Talk Raoul, talk history

By Raffique Shah
January 18, 2015

Raffique ShahRaoul Pantin and I never worked together as journalists in the 40-odd years that I knew him. Yet, in some curious ways, our lives and paths intertwined and intersected, particularly during the major political convulsions in the nation’s history.

As products of the same generation, we forged a friendship that allowed us to share experiences of different eras (witness his “Afro” hairstyle in the 1970s and my rebellious profile) even as we at times disagreed on issues. When, last Wednesday, I heard he had passed on, I realised that a phone call I had planned to make early in the New Year would now never happen—a cruel reminder that we had both reached “that age” when one must do what one plans since there may be no tomorrow.

Much has been said by his peers and protégés about his multimedia talents for me to add anything. I knew him first as a journalist that an activist could trust, and most of all as a writer/columnist whose style and depth made him a must-read.

For me to talk about Raoul is to talk history. When the mutiny occurred in April 1970, the government imposed a “news blackout” on what was happening at Teteron, so most people were unaware for two days that large numbers of troops had mutinied and seized control of the Regiment’s main camp.

Alfred Aguiton later told me he had secured and taped a telephone interview with my colleague Rex Lassalle, but the state-owned radio station refused to air it. He quietly sneaked it out of the country with someone who was flying to Guyana, and so it was the story broke on the Caribbean airwaves.

For the record, Aguiton and the late Leo de Leon were the only two journalists we allowed to visit the rebel-held camp.

During the Black Power upheaval, Raoul did extensive reporting in the Guardian. His story on the long march to Caroni was comprehensive, as was what he wrote on Basil Davis’ funeral…great archival material.

Coverage of the Court Martial was handled mainly by Kishore Tiwary and Evans Greene. But on the day Rex and I won our appeals and were released from prison (July 27, 1972), Raoul monitored and reported on the events—a huge crowd outside the prison, later outside Camp Ogden, and finally at Rex’s Woodbrook home. It was the first time he and I talked, the beginning of a friendship that lasted a lifetime.

He followed my activism among cane farmers, with another landmark coming on February 18, 1975. By then, George Weekes, Basdeo Panday, Joe Young and I had forged a labour alliance called the United Labour Front (ULF). Sugar workers and cane farmers were already on strike, and on that day we summoned oil and other workers to join in a rally at Skinner Park.

The response surpassed our wildest expectations—there was a massive crowd. We were forced to keep the meeting going from mid-morning to five o’clock. As the crowd dispersed, Raoul asked to talk with me. I thought it would be the ritual radio interview: he was part of a vibrant team that produced a programme titled “Newsmakers” for Radio 610.

It was not. In a hushed tone, he told me that management had issued an order banning my voice and image from the State-owned radio and television stations. He said that staff members were resisting such interference, but he could not say what would happen.

The ban was enforced, Raoul, Jerome Rampersad and Dr Eric Williams’ brother (yes, brother!), sports announcer Tony Williams, were fired, and the corporation’s chairman who had done the dirty deed, George Bowen, dropped dead in a bank, all within a week.

Dr Williams promptly named the notorious Jimmy Bain as successor to Bowen. Bain told the media, “Not only do I agree with my predecessor’s decision to ban Shah, but I extend the ban to include Weekes and Panday!” Other journalists, among them Aguiton, also fell victim to the Bain-axe.

Since the State owned the lone television station in the country, and two of three radio stations, the implications for freedom of speech and press freedom were dire. But Raoul and others stood firm, losing their jobs at a time when there weren’t many options available to them. That was the mettle of the man.

In July 1990, when he was among the hostages being held at Television House, Muslimeen member Andy Thomas telephoned me at the Mirror. I immediately enquired about the welfare of the journalists who were hostages and demanded to speak with Raoul.

He came on the line and we spoke. Of course I knew he and the others were under intense stress, but I tried to lift his spirit. He asked me to call his brother Dennis and let him know that he was alright, which I did.

As all who knew him noted that he was never the same man after that traumatic experience. In his retirement years, we would often telephone each other and chat, gripe and cry for our beloved country, the tears and anger spilling over into our columns. I suppose that’s where old scribes are put to pasture, left to vent our spleen, and eventually to die. Farewell, Raoul.

8 Responses to “Talk Raoul, talk history”

  • Thanks for the historical retrospective;the spring of 1968 I emigrated to Canada,and occasionally “tid-bits” of the Black power movement were shown on Toronto’s television.Usually,the “highlights” were a showcase of “shanty-town”

    History once more was revealed(on TV)the spring of 2010;when T&T elected its first”woman Prime Minister”…I am still elated with this segment of history.The Vernal Equinox is scheduled for the 20th March,2015.It(spring)has the ability to demonstrate a rebirth of events.

    My humble plea(prayer)is that the Government of T&T together with its population dedicate themselves;to re-introduce an era of “peace and stability” for generations.Winter,”Spring” Summer,or Fall(Autumn)FOR ALL!!

  • Nice article, Comrade. These are the things I like to read about. With so much evil going on around the world it’s good to read an article like this.

    • Merci/thanks! Together with an associate we reasoned:In 2014 three Commercial aircrafts (two were destroyed with about 600 passengers)One mysteriously disappeared without a trace.There are imminent plans to “visit” the planet Mars.One stipulation is “there are no return flights”

      Ponder:Are there “things” which “Governments” have decided to “hide from us”? “The time has come said the walrus to speak of many things” (Anon)

  • Raoul was indeed one of the few journalist whom I would describe as a deep thinker. Not all of his articles resonated but most did. Slowly an era is coming to an end, a time when journalist was held in high regard as dispensers of the truth. TnT was shaped by thinkers like Raoul in some small way he affected the conscience, thought and world view during a simpler time in the nation’s history. The events of the past certainly shaped the future and Raoul was in the middle of it all…
    May his soul rest in peace!

  • Thanks for a great blog.

  • Journalism is an art. The best practitioners of this art form are usually those that allow themselves to be educated in various disciplines, honest to what they truly believe and versed in the use of language. Raoul Pantin was a product of such an environment and it showed in his writings. Because we are such a small country, the topics that are generally open for discussion are politics, the art, environment, socially related matters and small talk. Although the media in Trinidad and Tobago is varied and in abundance, there are very few journalists that reach the pinnacle of success that Raoul enjoyed, it is therefore befitting to sing praises unto the work that he enjoyed doing whilst he was with us and it is hoped that these praises would activate a motivated spirit of commitment for young and budding journalists to follow. Literacy is an important component into the behavior of a civilized society, in this respect our young people are not too well versed and there is a need to encourage them in the works of Milton, Shakespeare and other dramatic poets. Also, there is a lot happening in our society to encourage them to put into prose, events that wrest our imagination and interests. We need to understand the how’s and why’s we do things and who better to tell those stories than writers. Fortunately, we have calypsonians who are culturally and lyrically versed in current affairs and matters of government but that is only one form of expression. We need art, theatre, academia, literature, research, travel, history and colloquialism to pursue our understanding of the life that we live and experience. In other words, there is a wide open field of opportunities available in journalism that can generate interests and learning to make us all more informative and knowledgeable.
    I was playing Youtube on my computer recently and found a calypso written and sung by the Mighty Sparrow in the late fifties entitled ‘Axe the Tax’. It was sung in response to the p.a.y.e tax system that was introduced by the then PNM government to raise revenue from the population. It said in part ” dey raise up on the taxi fare, no doctor no, and blasted milk gone up so dear, no doctor no, I want you to remember, we support you in September, you better come good, because ah have ah big piece ah mango wood”. It is more than interesting and even commendable that art can also be prose for which we can always go back to in order to remind us of who we were, who we are and who we continue to be. Our calypsonians do a good job of being current, philosophical, historical, relational and poignant at the same time. We need journalists to remind us of our behavior that is good, bad and ugly. We need journalists to tell us about our history and history of our own lives. I would venture to say that I do believe that we need a school of journalism.

  • Yeah Kian,and so ‘let de dead , bury the dead,’ as we like to say on de streets . The fact of the matter is, that many of these cyber yapping folks, who are suddenly jumping out of the woodwork,to heap praise on Cuz Raul,were silent as a Los Bajos,Tunapuna, or Icacas mouse ,when both him ,and globally respected Statesman, ANR Robinson,aka Ahhh wee Bouy, were still alive ,and crying out for justice, that emanated from the barbarian, neo Islamist savages ,in 1990,ain’t dat the truth?
    Tell you what,if a blue eyed /blond hair/revengeful/ Sky god -hell truly exist,both nepotistic ,self serving ,fake Christian, PNM Everready Bunny – Patrick Manning, and his rum drinking,neo tribal ,equally vindictive /diabolical, country hating pal, Basdeo Panday , will surely rot,or rather ,burn in it,for doing nada towards this end.
    We can give the political neophyte, and ardent protégé Auntie Kamla,some semblance of credit, for pretending to care,via her phony Commission of Inquiry ,even if she ,and her PP bumbling, blind mice,led by that caviar eating, Foreign Minister bloke, Winston Dookie,and his loquacious, nauseating,suspect legal luminary, COP agent,turn UNC AG ,Rammy ,could not help but muck it up in the end.
    Yes sireeee,and so they placed an unqualified Islamist fox,to investigate the damage done to our T&T henhouse-country, by cuddled,Islamist criminals.

    Now on to more pressing affairs, that can have mucho debilitating effects, on our mismanaged, underachieving T&T, mi amigo.
    I am talking about culturally driven corruption, and the miscreants ,who repeatedly protect them.
    They messed up the HCU,Citizens Workers Bank,Clico,the Stock Exchange, and Central Bank,and if you naively thought it could not get worse, before next election,it’s now this.

    Hey AG Rammy, do you believe, anyone across T&T, cares about this stupid pissing contest,both you and de Mason Hall/Westmoorings kid is engaged in? How about doing something to save T&T from financial bandits,such as this Sing?–289532741.html

    OK,lo siento ,ummmm,wrong guy,as he already have his extradited UNC financial supporting big fishes , Ish/Steve /Basdeo airport scandal problem,to grapple with,si?
    Maybe that Tin pan soldier, turned glorified National Security big wig, in cuz Griffy, is they key.Hey Griffy, when are those expensive,Yankee war tanks coming?
    Ooops,bad idea,falling oil price and such.
    Uncle Wajang, your call!
    What’s that? Even with Papa Niza aid,you still have a Sando Manning, and Arima Penelope problem?
    Let’s wish T&T well people- especially them leaders we are still stuck with,hmmmmm?
    Long live the Republic of T&T!

    • Neal, I write with great apprehension to the extension of service of Major General Ken Maharaj, upon reaching the compulsory age of 55. Raffique had done a fine job on his commentary and I subscribe to most of the comments that he has made. My fear is that this PP government has spoiled every other aspect of government service and the one remaining service that should not be trampled with, the Defense Force, has in fact been sacrificed at the hands of politics by this government. Having served in the formative years of the Defense Force and being well acquainted with the provisions of service, etiquette, physical conditioning and a host of other qualitative requirements, I am appalled that this government has seen it fit to include the defense of this country into it’s political map. I know not anything about the performance of the general but I do know that it is for good reason that retirement is called for at such an otherwise ‘early’ age. Although there are those who might consider the military ‘a job’, it is in fact not a job but a career. The basic requirements of the military calls for young, physically fit, mentally alert, intelligent, skillful and career oriented individuals. Sometimes what these men (and women) do in a short period of time is what an ordinary civilian may never go through in a lifetime. It is in effect a sacrifice of youth to serve in the military because, once enrolled, he (or she) cannot exercise the attitude to reverse the commitment they made to the military. If the occasion calls for staying in barracks for six weeks without being allowed to visit friends or family then the soldier (or military person) has to adhere to command orders. If per chance they are called upon to be on standby or be ready for action that might put their lives in danger, then so be it, the soldier must comply. The soldier go through a rigid training programme, with acute training in physical training, weaponry, tactical and field awareness training. Simple exercises may go on for weeks at a time and a lot is expected from the soldier. For these and other reasons, careers as a soldier takes up the best of one’s youth and best physical performance. Being in the command structure all of these requirements are expected plus one’s ability to command with precision and exercising qualities of most befitting of an officer with gentlemanly qualities as well. The officer should never be left (in command) to be bereft of these qualities, so it is with good reason that a compulsory age was set for retirement. One might argue that 55 might be too early or just about right to retire, but the occasion of having an unfit officer past the age of 55 commanding with incapacities should NEVER be allowed to occur because his (or her) state of mind is important to the proper functioning of every member of the force. One cannot emphasise this importance enough, because those who depend on promulgation of proper orders from the command structure to lead them with impunity will know if when things are not right with those issuing those orders. As far as I know, it has never been the practice of government to intervene in military practices that are governed by the Defense Act. Most see it as pure political and racial tampering that this PP government chose to exercise such authority. Why, you may ask, that I make such a charge? Well, the only other time such political interference took place into the affairs of the military or police service was when a Commissioner of Police service was extended beyond the compulsory age requirement was when Basdeo Panday was Prime Minister and COP Mohammed (part Indian) was allowed to forego the age requirement and be allowed to remain for another year. It does not look good when practices that favor exceptions are allowed to occur because the benefactor is Indian. Worse yet, what are we left to conclude that such practices occur when the prime minister who is Indian, makes it a point to accentuate Indian presence in positions where their history does not relate as common occurrence. It is a benefit to us, ex-soldiers that we have an opportunity to serve our country as young men and women then retiring at an age where we can still enjoy some semblance of youthfulness. Those of us who are lucky enough to have gone through to retirement are happy that our youth and training allowed us to be seen as protectors of our nation and we live that former service with pride and honor. The military should NEVER be about race, class or creed. Those who practice it are in fact spoiling the very essence of the reason why the military exists. No good can come out of this practice and I wish to say how disappointed I am in the Minister of National Security, the Attorney General and Prime Minister that they allowing such blatant disregard for military practice and protocol to occur.

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