or ethical dilemma here. It’s a straight case of choosing between the constitutional (“paper”) rights of a recognized and recognizable murderous criminal minority to “due process” and the natural rights of the law adding majority to safety, security and life itself.

  • I can see no reason for principles to be set aside in the interest of survival. If one disregards what one knows is right in the interest of ‘survival’ then I submit that ‘survival’ in that case is nothing but a sterile, hypocritical and meaningless existence. Those who set aside principles are no different to those whom they call criminals. It seems morality and integrity counts little to some. I submit that real survival is based on values and developing character.

  • “I can see no reason for principles to be set aside in the interest of survival. If one disregards what one knows is right in the interest of ‘survival’ then I submit that ‘survival’ in that case is nothing but a sterile, hypocritical and meaningless existence. Those who set aside principles are no different to those whom they call criminals. It seems morality and integrity counts little to some. I submit that real survival is based on values and developing character.”

    Highfalutin, idealistic Poppycock!

    I would like to see you actually practice that nonsense about values and developing character when the bandit has a gun to your head or a knife poised to be plunged into your innocent child’s throat.

    “Hold on Son, I Can’t Kill The Bandit To Save You, Otherwise I Would Be No Better Than He And Your Survival Would Be Nothing But A Sterile, Hypocritical And Meaningless Existence. Be Brave, Son, Even If He Plunges That Knife Into Your Neck The Values I Taught You And The Strength Of Character I Instilled In You Would Save You.

  • LadyBird:

    Highfalutin, idealistic Poppycock!

    I would like to see you actually practice that nonsense about values and developing character when the bandit has a gun to your head or a knife poised to be plunged into your innocent child’s throat.

    “Hold on Son, I Can’t Kill The Bandit To Save You, Otherwise I Would Be No Better Than He And Your Survival Would Be Nothing But A Sterile, Hypocritical And Meaningless Existence. Be Brave, Son, Even If He Plunges That Knife Into Your Neck The Values I Taught You And The Strength Of Character I Instilled In You Would Save You.

    What are the values to be deviated from if a bandit has a gun to my head or a knife to my innocent child’s throat? Do you and I have some agreement about values?

    If developing character and values is nonsense to you then why on earth would you complain about anything? What is the whole purpose in engaging any type of discussion if values and developing character is “Highfalutin, idealistic Poppycock!” that could be readily dismissed or unattainable? In such a case, your only argument for or against anything should be whether it is materially profitable to you or not.

    Your example fails because killing someone in self-defense is quite different from murder.

  • Who said anything about murder?

  • Maybe you have been asleep for the past seven years, but it is time you wake up to the fact that law abiding Society has found itself on the losing end of a brutal war that is being waged against it by the criminal minority.

    Law abiding Society is fighting a losing battle for its survival and we are literally grasping at straws. We have been the hapless, brutalized, bloodied and murdered victims of criminals who have absolutely no regard for our lives, who rob, rape and kill our parents, our children, our siblings, our elderly and even the infirm, and who slaughter our pets for the pure fun of it.

    It is in these extreme circumstances I advocate that the universal and inalienable right to self defence be expanded to include pre-emptive action in response to the sustained attacks by criminals and to forestall others that are imminent. And yet you say that to do so would make law abiding Society no different to the criminals that are murdering us?

    Not only is your argument highfalutin, idealistic poppycock. It is downright sanctimonious idiocy.

  • LadyBird,

    You are responding to some figment of your imagination and not what I wrote.

    I disagreed with your initial statement: “There are times when lofty principles and ideals have to be set aside in the interest of survival.”

    This is like someone saying that he is not a thief, but if he gets hungry and has no money, he sets aside the principles and ideals he claims to hold and steals.

    If people can set aside their ideals and principles then they were never principled in the first place. They are simply hypocrites and are partly responsible for all the other ills they complain about.

    I believe your comments are hinged on a flawed premise.

  • Heru,

    Boy, try to unnerstan what yuh does reed nuh, and learn to reed tings in context not outta context.

    In the first place, the statement with which you take issue was not an initial statement. Several statements were made before it as well as after it, which placed it in the context of abnormal, extreme circumstances, but you chose to isolate it completely from the rest of the post, the context in which it was made and the circumstances it referred to. The statement was made in the context of a Society fighting a losing battle for its survival; a society fighting with its hands tied literally behind its back against a criminal element that uses constitutional safeguards as a shield from behind which it launches its deadly assaults.

    It is in reference to those extreme circumstances that I made the statement that : “There are times when lofty principles and ideals have to be set aside in the interest of survival” and I went on to state that a war like the one Society is fighting cannot be won if we remained on high moral ground while the enemy (the criminal element) remained entrenched in the gutters and that the Government needed to expand its right to self defense to include pre-emptive action against criminals.

    I never advocated a general abandonment of principle. You cannot compare that situation (as you seek to do) with that of an individual who says he is not a thief but who will steal when he gets hungry.

    The figment, it would seem resides in your imagination.

    I leave this discussion with the following words from Thomas Jefferson:

    “Circumstances occur when officers of high trust must assume authorities beyond the law in keeping with the “Salus Populi”, the laws of necessity, or self preservation, of saving our country when in danger. On these occasions a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means”

  • LadyBird,

    Boy, try to unnerstan what yuh does reed nuh, and learn to reed tings in context not outta context.

    In the first place, the statement with which you take issue was not an initial statement. Several statements were made before it as well as after it, which placed it in the context of abnormal, extreme circumstances, but you chose to isolate it completely from the rest of the post, the context in which it was made and the circumstances it referred to. The statement was made in the context of a Society fighting a losing battle for its survival; a society fighting with its hands tied literally behind its back against a criminal element that uses constitutional safeguards as a shield from behind which it launches its deadly assaults.

    It is in reference to those extreme circumstances that I made the statement that : “There are times when lofty principles and ideals have to be set aside in the interest of survival” and I went on to state that a war like the one Society is fighting cannot be won if we remained on high moral ground while the enemy (the criminal element) remained entrenched in the gutters and that the Government needed to expand its right to self defense to include pre-emptive action against criminals.

    I never advocated a general abandonment of principle. You cannot compare that situation (as you seek to do) with that of an individual who says he is not a thief but who will steal when he gets hungry.

    What do you mean by “Boy, try to unnerstan….”? Even with that silly attempt at colloquialism, the fact is, I understand you quite well and in exactly the context you wrote that statement. I disagree with you.

    Even under what you call “abnormal” and “extreme circumstances” it is imperative for people to adhere to the best values and not suspend good judgment for expediency. There is no condition where people would be justified in suspending principles and ideals (honesty and integrity). In the context which you made your statement, I strongly disagree with you.

    The example I used is quite apt. A hungry person can feel that his situation is “abnormal” and “extreme”, and feel justified to steal. My position is that he should never steal and if he abandons the idea to steal he can realize other honest ways to satisfy that hunger.

    I leave this discussion with the following words from Thomas Jefferson:
    “Circumstances occur when officers of high trust must assume authorities beyond the law in keeping with the “Salus Populi”, the laws of necessity, or self preservation, of saving our country when in danger. On these occasions a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means”

    This quote tells me that Thomas Jefferson was more arrogant and stupid than I thought.

  • Ruel Wrote: “I do not believe that Law Enforcement becoming criminals themselves in order to combat criminality is a prudent interventionist policy. Society and posterity is best served when the law is made to work. When the good guys win without becoming bad guys themselves. Taking a dirty piece of cloth to wipe dirt off from your skin, inevitably will transfer more dirt unto you in the process”.

    Lady Responded: Under normal circumstances I would agree with you, but the current situation is extreme, we are in a state of war with the criminal elements, a war that they have declared by virtue of their sustained attacks against law abiding society.

    So in effect you are saying that the state can resort to criminality to fight criminality. What happens when the state takes this prerogative to set new definitions for criminality. I mean if they are not hampered or burdened by rules of legality why stop at only its criminal enemies. Why not use the wider scope of authority and unaccountability to rid society of all of those “the state” determines are impediments to its administration.

    You cannot have a war on crime. That is, unless you expect to be engaged in hostilites that are infinite. Wars usually end in victories or defeat, compromise or surrender. You cannot defeat an abstract like crime. These cliches sound good to the ear for some, but like the US “drug war”, its “war on poverty”, its “war on aids”, they imply a readiness to hurl symbolism rather than substance at a problem that begs for the latter and is unaffected by the former.

    The general well being and welfare of the people is not served by an imbalance in the power structure between the state and those under whose authority it governs. George Orwell’s fictional example of how revolutionary power applied to combat bad tend to replace in kind that which it ostensibly defeated, is more the rule, rather than the exception interms of how these things turn out. From Argentina to Peru, every example of a state exceeding the boundaries of the law to combat an irregular and illegal force ended up with the state becoming as bad or worse than those it initially engaged. Maybe you could cite some exceptions.

    The state and its agencies are polulated by citizenry that are locally appointed to those positions. They are not naturally endowed with any greater degree of morality, honesty or integrity than the common man who decides that the laws of the land should not apply to him and goes out and violently takes away what another has worked within the law to get. The behaviour and attitudes of criminality dislays a rejection of the rules civilized society imposes on all of us. I find it hard to imagine that an extension of this state of mind among those already entrusted with the power to take away our liberty and our lives, would be beneficial to any population, regardless of the problems they are experiencing.

  • Ruel Daniels wrote:

    [b] “So in effect you are saying that the state can resort to criminality to fight criminality.” [/b]

    Not at all.

    But at the same time, I am saying that while crime may be an abstract, as you say, organized criminal gangs are not, they are real, and their sustained attacks against law abiding Society constitute an attack against the State and an unlawful challenge to the authority of the Government that simply cannot be countenanced.

    The State is under no obligation to be bound by rigid, narrow minded interpretations of the Constitution that would encase the Government in a semantic straightjacket rendering it to virtual impotence.

    Our Laws derive their legitimacy from our Constitution and the State is entitled to act in accordance with the spirit and intent of the Constitution as opposed to a slavish adherence to the letter of the Law.

    The State is entitled to the widest possible constitutional latitude and sanction for its actions against known violent criminals, and its right of self defense includes the right of pre-emptive self defense and that in pursuance of that right the Government is entitled to impose a violent solution to put down the criminal element and stop the Nation’s imminent descent into barbarism and the law of the jungle.

    I am quite certain that the Framers of the Constitution never contemplated the suppression of the spirit of the law by the manipulation of its letter.

    Ruel Daniels wrote:

    [b]“What happens when the state takes this prerogative to set new definitions for criminality. I mean if they are not hampered or burdened by rules of legality why stop at only its criminal enemies. Why not use the wider scope of authority and unaccountability to rid society of all of those “the state” determines are impediments to its administration”.[/b]

    That possibility exists, even at the present time but it is not happening, is it? We have to trust those whom we elect to govern us. But if that were to happen the people would deal with that tyranny the way tyranny is usually dealt with. In Trinidad and Tobago, however, that is a far fetched scenario given our culture, and the historical record of the current players on the political field.

    Ruel Daniel wrote:

    [b]“From Argentina to Peru, every example of a state exceeding the boundaries of the law to combat an irregular and illegal force ended up with the state becoming as bad or worse than those it initially engaged. Maybe you could cite some exceptions”. [/b]

    No need to cite exceptions. The Latin republics have a history and culture of unbridled corruption, dictatorship, oppression and revolutionary violence that are alien to us. Whatever may be said by human rights bodies about events in those countries millions of their citizens have supported those events while others have not. Who are we, as outsiders to judge or to use those circumstances to establish nonexistent parallels with ours.

  • The State is under no obligation to be bound by rigid, narrow minded interpretations of the Constitution that would encase the Government in a semantic straightjacket rendering it to virtual impotence.

    I do not understand this statement. Who is doing the narrow minded interpretations of the constitution. No democracy can survive if the political state is allowed to interpret a nation’s constitution and laws. Throughout the history of this world, that argument has always been made by those bent on usurping absolute power, and its enactment has always led to holocausts, human rights abuses, and people disappearing without a trace.

    A policeman in T&T enjoy more individual power than his or her compatriot in New York or Chicago. Let’s try to ventilate this a little more. What power should the state or Law Enforcement have that is denied to them by narrow interpretaion of the constitution?

    Our Laws derive their legitimacy from our Constitution and the State is entitled to act in accordance with the spirit and intent of the Constitution as opposed to a slavish adherence to the letter of the Law.

    There is a great deal of ambiguity in that statement. In the first place the spirit of the constitution has to be interpreted by those trained in Law. Remember that T&T had Laws before it had a constitution. Law is defined as a “Rule of Human conduct enforced by the state through the authority of the Courts”. Law is like a command and the Courts are its enforcing authority, not the political state. It is the Courts that interpret the constitution. I fail to find any germ of logic in an argument that seeks to separate the Laws from the Constitution. I fail to understand what other authority than the law exist to determine what is the spirit of the constitution. And since this spirit is determined via the agency of the law, an argument that quote, “the State is entitled to act in accordance with the spirit and intent of the Constitution as opposed to a slavish adherence to the letter of the Law,end quote, is grossly ambiguous, if you will forgive me for describing it thus.

    The Law states simply that “it shall be lawful for a policeman to arrest someone without warrant if that person is seen, accused or suspected of committing a felony or a misdemeanour”. And both the law and the constitution embrace in spirit the premise that such a person must be afford due process and the presumption of innocence. That is a legal premise that is constant across all civilized societies.

    The Law and the Constitution compliment rather than conflict with each other. The Constitution is not an independent animate organism separate and distinct from the laws of the land. The constitution places a constraint uopn the laws of the of land, rather than otherwise. The law states that it is seditious to make certain statements, and without the constitution anyone could be hauled off to jail for criticizing the political state. The constitution codifies those individual citizenship rights and freedoms that laws refers peripherally. The constitution as not designed to increase the power of the state. To the contrary its primary purpose is to protect individuals and groups from abuses by the state.

    The State is entitled to the widest possible constitutional latitude and sanction for its actions against known violent criminals, and its right of self defense includes the right of pre-emptive self defense and that in pursuance of that right the Government is entitled to impose a violent solution to put down the criminal element and stop the Nation’s imminent descent into barbarism and the law of the jungle.

    Absolutely not. There is a difference in a statement that pronounces that the state is entitled to such and such, or the state should be entitled to such and such. Pray tell, who or by what authority is that entitlement granted. The state does not have any right under the constitution to use pre-emtive violence against a citizen. I mean you are advancing an opinion, but presenting it as if it is a fact. What section of the constitution provides the state with the authority to use pre-emtiove violence against its citizens.

    Benjamin Franklin is said to have made the observation that quote, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Juxtaposition this with Lord Actons’ thought that all “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and the spectre of your proposition is immensely more frightening than ten times the rate of crime in T&T. I like my chances against the individual criminal. I do not like my chances against a criminal state. And regardless of all the shouldas and couldas one can formulate, when the state strays outside the letter of the law it thrashes the constitution and everything attendant with its authority. Politicians are not angels. That is why they need straight jacket statutes to keep them in check.

  • Let me begin by responding to your following comment:

    • “you are advancing an opinion, but presenting it as if it is a fact”.

    I must apologize for that. I was in fact venturing an opinion. Time did not permit me to re-read as thoroughly as I should have and the statement should have read:

    • The State is entitled to the widest possible constitutional latitude and sanction for its actions against known violent criminals, and its right of self defense should be expanded to include the right of pre-emptive self defense pursuant to which right the Government would be entitled to impose a violent solution to put down the criminal element and stop the Nation’s imminent descent into barbarism and the law of the jungle.

    My mistake! Now on to the rest of my response.

    I wrote:

    • The State is under no obligation to be bound by rigid, narrow minded interpretations of the Constitution that would encase the Government in a semantic straightjacket rendering it to virtual impotence.

    You wrote:

    • “I do not understand this statement. Who is doing the narrow minded interpretations of the constitution?

    The Judiciary, obviously, I thought that was made clear in my very first post on this thread when I wrote:

    • “Whether the Prime Minister and National Security Minister realize it or not, the Government has lost, if not effectively surrendered, to these gangs and criminals in general, the most basic element or aspect of its political authority, namely, its monopoly on force and its control over the use of violence”. The time has come for all three arms of the State to act as one cohesive unit in this war that is being waged against law abiding Society by the steadily growing criminal element. The Government cannot do it alone and it must not allow itself to be stifled by its desire to adhere to the Westminster System. The State, as one cohesive unit, must act to strike a sensible balance between the conflicting imperatives of ensuring the safety and security of Society’s law abiding majority to the natural right to life against the constitutional rights of the criminal minority to “due process”, bail and “the presumption of innocence”. The Courts must give the Government the space and flexibility it needs to deal with the criminal element. Court decisions must not act unreasonably like an albatross around the Government’s neck and suffocate its ability to deal effectively with crime and criminals; they must not encase the Government so stringently in a constitutional and semantic straightjacket that the Government is reduced to a state of virtual impotence as is the case in many instances.”

    You wrote:

    • “No democracy can survive if the political state is allowed to interpret a nation’s constitution and laws. Throughout the history of this world, that argument has always been made by those bent on usurping absolute power, and its enactment has always led to holocausts, human rights abuses, and people disappearing without a trace”.

    Unless we achieve consensus on one critical point, that the crime situation has plunged this Nation into the most serious social crisis of its post independence history and that we are in a “de facto” state of siege at the hands of the minority criminal element, we will continue to debate this topic from diametrically opposed positions, my pragmatism being the very antithesis of your uncompromising conservative constitutionalism.

    My position is simple. There has to be more to the Constitution than the fossilized interpretations of its semantic content that emanate from the stagnated minds that find sanctuary in that cloistered enclave of mediocrity called our Judiciary. Our Constitution is not cast in concrete, it is a living entity and is immortal; it is a legal contract between the State and its citizens that defines the basic structure of government and determines the power of the State and the limits within which that power is to be exercised through the government. It also guarantees certain fundamental rights and freedoms to its citizens. But citizens’ constitutional rights cannot exist in a vacuum and cannot be isolated from citizens’ constitutional responsibilities and obligations to the State and to each other. Inherent in that constitutional relationship between State and Citizens there is an implied sacred obligation that devolves upon each and every citizen to NOT endanger the well being of the State or commit any act to the physical detriment of another citizen, or to deprive any citizen of his right to live. And it is my opinion that in order to enjoy the rights and freedoms you must scrupulously observe the responsibilities and obligations.

    I am not a legal person but I have entered into many legal contracts in my time and it has always been my understanding that a contract automatically cancels itself and becomes null, void and of no legal effect, if one party to the contract refuses or fails to specifically perform any one or more of its terms and conditions, and unless expressly stated to the contrary, all entitlements due to the defaulting party under the contract become forfeit to the other party. In my opinion, the Constitution is no different. It is a legal contract and a defaulting party forfeits his rights as he would under any other legal contract.

    No law that derives its legitimacy from the Constitution can be used to defeat the spirit or intent of any part of the Constitution or to bring about its mortality. Judicial pronouncements on the limits of Government’s power in relation to the constitutional (human) rights and freedoms of citizens must be relevant to Society’s changing social circumstances and needs, particularly in times of crisis, and most of all, they must always be consistent with and bear testimony to the Judiciary’s overriding obligation to uphold and preserve the cohesiveness and integrity of the State.

    Let’s be clinical in our judgments. Where does the State’s primary responsibility lie in times of internal conflict? With the peaceful law abiding majority or the criminal minority that has spurned its obligations to obey the Constitution and the Law and embarked on a murderous rampage against that peaceful law abiding majority?

    I agree that politicians are not angels, but men generally are not, so whom does the law abiding majority take its chances with? The marauding criminals that plunder, rape, maim, mutilate and kill wantonly and have us living in daily fear for our lives and the lives of our love ones or a duly elected Government that resorts to authoritarian rule to pull the country back from the brink of social collapse? We should trust those whom we elect to do whatever is necessary to protect us the law abiding majority even if it means infringing on the civil liberties of the criminal minority or the outright arbitrary removal of those liberties. I see no moral or ethical dilemma there.

    You wrote:

    • “The Law states simply that “it shall be lawful for a policeman to arrest someone without warrant if that person is seen, accused or suspected of committing a felony or a misdemeanour”. And both the law and the constitution embrace in spirit the premise that such a person must be afford due process and the presumption of innocence”.

    And it is also the shield from behind which criminals launch their deadly attacks against law abiding Society. But the myths surrounding these false constitutional rights must be exposed. The presumption of innocence is not as absolute as most people theorize because concomitant with the presumption of innocence there is also the presumption of guilt otherwise the arrested person would not be before the Court and the Court itself would not impose restrictions on the arrested person’s liberty like bail or remanding him into custody. Likewise, where is the right to due process when a police officer shoots and kills a bandit in the course of a robbery as happened in a Sangre Grande pub some two weeks ago. So obviously that right is not cast in stone either and in this state of siege in which we find ourselves this cloak of false constitutional legitimacy that surrounds these constitutional anomalies must be shredded by the Police in their confrontation with criminals and the Courts should pronounce in favour of the State when the body bags are brought in.

    Altruism has never ruled the world and it never will but unlike you I prefer take my chances with State rather than be at the mercy of criminals who discard all rules and kill with impunity. Maybe If I lived in some other country I would think differently, but given Trinidad and Tobago’s history, our culture and the even handedness to date of our various Governments I will not allow the unlikely scenario of authoritarian excesses to deter my endorsement of a heavy handed Government response to the crime situation.

  • I wrote:

    • The State is under no obligation to be bound by rigid, narrow minded interpretations of the Constitution that would encase the Government in a semantic straightjacket rendering it to virtual impotence.

    You wrote:

    • “I do not understand this statement. Who is doing the narrow minded interpretations of the constitution?

    The Judiciary, obviously, I thought that was made clear in my very first post on this thread when I wrote.

    No it was not clear because you also said that the state cannot be bound by the law but has to interpret the constitution with the widest of scope, or words to that effect. Well the judiciary represents the law. The state is bound by whatever interpretation the judiciary applies to the constitution. In effect, the state is bound by the law. The statement therefore that quote, The State is under no obligation to be bound by rigid, narrow minded interpretations of the Constitution that would encase the Government in a semantic straightjacket rendering it to virtual impotence, end quote, suggests that the state is adhereing to some interpretation of the constitution other than the statuted authority. Where is the narrow minded interpretations coming from if not from the judiciary? And if it is coming from the judiciary what other choice does the state have beyond amending those parts of the constitution that you consider restrictive?

    I asked you to be explicit in terms of what power you believe that the state or the police should have that they don’t, and which Law Enforcement Officials might enjoy. This is crucial to giving structure to the hypothesis you are presenting. You said, for example, that policemen were attacked and not one person was arrested. It would seem to me that the problem or issue there is not a lack of power under the law to act. The law does not prohibit visitation of sanctions upon people who assault members of the force. Your argument througout is that the state and the police lack the power to act. Your examples suggest that the state and police lack the will to act. Those are entirely two different propositions, and should not be conflated.

    The Westminster system of government is more state friendly, and confers more power on political states than the Federal System in place in the US for example. How can the Westminster system be restricting the hands of the Government of T&T? You said that all three arms of the state must come together to act in unision. Pray tell, what three arms of the state. THe Westminster system of Government is not tri-cameral. There is no separation of powers, thus no real divisions that can create the kind of conflict germane to the structure of your arguments. The political state in Westminster systems of Governments rule imperially. It rules the land, appoint the judiciary, legislate the laws. You seem to be advancing an idealistic argument that is based more on what is in place in the US as opposed to what is in place in T&T.

  • Ruel wrote:

    • “Pray tell, what three arms of the state. The Westminster system of Government is not tri-cameral”.

    Obviously. My reference was to the three arms of the State, namely: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, not to the bi-cameral composition of the Legislature (Parliament) which is what you appear to have misunderstood.

    Ruel wrote:

    • “There is no separation of powers, thus no real divisions that can create the kind of conflict germane to the structure of your arguments”

    Really? The Separation of Powers is seen in action on a regular basis when the Executive (Government) introduces legislation that requires passage by special majority and it is defeated in either the Lower or the Upper House of Parliament in spite of the Government’s simple majority in both Houses. Even if the Government has a special majority in the Lower House, it never has in the Upper House and therefore cannot pass legislation as it wants. The Police Reform Bills were classic examples of the Government’s legislative impotence in a 20-16 Lower House figuration when for five long years the PNM Government could not pass the Police Reform legislative package because of a non-cooperative Opposition .

    Likewise, the Separation of Powers is seen in action whenever the Court strikes down a particular piece of legislation either in its entirety or certain parts of it on grounds of its inconsistency with the Constitution, or when they issue an injunction against the Government prohibiting a certain course of action or an “order of mandamus” compelling the Government into action against its will.

    How can you say that there is no separation of powers, no real divisions? The Police had to back down from arresting the Chief Justice by warrant on a Friday afternoon when an Order restraining the Commissioner of Police from doing so was issued against him and 7500 individual police officers.

    I have ventured down this road mainly to rebut your assertion that there is no separation of powers, no real divisions that can create the kind of conflict germane to the structure of my arguments and to justify my contention that divisions do exist between the three arms of the State, that they can be at odds with each and that both the Parliament and the Courts (at times) can and do effectively frustrate if not thwart a Government’s agenda. And it is in that context I said that “the time has come for all three arms of the State to act as one cohesive unit in this war that is being waged against law abiding Society by the steadily growing criminal element.”

    Ruel wrote:

    • “I asked you to be explicit in terms of what power you believe that the state or the police should have that they don’t, and which Law Enforcement Officials might enjoy. This is crucial to giving structure to the hypothesis you are presenting”.

    For starters Parliament by special majority can outlaw the Privy Council’s Pratt and Morgan ruling. That would effectively clear the way for the Government to hang every convicted murderer on Death Row regardless of how long he has been there. Once necks begin popping would-be murderers will begin to take stock of themselves and their intended actions.

    That aside, I wrote about the right to pre-emptive self defense. Everyone has a private right of self-defence when attacked personally or when about to be attacked. One does not have to wait to be attacked to defend oneself. I am entitled in law to hit you first to incapacitate you so as to prevent you from injuring me if I have a reasonable, well grounded fear that you are about to attack me or you have signaled your intention to attack me.

    We have to be innovative in these extenuating circumstances. The Attorney General who is legal adviser to the Cabinet can give a legal opinion on the expansion of that private individual right to a collective right and the Executive can act on that advice, engage criminal gangs in violent confrontation and have the matter adjudicated on after the fact.

    In doing so we would have entered previously uncharted constitutional waters. So what? It would not be the first time. President Robinson’s appointment of Patrick Manning as Prime Minister in an 18-18 situation was unconstitutional, but it was legal and could not be challenged. The State hanged Glen Ashby in 1994 while his constitutional motion was being heard. It was not ethical, hell it was not even constitutional, but it was legal and appropriate. We must be brave and let the chips fall where they must in this battle against criminals.

    Ruel wrote:

    • “You said, for example, that policemen were attacked and not one person was arrested. It would seem to me that the problem or issue there is not a lack of power under the law to act. The law does not prohibit visitation of sanctions upon people who assault members of the force. Your argument througout is that the state and the police lack the power to act. Your examples suggest that the state and police lack the will to act. Those are entirely two different propositions, and should not be conflated”.

    I said nothing about policemen being attacked and no one being arrested. I believe you are conflatng statements from Raffique Shah’s opening article with arguments contained in my responses, an understandable mistake. There is nothing idealistic about my argument, however in fact it is rooted in simplicity and pragmatic reasoning.

  • Let’s get some illumination here. Westminster systems of Government are, generally, either bi-cameral as in the case of the UK, or unicameral as in the case of most of the former colonies that inherited and maintained that system. Some of those colonies have gone whole hog and converted the ceremonial head of state position into an executive office where power is vested in the holder by virute of electoral mandate. That is not, yet, the case in T&T.

    The Presidency in T&T is largely ceremonial. He does not exercise active executive powers. He is the nominal or de jure repository of such powers, to the same degree that the Monarchy in state of the United Kingdom is the nominal or de jure repository of the powers of that state. The function of the Presidency of T&T is no different, in actuality, than that of the Monarchy of our former Colonial Master. In fact the Presidency of T&T is merely that of a place holder of that monarchial representation.

    You made the statement that quote, “The State is entitled to the widest possible constitutional latitude and sanction for its actions against known violent criminals, and its right of self defense includes the right of pre-emptive self defense and that in pursuance of that right the Government is entitled to impose a violent solution to put down the criminal element and stop the Nation’s imminent descent into barbarism and the law of the jungle, end quote.

    I fail to find any link between that and the universally and legally acceptable premise that one does not have to wait for a blow to be struck when one is under attack, before mounting a defense. So your dessertation that quote, “ I wrote about the right to pre-emptive self defense. Everyone has a private right of self-defence when attacked personally or when about to be attacked. One does not have to wait to be attacked to defend oneself. I am entitled in law to hit you first to incapacitate you so as to prevent you from injuring me if I have a reasonable, well grounded fear that you are about to attack me or you have signaled your intention to attack me end quote, more than a little, puzzles me.

    The political system in place in Trinidad and Tobago does not support three equal branches of government. You are fabricating agencies in our political and parliamentary system that does not exist constitutionall and legally, in order to support your arguments. That becomes idealistic. It is idealistic to argue about separation of powers between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary in T&T, when the political and parliamentary system in place does not support three equal branches of Government. And what makes this even more stunning is the fact that there is now a debate, or more than that in T&T, about changing our political system to one where the Presidency becomes an executive position. Surely this would be a redundant exercise if, as your arguments pontificate, we were already there.

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