Cuffie’s Fantasies

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 11, 2014

Part 1

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeMaxie Cuffie is a dear friend. It is unfortunate that he misrepresented and distorted what I said in my article. In his anxiety to defend our party, he simply repeats and repositions what he believes rather than to confront the points I made in”PNM’s Last Chance.” (Express, March 3 & 4, 2014)

I never said, as Cuffie purports, that the PNM “has not done enough for Afro-Trinidadians” (Trinidad Guardian, March 9, 2014). Using one of Mandela’s quotations I reminded the PNM that a nation should be judged by how it treats its lowest rather than its highest citizens. I noted: if PNM and Dr. Rowley “fail to leave Trinidad (and especially our brothers and sisters in our depressed areas) in a better way than they found them in 2014, one can confidently predict that 2020 would mark the beginning of the end of the PNM as a political force in the country.”

Then I drew a specific conclusion: “The PNM must accept that the party has failed the country in how it has treated the least amongst us: that is, the people of Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Maloney, and other depressed areas that are predominantly black.”

Using statistics from the Household Budgetary Survey(2008), Cuffie asserted that the income levels of Afro-Trinidadians surpassed those of Indo-Trinidadians “in every income group save the $19,000 to $24,999 income cluster.” I never made a case for Afro-Trinidadians in general nor did I counterpoise Afro-Trinidadians to Indo-Trinidadians. I spoke about a specific subset of the Afro-Trinidadian population that has not done as well as it should under the PNM, especially when they have been a mainstay of the PNM.
If the people of these areas are in a better shape today in their overall well-being (that is, in education; finance; a crime-free environment; have greater safety in the streets; arebetter prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, etc.) than they were twenty or thirty years ago, then I stand refuted. If this is so, all the PNM has to do is to keep on doing what all previous governments did and all will be well. However, I must point out that one way of describing insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.

To argue that my main point of contention is that PNM did not do “enough for Afro-Trinidadians” is to enter a realm of insanity that always plagues our political analysts. It is as absurd as saying that Dr. Eric Williams called all East Indians “the recalcitrant and hostile minority” after the PNM lost the Federal Elections in 1958 when the record shows(the PNM Weekly, June 2, 1958) that Dr.Williams was speaking of a particular reactionary group within the Democratic Labor Party.

There is no need to pay serious attention to Cuffie’s contention that I discount Penny Beckles’s challenge to Dr. Rowley and that “an easy victory for the PNM is dangerous, especially if there is a perception of the ‘we time now’ politics which the professor seems to champion.” The truth of my predictions shall be known after May 28, 2014 and the General Elections of 2015. If Rowley and PNM win, I am vindicated. If they lose, I was wrong in my prediction. It has nothing to do with “we time now,” that wondrous leap of fantasy on Cuffie’s part.

That there is “serious work to be done to achieve a PNM victory at the polls” does not invalidate my proposition. I have been in these battles ever since MacDonald Stanley, the chief lieutenant of Uriah “Buzz” Butler, lost to Badase Sagan Maraj in Tunapuna in 1950. Six years later I was involved when Learie Nicholas Constantine won the Tunapuna seat. I was at the corner of Caura Royal Road and Eastern Main Road, El Dorado in 1976, when supportersof the ULF motorcade hurled insults at blacks as they passed through our area. All of us who were enmeshed in the politics then knew ULF was singing its death-knell. We did not need a poll to tell us what the results were going to be.

Fifty years of political history, being on the ground, and reading the political mood of our people tell me that the PNM shall be victorious in 2015 just as it told me that PNM would lose the 2012 election. I did not vote in that election (the only election in which I did not vote) for the simple reason that I rejected the politics in which a party takes its constituents for granted. This was a main reason why PNM was defeated in 2012.

Part 2

Maxie Cuffie’s major objection to my essayin the Express has to do with “the role of government as it confronts today’s 21st century challenges” which leads to his larger philosophical point: In Trinidad and Tobago “it is generally assumed that elections are fought over how much of the treasury the government can allocate to certain interests groups.”

Then he says: “The government should have as a goal, making its supporters and the population less dependent on the government than they have been and fostering the spirit of self-reliance that is the foundation of great democracies.” To achieve this, “A government should be committed to transparency and integrity, but also more importantly efficiency.” All of this sounds good but does not respond to the point I made in my article.

I began my essay by demanding a change in our political structure. I argued that whereas during colonialism the society was ruled by the governor and the executive council for the benefit of the British Crown a Trinidad and Tobago government today “must involve a radical overthrowing of that order and placing the control of the society in the hands of the community.”

In spite of what Cuffie thinks, “self-reliance” has never been the “foundation of any great democracy.” After the United States broke away from Great Britain in 1776, its growth and development had little to do with self-reliance. It had to do with the restructuring of its internal social and political system to enable its people to rule themselves. In 1787 after the constitution was adopted the big question was how to construct a society that was different from the one they inherited from Great Britain.

The major challenge they faced (putting aside the issues of the enslavement of blacks and the taming of the American Indians) was the relationship between the central (or federal government) and the local or state governments. This was the big argument between Thomas Jefferson (1801-05), the third president of the United States, and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson focused on the “firm protection of states’ rights against federal encroachment” (E. M. Halliday, Understanding Thomas Jefferson) which, by definition, constituted smaller government whereas Hamilton believed in the power and authority of the federal government.

These concerns had to do with how citizens structure their relationship vis-à-vis the federal and state governments and then the subsuming role of the towns and villages (smaller political entities) within the state. In Massachusetts, a state of 6,692,824 people, there are 296 self-governing towns and 55 cities. Some of these towns are as small as 8,485 people (Adams) and others as large as 42,844 people (Arlington). All of these towns and villages have their own budgets and run their own affairs.

My argument then has nothing to do with “affirmative action” nor does it reduce itself to a conclusion that it will not help to elevate Afro-Trinidadians “nor resonate well with the other parts of the country whose support is crucial to cementing a PNM victory.”

My concern has everything to do with deepening our democracy. It has to do with how PNM treats the least fortunate among its constituents once it wins elections. This is why the Economist argued recently: “One reason why so many democratic experiments have failed is that they put too much emphasis on elections and too little on the other essential features of democracy” (March 1, 2014). Their reporter may have been listening to me.

Since Mr. Cuffie is concerned about “great democracies,” I remind him what Lyndon Johnson (1963-68) did once he assumed the US presidency. The first bills he enacted were the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He also implemented Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and, most important of all, “the War on Poverty.” He enacted all these measures in the five years he was president. He was determined to help the least fortunate among those in the United States.

In this context, Cuffie and PNM should heed the advice of John Harwood in his latest “Political Memo”:

“After signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson famously told an aide: ‘We just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time.’ But he had also done something else: he delivered the African-American votes to the Democrats in overwhelming proportions.

“The party of Lincoln [that is, the Republican Party] has not won as many as one in five blacks in a presidential election since, while the African-American share of the electorate has swelled (New York Times, March 9, 2014).

This, as I understand it, is how party politics is played in the “great democracies.” Look out for the least fortunate segment of the population and they in turn will stand by you.

Perhaps Cuffie and the PNM possess a unique political formulation. However, I can assure Cuffie that if the PNM continues to treat its most faithful constituents as it has done in the past, they will desert the party in 2020 and look for another political home.

And this, my brother, is not about affirmative action; it’s the nature of political reality.

7 Responses to “Cuffie’s Fantasies”


  • All of this speculation regarding election outcomes and the fate of the PNM seem fruitless. The success or failure of the PNM has little to do how PNM supporters vote or who is the leader.
    When coalitions form, the PNM loses. PNM voters are loyal. In the last three elections the PNM received 290 to 300 thousand voted. The PNM could win again with the same number of votes, especially with Tobago afraid of the Calcutta ship arriving and returning the two seats to the PNM.
    If the UNC goes it alone, the PNM will win. If a solid coalition is reignited, the voter turnout improves and the PNM will lose. Regardless of what happens, some 290 to 300 thousand loyal voters will turn out again and vote for the PNM. Check the election statistics and observe the voting patterns.

    • “The PNM could win again….especially with Tobago afraid of the Calcutta ship arriving and returning the two seats to the PNM.”T Man

      You my friend ,is more feeble minded/ naive, than I thought, if you think, that’s the real reason, Tobagonians are distrustful of the Calcutta ship – as proclaimed by you , and Auntie Kamla’s spiritual adviser , Sat Maraj. The Guyanarization of T&T,will be halted , by all means.

      • Uninformed scribes like you, Neal continue to make these comparisons with Guyana. T&T is no Guyana, geographically and yes, culturally. Ethnic groups in Guyana are divided by the vast geographical nature of the country, thereby reducing the interactions which characterize the ethnic groups in T&T.
        It is easy for politicians to exploit the minds of the people of Tobago by positioning the T&T Indians as a threat to their heritage. I do agree however that Tobagonians do have a “heritage” to protect which is very different from cultural expressions of Afro-Trinidadians.

        • It is you my friend who keeps prattling on ,about issues on which you haven’t a clue T-Man.What the hell do you , and kind ,really know about Tobagonians, orAfro Trinis for that matter? First of all, since Flora destroyed the historically neglected island ward in 62, some 70 % or more of it’s population ,have migrated ,to either Trinidad , or foreign lands , with few if any returning, to make meaningful contributions, in aid of the country. Their place have been steadily replaced by White Europeans, and the rivaling, neo tribal , Brown Triumphalist Nation, with absolutely no interest in the real welfare of the indigenous folks,or the true development of the island.
          Secondly , there is no “Tobago heritage ,”to protect, and any alleged cultural differences, to similar struggling masses, in Trinidad, is a mere myth.The fact remains, that ,’Ketch tail Afro Trinis’-many of whom , are also Tobagonians – scattered across the length ,and breath ,of Trinidad , are suffering the same fate , as their Tobagonian counterparts . Translation-A systematic use , and discard political tassa whining/jig and dance , come each election.Social beat downs , at every chance.Demonization of their heroes left, right , and center. Denegration of their kids at every turn.Down playing , of Afro Trinis ,noble contributions , re the socio economic,cultural, and political development of their country,and finally,finger pointing , blame game ,for every conceivable ill , that befall our Twin Island Republic, since, ‘You allzzs,’much adored, Euro imperial heros departed our shores.
          As far as to your baseless assertion of exploited minds , by politicians? For the record, there is only one group of people , for whom such a claim can be leveled, and trust me , it ain’t members of ‘Kinky Head Nation.’ It is you, Basdeo , Kamla’s spititual advisor Sat Maraj,the diabolical Dr Goopiesing, and similar neo victimologist folks , that would love to create a wedge between our two major races, but tust me ,..it won’t work.
          As for all that idle talk of vast geogtaphical make up of Guyana? Save it for your naive cross country running hija, or the Canadian Kiwanis club .The facts are that some 95% of Guyanese live together, in Urban areas, and so, the ethic groups, are not as divided by distance , as you would like to think. The Guyanarization of T&T would never , ever occur, and there are reason why. Stay tune, if you really need to find out-from me , that is.
          Tell you what folks, I have been doing my own neo sociological /ethnographic study of my wonderful country , during the past 8 months , and my findings will shock , and likewise intrigue. I have much hope, that those self serving , barbarians will not succeed in destroying , what authentic patriots, began, decades ago, once Massa departed.Stay vigilant,work in solidarity with post tribal progressives, and organize!

          • The ” Brown Triumphalist Nation”, as you put Neal will survive regardless of which disabled political party comes to power in T&T. The reasons are clear. The Brown Triumphalist Nation is too firmly entrenched in all aspects of life in T&T: political, financial, cultural, social, professional, educational, ethnographical.

  • The truth is Dr. Cudjoe is right, the PNM is essentially a spent force. The last reign of the PNM saw enormous cost over run to the tune of several billion dollars. Contractors tend to “pick” the PNM pock more. An example is Tobago where Shaw Park Cultural Center was suppose to cost $164 million but will now cost over $600 million and still remains incomplete. The Tobago library was suppose to cost $24 million but it is over $200 million and still incomplete. Scarborough Hospital was suppose to cost $200 million but came in at a billion dollars. Had TnT not been a blessed nation with oil, we would have been no better than some poor African nation.

    Wealth is not something that can be given to people through political parties. Wealth has to be generated through the creativity of the mind and the willingness of the people to work hard. There are no magic formulas. After WWII, Japan lay in rumbles. Out of the devastation the Japanese people were given the monumental task of rebuilding the nation, they worked 16 hour per day to make Japan a tiny nation earthquake prone the second most powerful economy in the world.

    The psychosis within black communities is lack of strong parental role models to shape and discipline the next generation. Yes I have seen so many teenagers making babies without the proper foundation of a fatherly presence. Those issues cannot be swept under the carpet but must be addressed.

    So what if the PNM wins the next elections? What if Rowley pump millions into building better housing etc. How would that improve the lot of the poor when their children are given to acting out in the most violent manner. Dr. Cudjoe model was Eric an island scholar who provided the inspiration for education. Not only to him to but to thousands of citizens from every stripe. Who are the role models for today’s youth?

  • Way to go T Man, and that’s the spirit! Contrary to what some -like Loyal Ttini would think -I personally , would not want it any other way, my friend.
    This is what nation building is all about. Holding steadfast to your vision for your country, developing a bavk bone , and pushing back your detractors where necessary, working together in respectful fashion , with others of divergent views, looks, and culture , not only when it serves your narrow self interest, but enhance that of our national interest as a whole, and finally embracing that true sense of usually absent , but much needed patriotism, so vital, if win /win , sustainable development is the end game.
    Folks , in ,and out of power, rich or poor , brown , black , yellow , or white , from La Brea, to California, Penal to Erin, Toco to Caranege, Mt Lambert , Scarborough , and counting,must love this land, in good ,and bad times, when political , and economic fortunes sway your way or not.
    It’s a beautiful life.

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