Playing games with people’s lives

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 31, 2022

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIt is with regret that I return to PNM’s neglect of its people. It seems that nothing one says or does can make its ministers recognise their tone-deaf responses to the cries of their people. It is, as my mother used to say, “like stick break in dey ears”.

I couldn’t help but feel this way when I read Minister Marvin Gonzales’s response to reporters after he and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland visited John John and Sea Lots, with a view to repairing the sewage issues that have plagued the people of the latter area for several years.

While I give the PNM kudos for attending to the problem, I can‘t understand why Gonzales refused to go into Beetham Gardens and felt it necessary to lecture the residents about morality and responsible political behaviour.

His rationale: “I have had information that the United National Congress elements responsible for stirring up the protest action recently have taken a sip of alcohol and are misbehaving again. For the benefit of the people of Beetham I will stay away from there so that the workers can do their work in peace and comfort and let the jokers continue to be jokers.” (Express, January 26.)

Such a statement, coming from a minister, to a constituency that has always voted for the PNM, was unfortunate. All residents, regardless of their political affiliation, deserve the services of the government in power. When the PNM members took their oath of office, they pledged to serve all of the members of the community. Strange, then, that they should discriminate against a community because it’s alleged a UNC member started the protest to draw attention to a health hazard that faced the community.

Government officials need to respect the people who elected them and support their legitimate rights to peacefully protest against what they see as Government’s indifference to their problems. The whole community should not suffer because some of the residents “interfered with the pumps” and stole the fuel that prevented the pumps from operating efficiently. This was a wonderful opportunity for the Government to work in partnership with the community to solve the problem.

Rather, the minister offered a misguided lecture on morality: “When it comes to supplying water and electricity to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I am not about playing games. I am not about playing politics and any poli­tician that is involved with playing politics with people’s lives, we should get them out of the political landscape.”

Perhaps I got it wrong, but I thought that Minister Gonzales is a politician who happens to be a minister. I don’t know that he can separate his political persona from his ministerial identity or even if such a distinction is possible. More importantly, what is his empirical basis for asserting that “what transpired on the Beetham recently was politically motivated by people who believe that they should benefit from the true and sincere suffering of segments of the community”?

This dubious distinction reminds me of Spoiler’s satirical calypso, “Magistrate Try Himself” (1958), in which a magistrate acted as both judge and jury simultaneously for a speeding charge. At the trial, “Heself tell heself, ‘You are charged for speeding.’/ Heself start to shout, ‘The policemen lying!’/ Heself tell heself, ‘Doh shout!’ He said, ‘No sport!’/ And he charge himself for contempt of court.”

In the end, the magistrate took out his mirror, looked at himself, and rendered his judgment: “Heself tell heself to pay twenty dollar/ He bus out a cry, then turn round and say, ‘Give me a chance, ah want a lil time to pay.’” The magistrate finally gave himself five years to pay his fine of $20.

Spoiler wanted to illustrate the absurdity of a person being the judge and jury of his own misadventure. It’s a point that Gonzales couldn’t intuit from his presumed moral seriousness: that is, a politician declaring he is not a politician even though he derives his power and privileges from being a politician.

Eric Williams represented the area that these esteemed ministers supposedly represent. As a sophisticated politician, Williams would never have made such an ill-advised statement. In “The Case for Party Politics in Trinidad and Tobago”, Williams noted: “Every step taken by the party must be a step calculated not only to do something in the interest of the people or for the good of the people, but rather designed to get the people to do things for themselves and to think for themselves.”

The Beetham Gardens project would have been a great opportunity for the Government to work with community members to come up with a satisfactory solution to their problems. It was unfortunate that Gonzales depicted these citizens as mischievous children who had sinned and thus were unworthy of his entering into their community to ground with them and to work out their problems together.

One wonders if Gonzales and Fitzgerald Hinds, the representative of Beetham Gardens, will return to that community to solicit their votes during the next local and national elections. After all, a politician’s moral zeal cannot be separated from the human source that gives life to his political identity.

Wasn’t this the point Farley Augustine made when he announced his “Show Me a Road Tobago” programme, in which he spoke about the community working together with established Government agencies to solve their problems? Didn’t Williams announce a similar concept in “The Case for Party Politics”?

Is it possible that Tobagonians, at the last election, were responding to the “Prado Boys” who looked down contemptuously at the ordinary citizens? Could the PNM find itself in a similar situation in Trinidad in the next election?

8 thoughts on “Playing games with people’s lives”

  1. >Is it possible that Tobagonians, at the last election, were responding to the “Prado Boys” who looked down contemptuously at the ordinary citizens? Could the PNM find itself in a similar situation in Trinidad in the next election?<

    No Professor, The PDP is yet another sellout, mammagying bunch.. Didn’t you see what Watson Duke did with his vaccines ? Oh, you are a VaxMan too.. you don’t have to serenade the PDP that much.. pretty sure they will love to have you on board..

    But Professor.. I think you must tell us how many seasoning, buck breaking Slave Plantation we had in TT during slavery? It sure has left its effect on the society.. It is only Mammaguy from these so-called leaders.. Maybe it’s why Africans in TT find ourselves in such a peculiar position, today..

    Here Professor..some think slavery was just about ‘working the slaves.’.. Slavery had a lot to do with ‘conditioning’ us into who/what we are today.. and it’s pretty sad.. How do we address this, Professor?

    1. Mr Ramk, the things I am going to same say here may not be be politically correct and may not even pass the moderator but in order for us Trinidad and Tobago people to move ahead it needs to be said.

      I. Slavery was abolished in the British colonies in 1834. What this means is that not a single black person in T&T going back at least three generations ever experienced slavery. YouTube videos of the hardships of the mid-Atlantic passage etc may be useful for history books and and to gather sympathy for BLM movement and Critical Race Theory crowd and their psuedo-Intellectuals however it does not help the poor scrunting unemployed black youth in Beetham Gardens, Laventille or anywhere else in the world. It is another example of the “house slaves” exploiting their racial brethren. An undeniable fact of history is that the majority of the black slaves shipped out of Africa to the West Indies, the Americas, Arabia, even India( the Siddis) were enslaved by fellow Africans and sold on the west coast to European slave traders or dragged across the Sahara desert to be sold in the slave markets of Arabian Empires.

      2. Trinidad & Tobago is a unique society with a healthy mix of of various peoples (Blacks, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Venez etc) all of which contribute to making the the country a potential paradise.
      In metallurgy, there is a category of materials called alloys which are comprised of two or more pure elements. Alloys show superior properties compared to the individual elements. For example, iron and carbon provides steel, iron and zinc produce galvanize which has rust protection properties.

      3. The real problem we are dealing with is that one political party PNM, comprised of predominantly one racial group have successfully captured the reins of power in T&T for the past 65 years, and their leadership are so convinced of their own invincibility, that they will keep their supporters in Beetham, Laventille,
      East West Corridor, Point Fortin and LaBrea in a state of perpetual dependency and fear. Is this any different from the African Slave Traders of yesterday?
      4. The only solution going forward is for all us to take a hard look at where we are today, how we go got here, and where we want to go. As Bob Marley said, ” Don’t let them fool us, Don’t let them school us”
      It may also be time to drag out an old slogan from the 1970s, “Indians and Negroes Unite”.

      Our time is running out.

      1. Mitra, I was trying to stay focused on ‘Mammaguy and Mammagizzim’, and its effect on TT. but..

        Do you think that Indians escaped ‘Black Slavery’, Mitra?
        A kidnapper in the ‘Free States’ could have ‘earned’ $25k US (in today’s currency) for taking a slave down south… Do you think that you could have told these kidnappers, “I am not a Negro, don’t you see the texture of my hair?”
        Maybe if ‘we’ had more access to the airwaves of TT… you would have known that ‘Africans’ are a very diverse people… But unlike Sat, The Professor never pursued his ‘African’ Stations.
        No voice to tell you, NO, it is not just Indian Delicacies… We have been interacting way before the Portuguese came and stole people from the beaches of Madagascar.
        Here, have a Sahenna on me, Mitra.×800.jpg

        We need to rewrite this whole African, India story… and it is not that difficult to do…


        1. Mr Ramk, thanks for the saheena, looks very tasty, you should try the ones in my home village of Debe.

          Regarding the India-Africa story, I am totally in support of the various races in T&T being respectful of each other and cooperating instead of competing on a tribal basis.
          Maybe in 100 years, the population in T&T will be so intermingled there will be no Africans, Indians, Chinese, Syrians etc but only Trinis to the bone. The lovely islands of Madagascar and Mauritius have already achieved some of this so there is hope for us. Best wishes in your endeavours.

  2. The politics of indifference is played out well when the PNM is in charge. The talking heads appear and say the most insensitive thing to a hurting community. It was not too long ago Minister Hinds had to run for his life out of that community.

    Beetham is known for its rage, blocking the highway creating an environment of fear and social discord. This does not give any right thinking political representation to undervalue the pain inflicted upon them by neglect. Certainly the suffering of the people must not be waved away with “they look fuh dat, or dey too dam lazy”. The UNC had 22 projects in Laventille when Rowley became PM it was reduced to 2. Elections have consequences when you leader don’t really care about you, suffering be your cup.

    Laventille, Beetham history was shaped by the large influx of Caribbean people coming in the 50s, 60s creating a voter bank for the PNM. The illiterates like huddled masses, could not find upward mobility and in true arrogance became a symbol of gun violence in TnT with young gunslingers proudly displaying their arsenal of weapons without fear. Late in the night guns went off like fire crackers, a documentary featuring top cop Alexander show the utterhopelessness of human depravity. Who you vote for does not necessarily means good representation…..

  3. Beetham is in a riding which will vote PNM, no matter who is contesting the seat. These Ministers are fully aware of this long standing fact.

  4. Most of the Caribbean people who came in the 1950s and 60s were hardworking people.
    The current crop of Laventille and Beetham residents are home grown children of the PNM accustomed to years of freeness.

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