Rumors of War

By Michael De Gale
August 20, 2008

Young PeopleImmigration in the new global economy is a fact of life as wars, restlessness, employment and investment opportunities make it necessary for people to move. Attracted mainly by its new found wealth, T&T has become a particularly attractive destination for immigrants from across the globe. Evidence suggests that most of these immigrants are doing exceptionally well, establishing businesses and accessing supports from government and financial institutions that traditionally deny similar services to locals. As an immigrant myself, it is nice to feel welcome in your adopted home and be able to take advantage of the opportunities provided. What troubles me however, is that native born Trinbagonians on the lowest rung of the socio/economic ladder, continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel for opportunities while living in festering ghettos, not far removed from the days of slavery and indentureship.

To quote Malcolm X, “…Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.” This poignant statement is clearly applicable to Trinbagonians living on the fringes of the society, witnessing recent immigrants enjoying a standard of living locals can only dream about and from all indications would never attain. In essence, they are second-class citizens in the land of their birth. Needless to say, this scenario breeds contempt and leave the door open for those who would use ethnic and anti-immigrant scapegoating rhetoric, to sow seeds of discontent and stroke the fires of racial hatred.

Scapegoating is a historically divisive tactic, used over the years to stir nationalist sentiment, create discord, divert attention and make victims of the innocent often through violent means. History is replete with examples including the near extermination of Jews in Hitler’s Germany and the genocide in Rwanda. From Sarajevo to Sri Lanka, Jerusalem to Djakarta, it seems that much of the world is engaged in a war pitting one group against another. A recent New York Times article claims that there are 47 countries involved in violent ethnic conflict, including 8 in Europe, 10 in the Middle East, 15 in sub-Saharan Africa, 11 in Asia, and 4 in Latin America. Considering the widening gap between rich and poor, the scurge of violence in the society, the influx of new immigrants, race baiting by the politically ambitious and a host of other trigger factors, it is only a matter of time before T&T takes its place as a nation in conflict.

In this smouldering couldron of race, class and immigration, it is morally reprehensable and politically irresponsible to allow a growing underclass to stew in poverty. The violence that is claiming the lives of young people in T&T on a daily basis is evidence of a restlessness; symptoms of much deeper social problems. Punative responses to crime without addressing the root of the problem while providing incentives to newcomers in disproportion to locals, adds insult to injury. CEPEP and URP programs may provide short term relief to satisfy immediate needs, but they fail to provide long-term support to launch careers, instill dignity and support families. Skill training programs, self-employment initiatives, investing in communities and access to education are integral components in the struggle to liberate people from their wretchedness. It is not charity but investing in people and communities that will stave off the kind of conflict that is plaguing nations around the world. Embarking on a reactive approach to issues that promises to be potentially explosive is a fatal mistake for any administration. If the authorities are unable to control the violence that is currently taking place, it would be impossible for them to successfully put out the fires of ethnic and racial violence that seems inevitable. As the saying goes take in front. If the authorities refuse to yield to reason before long they will yield to force.

13 Responses to “Rumors of War”


  • In a previous piece I wrote about three years ago, I stated that the average poor Trinidadian was worth millions, in terms of the worth of the oil and gas being extracted daily. BHP Billiton, a late entry into the energy sector of TnT, psted profits of about $15 Billion recently. Yet the endemic poor, remain poor. Somebody wants it so.

    The seething “underside” of the country continues to seethe, and young men waste each other, and DOMA laments tht TnT is a land of murders and steelband, but they are only conconcerned about the crime in Port-of-Spain, that may cause these same poor people to spend less. DOMA makes no statement about the vicious cycle of wife murder, even one ocuring at the roadside in Couva. DOMA does not do business in Couva.

    All of this, could come to a boiling point, if nothing is dome. Smart leaders could grab the opportunity to set up a small business loan system, based on the worth of an individual citizen, based on 50% of his/her share of the oil resources. At the same time, our oil money could be used to build first rate schools, each with its own gym, and sports facilities throughout the country, so that the people will have positive things to do besides shoot each other in a video-game reality show.

    Schools could be used on evenings to tecah courses in starting small businesses, managing money and debt and retraining for specific skilled jobs. One of the things I admire about the USA, is the number of things a person can go to school to learn, even at age seventy.

    If we do all of this, we would be on our way to providing full employment and a handhold up the ladder of success for those people in our nation who never had a chance.
    The opportunity to avert disaster still exists. The question is, do we have the will to do what needs to be done?

    As long as one group of people in any country, remains the identifiable poor, this is a recipe for violent and bloody outcomes.
    It is not enough to say they are lazy. Those people’s ancestors cleared all the woos to create the sugar growing lands, norw inherited by the children of the eoriginal indentures. If I am much weathier than my neighbor, who lives near starvation, no way am I safe in my house.

  • T&T has needed community colleges since the mid 70’s no gov’t has seen it fit to help create them, back in the 80’s the NAR gov’t had a plan to build a national one. but Bakh and Panday’s action in 1990 put a stop to it.

    T&T is 25 yrs behind Singapore, Taiwan South Korea and even Barbados(who’s Polythenic and Community colleges were built with petro $$$ borrowed from the PNM in the 70’s)

  • There is an issue of today’s get-rich-quick, work- less culture playing into this whole issue across the length and breadth of Trinidad. This culture breeds laziness, greed, envy, crime. And Excuses. Today’s youth has lost the Trinidadian way of life, and have become tantalized with the North American way.

    When I think back to my father’s generation fifty years ago, I ask myself one question? How can two people with primary level education, living without plumbing, running water, or electricity, raise 8, yes 8, children to excellence? They were poor yes, and life was very hard, but they all studied, attained have first degrees (my Dad and a brother got PHDs), and managed to have a very productive life, contributing to development in the Caribbean and abroad.

    Dad lived in Freeport, and went to school in Sando, had to mind chicken and goat to make extra pennies etc. But he studied, and made something of himself! Sure this was another time different with different influences, but there is a relavance to today’s scenario! Parents have to be there for their kids, instilling the proper values and guiding them through life. It also doesn’t hurt to put a few taps in their tail when they stray.

    Yes today there are economic pressures (and there will always be), and yes there are glaring historical imbalances (Linda cites the land issue), but the key lies in the (re-)introduction of cultural values, self-worth and optimism that seems to have become lost along the way.

  • Hunger has a way of throwing key values out the window. Mine was a family with land. We grew up in the countryside. The fate of theose who grew up near Port-of-Spain, and never escaped from the servant class is what makes for the disparity. One of my tasks as a young teacher was to mix and distribute the milk to needy children. This was UNESCO’s and the government’s way of securing the basic nutrients needed for brain activity, but the damage to a starved brain begins in the womb. Compensatory work in early childhood education can help, but you find that the poor who cling to the underedge of deprivation cannnot invest in vitamins. They feed belly-ful foods.

    We need to tackle this situation without blaming the victims, who are the children of the poor who give birth to more poor children. Unless state intervention happens, nothing will change. Those of us lucky enough- genes and opportunity- to be able to read andcontribute to this blog, must understand that if we continue to blame those who have been at the bottom of the heap for a very long time, due to no fault of their own, the God Of Plenty will withdraw his support from us.

    A thirteen year old girl living in D’Abadie two years ago, told me she wanted to be a “Gun woman”. I had never heard the term before, and was not sure what career that would lead to, other than an early death. This child had leadership possibilities, but I could not explore tham fuly because I was working with them only for a two-week motivational session. At age four, my nephew wanted to be a pilot. What makes the difference? Education for parenting; and education. Children in early childhood have wonderful opportunities to be all that they could be. Hope begins to die at about age ten. (If your name is Hope Arismandez it comes earlier, real death.)

    Can we catch them before they fall?

  • The competition of race obscures all rational thinking in T&T.Political parties hoodwink the population and make “slaves” out of them, staining their fingers without thinking of the consequences and without making their elected officials accountable. The “we better than them” attitude dominates thinking as it refers to the hierarchy of skin tones, race, class and quality of hair.
    Only direct and sincere State intervention to improve the quality of education, social programs and the lives of children ,could rescue T&T.Do not only focus on rewarding the achievement of Olympic medals, but create programs to benefit the youth and train them to excel on the international stage.
    These are not new ideas. They are echoed frequently. We have the talent and the money but the will is absent.

  • Don’t you like it when confronted with people that have little empathy for the plight of the many less fortunate among us? Fifteen paragraphs extolling the virtues of hard working dad and brothers as they mind goats and chicken en route to obtaining Ph. Ds, but three tiny lines on economic neglect and social disparities that contribute to loss of dreams of others across the nation.
    It is the same baseless mantra that is pronounced by 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation Europeans in America. “My father came to this country as a poor illiterate immigrant from Italy or Ireland, and Germany with noting, and look at me today as the Mayor of New York City, Commissioner of Police ,or CEO of this thriving Fortune 500 Company. “If we could make it with no help from the state, so can any one if they are not lazy and prepared to be accountable for actions.” How about this one, “my grand -father when to WW11 came back home on the GI Bill, started a family, did two jobs and the end result is what you see.” “I love this country!”
    In the mean time the lying bastard would not indicate that his father landed here and in two weeks time he had his green card and citizenship, and did not have to suffer the effects of many of the institutional racism and similar discriminatory practices that are extended to immigrants especially of color. The average West Indian woman is working three jobs to pay her rent, send some home to Trinidad or other island where her husband and four kids still resides ,as she tries desperately to get that illusive green card while dealing with unscrupulous lawyers, employees, and ‘on paper resident husband .’ Not everyone have the luxury to run to distant shores and beg for persecution asylum, while at the same time plunk down $200, 000 US at NYU, Fordham, or University of Texas to study Computer Science or an MBA my friend.
    While you pontificate try to contemplate the act of carrying four bags of chicken feed up a steep hill in Febeau Lavantille or Movant especially after a heavy rain like we had recently. Since you believe that it is only you families that’s culturally industrious and have dreams, try to imaging living in gang laden John John , or Gonzales after one of the big boys get murdered, and police decides to implement curfews which obviously affects the single mom trying to raise her two daughters ,, find transport home to check kids homework , do two jobs ,and still try to earn a certificate from Tranquility or John D to pull herself out of the abyss.
    I can see that you only want to believe that claptrap about children failing because parents aren’t there, then imagine raising boys in tough Metropolitan cities –in which most of us are forced to start – where they interact with others that historically see education as ‘selling out to the man.’ Your parental efforts of fostering hard work, education focus, pails in comparison to the lure of the streets and other destructive elements. The result and full recognition becomes obvious only down the road with negative consequences.
    Let me admit to have much patience with some one that does not know better, perhaps through lack of exposure or deficient education etc. It is the opposite I have little patience with. You know the ones, which try to insult our collective intelligence with every post, hiding behind the same code words and put downs of others where possible. They will search relentless for some skewed article that helps bolster a narrow argument. It is why we must find a way soon to get to a wider, workable and perceptive audience if any changes are to take place. I shared a plane ride and seat recently with Frederick Morton Jr CEO of Caribbean TV tempo , and certain ideas were sewed as a result of conversations. We’ll see where this leads in time.http://www.gottempo.com/

  • I have often wondered why every ethnic immigrant group in just about every country accepting immigrants quickly surpass the economic achievement of the African indigenous population in those countries. This is a disappointing statistical fact. WHY?

  • T.Man posted:

    I have often wondered why every ethnic immigrant group in just about every country accepting immigrants quickly surpass the economic achievement of the African indigenous population in those countries. This is a disappointing statistical fact. WHY?

    RACISM! But not only racism in terms of how other people treat Africans. As a result of the legacy of racism on the psyche of Africans, many have internalized negative perceptions about themselves and they also harbor limitations on their own potential. Many Africans have not removed from their psyche the limitations that were placed during and after slavery. Limitations that were not only placed by enslavers and colonizers, but limitations that were encouraged by poor African leaders who were just interested in securing political power and personal economic benefits. Society generally rejects efforts to correct this because correcting this is not only about addressing the poor ideas Africans have about themselves, but it also includes exposing how racism is practiced by others against Africans and the poor leadership that Africans have accepted.

  • And in addition, many of those new immigrant groups develop similar racist attitudes against people of African origin who were there before them.

  • kerry mulchansingh

    “What makes the difference? Education for parenting; and education. Children in early childhood have wonderful opportunities to be all that they could be. ”

    Thank you Linda! Successful parenting does make a huge difference between success and failure of the youth. My Dad’s generation proved that to me. They could easily have succumbed to poverty that was their reality, made excuses,drop by the weyside, got involved in crime, etc., but their parents created that difference.

    In today’s world where both parents have to work just to get by, arrive home tired etc., it’s all too easy for kids to fall under other influences, from those in the TV to those on the streets. But the challenge to parents everywhere, is to provide that stable, stimulating environment, while dealing with the economic challenges. Speaking as a parent of two young children, I know that it’s not an easy task, but it’s simply my duty.

    The bottom line is that poor parenting can have serious consequences, not only on a personal level, but on a societal level.

  • And when the children get to a school where teachers have never heard the term “in loco parentis”, and do not act as wise and loving parents to All the children, the neglect due to parental ignorance, does not get changed.It can become rage at the system.

    More that forty years ago, some of my colleagues and I were standing on the verandah of Woodbrook Secondary School, watching the chidldren line up after lunch to come into the building. One little rascal was restless, mischievous and doing all that he could to disrupt the line. One tacher made a derogatory remark about him. The Principal, Mr. Harry Joseph had come up behind us, unawares. As others downrated the little boy, Harry Joe interjected “Do you think when his mother was carrying him, she wanted a mischievous little rascal? That is what life threw at her. Lets deal with it.”

    We were stunned. Since then, I have gone on to earn two degrees, and a number of accolades. Through all this time, I have kept those words before me. This is not what his mother dreamed of when she was carrying him. This is what life threw at her.
    Teachers are meant to make a difference in what life throws at our nation’s children, all of them.

    Not everyone has educated parents ,all of them have educated teachers.

  • I grew up in Jamaica, where I did the majority of my schooling. School discipline used to be much heavier then, and the principal used to cane the high school boys back then, so we were so wary. Not sure if it was similar in T&T.

    Back then students had more respect (and fear, perhaps) of teachers. If I ever went home and told my parents that I was reprimanded or worse yet caned, they would almost do the same. Students today have it much easier, and parents have even been known to go to school and rough up the teacher on occassion.

    Over the years, the relaxed discipline in the schools, coupled with the less rigorous parenting at home, have, in my opinion contributed to the breakdown in discipline in …manifesting itself in increased waywardness and criminal tendencies being observed in both Jamaica and Trinidad.

  • An early lesson I learned from my first principal, Mr. Basdeo MAharaj, at El Socorro Governtment School, TnT, was to talk to parents standing behind your chair.
    The reason was so that if the parent got aggressive, you have the chair as both a defence, and a weapon.This was in 1956. In 1957, a teacher at D’Abadie Gov’t got his ear bitten off by a parent. None of this is new.The papers dramatize it, and play it over and over. Children have not goten worse, they have gotten more aware of their rights, which were routinely exploited by teachers in our time.

    Do you think that today, a teacher or teacher/priest can routinely sexually exploit a twelve year old, without that child notifying someone? Those days are gone. Teachers, in many cases, still want to teach by oldfashioned methods that may or may not have worked for them.Learning is not necessarily a quiet activity. Qiet is needed for some things, and some are noisy and active.

    About three years ago, I forgot my watch at home. When I asked one of the kids- eleven year olds- what time it was, he said “check your cell phone miss.” Touche!
    They were adept at locating and downloadin things off the internet. We put together a whole booklet of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems by each one, bringingin one. The poetry textbook did not have any of his great work.
    I put it to readers, that education today is a participatory process.
    Inputs from children can be wonderful.

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