Resurrecting the dead

By Raffique Shah
July 20, 2020

Raffique ShahI had no intention of intervening in the campaigning for the general election, which is due to be held in three weeks. It is well established that politicians say the darndest things in normal times, and they become outrageous when they are soliciting votes from the electorate. They not only lie, they make promises that they and the voters know they can never keep. . But there is a tacit understanding between the combatants that allows the candidates to peddle lies, to promote the impossible and not be held accountable for it.

Because I see my role as being more than a mere commentator in a wrestling match, I feel compelled to point out to people the more bizarre promises that are being hurled at them, just so they know what the facts are. Not that knowing the truth will influence them to make wise choices. Far from it: most electors have long decided whom they will vote for, and the truth will hardly cause them to vote otherwise.

I was shocked when I read last week that Kamla Persad-Bissessar proposes to resurrect the sugar industry should she steer the United National Congress to victory at the polls. Many of us who have been involved in that industry are aware of its multiple inefficiencies, of why it was near-impossible to save it when the Patrick Manning government shut it down in 2003 (it actually ground to a halt in 2007). If we could not prevent its collapse then when it still had a thing or two going for it, by what stretch of even the most fertile imagination can one argue for its resurrection today, when not only has its corpse been reduced to dust, but its skeleton to ashes?

To even think of such a backward step when the post-Covid narrative is about diversification of the economy, about information technology, renewable energy, hydroponics and so on, suggests that Kamla and the UNC are trapped in a time warp, which is frightening. For numerous reasons, which I cannot detail in this short space, the revival of sugar as a major plank in the new economy is wholesale sewage.

Where is the land for such misadventure? Don’t tell me about former Caroni sugar cane fields that have been carved up and shared among friends, thieves and squatters. Where are the labourers who will do the hard work that is synonymous with sugar production, from slavery through indentureship and up until the closure of the industry? Mechanisation is limited, and part-time labourers, URP-style, won’t cut it.

The more I think of Kamla raising the spectre of restoring sugar, the more bizarre I find it. I served on several committees that sought to save the industry when there were two functioning factories, a refinery, some field equipment and other rolling stock, and a number of managers, workers and farmers who were willing to give it a shot. But the hurdles were numerous and insurmountable, so we abandoned sugar as a cursed legacy of colonialism, one that we should cleanse from our bodies and souls, and move on.

In the fields, yields per acre averaged between 15-25 tonnes when upwards of 30 tonnes, and often 40, were the norm by major producers (Brazil, India). Then the quality of canes was generally poor, their conversion rate (tonnes of cane to tonnes of sugar) worse. Unplanned fires wreaked havoc in both farmers’ and estate fields, a situation that worsened when squatters occupied nearby lands. The work ethic in all aspects of sugar production declined to URP levels. And when preferential prices for raw sugar exports to the European Union ended with the expiry of that Protocol, we were simply a high-cost producer that could not survive.

In other words, it was cheaper to import raw or refined sugar on the world market than to produce it locally. Some people argue that we should continue production and export, if only for the foreign currency we could earn. That would be akin to buying US dollars at way above the official exchange rate because it was available.

The statement by Kamla that if the UNC wins the election on August 10, it will revive the sugar industry, has sentimental value only to a small number of older, ex-sugar workers. It means nothing to younger people in what used to be called the “sugar belt” since they will have no interest in working the fields. And it will not stimulate interest elsewhere in the country. Ever since Caroni Limited was shut down in 2007, sugar has been imported without a hitch, and that is what concerns consumers.

The UNC’s position on reopening the oil refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre as a state enterprise, whatever the cost to taxpayers, similarly has no appeal to the average citizen. Kamla is best advised to start campaigning on the real issues before the race is over.

12 thoughts on “Resurrecting the dead”

  1. Don’t Blame Kamla!
    The same racist, narrow minded voters that cheered her on throughout her disgraceful stint as PM, and then voted for her again in 2015 have given her a lifetime seal of approval. The average or vast majority of indian voters, care nothing for governance, but rather what the person who governs them look like! As long as the person isn’t african, they’re acceptable! Since 1956, the indian caribbean population have only voted based on the principle of anti-african racism.Interestingly, even after more than a half century of evidence, the african population is yet to realize that the indian politics = Hindu Nationalism= Anti-african racism! Hindu nationalism is sbout ethno-religious dominance, exclusion and racism. No religious (Brahman-ist)”Hindu” would elect a black skinned african as any type of authority figure if presented with options, just as no religious islam follower (muslim) would elect porky the pig to authority. Indian muslims and indian christians are descended from converted brahman-ists, and carried over the racist anti-african ideology of Brahman-ism as shared ‘culture’. Meanwhile, ignorant africans believe that they can change that with songs and electioneering. Good Luck with that!

    ‘To be Asian is not to be anti-racist’: Why we need to address racism in Asian communities – University of Cambridge

  2. Great idea to revive the sugar industry. But Shah is right youths today will not be interested, that was a slave and indentureship historical experience. Working in the hot Sun is punishment enough. I cut cane it was not easy. Turn Brechin castle into a sugar museum and do school tours there.

    The idea of producing enough sugar for local consumption should be examined. It does not have to sugar cane could be sugar beet. And mechanization from beginning to ending is the way forward. Nobody wants to take a cutlass and cut cane anymore, bruises and “corn” should be a thing of the past.

  3. Shah should show some objectivity. I wonder sometimes if he is a PNM apologist or a “journalist”.
    All of his articles support the PNM, sometimes veiled, sometimes obvious.
    He objected and ridiculed Kamla’s request for International observers for the election.
    He is overestimating the literacy and tolerance of T&T voters.The PNM has had a tribal core following of 40% of the voters in every election, win or lose. The core of the UNC Hindu support will remain unchanged, but it cannot win without support from non-hindu Indians, Muslims and a variety of swing voters.
    The battle for power, culture and resources will continue, no different from Guyana.
    The comedy of underdeveloped, ignorant election errors continue, led by Kamla and Rowley.
    Only a fool would think that what is happening in Guyana could not happen here.

  4. Very easy to criticize Mr Shah, but do you have any good suggestions on what industries and sectors the Government could invest in to stimulate the economy in a post Covid scenario?

    There is nothing wrong with creating a local sugar industry. T& T has land, the climate, and the technical know how to successfully revitalize this industry.

    Some immediate benefits will be increased employment for workers and farmers and reduced dependence on foreign imports. The same logic could be applied to becoming self sufficient and growing food for local
    consumption. Less imports means less need for foreign currencies and more disposable income for local families.

    Don’t need a committee to figure this out.

  5. If “Sugar” was an ENslaved African and Indentured migrant worker (Portugese, Chinese and finally indian) experience, why were tens of thousands of acres of land given almost EXCLUSIVELY TO INDIANS upon the closure of the sugar industry?…Ignorance and self loathing! Patrick Manning, allowed the racist myth that only indians worked the cane fields (which erases african history), to influence the land giveaways along with the VSEP to caroni workers. Did the then african dominated BWIA staff get land or plane parts when BWIA closed down? Did manning get any resulting indian ‘sugarbelt’ votes? No! He was an imbecile, for gravely harmed the african community’s (his political base) socio-economic future with that decision. The predictable results 17 years later?…widespread theft of state under the camouflage of the ‘legitimate’ land recipients, by big, medium and small (Indian)business owners and farmers. This is why african lives cannot matter in trinidad!

  6. Mr Inconvenient Truth from your racist rantings I am beginning to think that you may not actually be a real Trinidadian but some but some brainwashed dupe who never had an Indian person as a childhood friend or schoolmate.

    Furthermore from your obsession with precedence, and parroting of arcane historical factoids it appears that you may not have progressed beyond Standard Seven level in whichever part of the world you belong.

    Whether you like it or not, one of the best features of Trinidad society and culture is its diverse population.

    I think a reasonable person would also conclude that the only way forward for the country is for the various races to respect each other and work together.

    My best advice to you is to acquire some State Lands yourself and grow some cash crops to sell in the market.
    Of course you will need to wake up early, plant seeds and water crops and hustle to the market to sell your goods but I can promise you that you will be much healthier, happier and richer after all your work. Good luck.

    1. Standard 7…Tariqandalus’ isn’t that when your mother gave birth to you?…her last child?

    2. Racism, is in the case of trinidad, is a feeling of genetic superiority over others. Whereas all ethnic groups in trinidad believe that africans are inherently inferior to them and PRACTICE racism against them, i have never believed that having straight hair or indian features are inferior and therefore never practiced that belief. It is not because i’m a good person per se, but i am simply a product of an anti-racist C-U-L-T-U-R-E and R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N…unlike so many others!

  7. Tariqandalus 🙂
    I don’t presume to know your citizenship, but i do know trinidadian social politics. In Trinidad, there is an obnonoxious sense of entitlement that the indian community has to the discussion and narrative concerning issues of race and racism, to the point that, whenever an opposing view emerges from africans, it is automatically deemed “racism”. Hence, many indian trinidadians are posting and shouting “All lives matter”. Tariqandalus is angry because i criticized the unequal distribution of state lands…in tariqanalus community, unfairness to african people IS fairness! Any criticism or objection to this ‘culture’ is “racism”.
    The only people on planet earth that use the vile, gaslighting logic , that racism, is in fact, the vigorous identification and denouncing of racism…are hardcore, irredeemable racists themelves!
    Devant Maharaj was made a MINISTER OF GOVERNMENT by then PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

  8. Devant Maharaj, was made a Government Minister by then PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar. When the masses of african people objected to this unelected appointee, the mere objection, was deemed “racism”. The type of persons with the mindset to instinctuvely use gaslighting accusations of a serious issue such as racism, to silence critics of injustice ARE irredeemably racist themselves!

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