Please, not the Country Club

By Raffique Shah
July 18, 2015

Raffique ShahWHEN you don’t have a sense of history, especially your own, you can end up saying or doing the stupidest things, convinced that you are yourself making history.

Take the UNC’s choice of venue for its last Monday night meeting, the Country Club in Maraval. When I first heard the advertisement for the meeting, I thought there must have been some mistake, that maybe some upper-class support group had organised a soirée or banquet or some such social event to raise funds for the party’s campaign.

Surely, I surmised, no one in the UNC would select the Country Club as a venue for a political meeting—unless all attendees were of a particular class, not to add colour. But after checking and re-checking, I realised that the ads were correct, that the party was actually hosting a mass meeting at one of the historically racist, anti-Afro, anti-Indian clubs in the country that remained a bastion of White supremacy long after similar institutions had dismantled their colour-coded barricades.

I could not believe that no one in the ruling Partnership, not even Makandal Daaga, who, in 1970, marched to protest the club’s naked racism, objected to the party holding any event there, least of all a mass meeting.

Others in the coalition—Suruj Rambachan, Bhoe Tewarie, Winston Dookeran, Winston “Gypsy” Peters, Errol McLeod—ought to be aware of the negative symbolism of that cussed compound.

That they remained silent, condoned this insult to the memory of all the patriots who stood steadfastly against all that the Club inflicted on non-white natives of this country over many decades, saddens me, but does not surprise me.

For the younger ones who may not know the history of that large and exclusive enclave that is a relic of slavery and colonialism, let me edify them and explain why I feel so strongly about the club.

I shan’t go into its early history, the fact that like so many other large estates, the land on which it stands was gifted to a French family by the Spanish governor under the infamous “Cedula” of the 18th century. It changed from white hand to white hand until the early 1950s when Portuguese rum magnate Joseph Fernandes purchased it.

By then, the club had become not just a racist establishment, but a bastion of the social elites that debarred even whites who were seen as not of the “class” to rub shoulders with the “nobs”. Ironically, by then a few black-skin white-masks who had climbed the social ladder were granted membership although they were not allowed use of the pool.

I have heard stories from the children of then members, mostly whites and what we call “Syrians”, that reeked of the racism of red-necked Southern USA. They spoke of taking Indian and African school friends or yard-boys or household helpers to the club, only to have them insulted by the “House Negro” staff who ordered them out of the pool.

The most infamous display of racism in modern times occurred in early 1970 when the Black Power Movement was gaining ground. An Afro-American couple, medical doctors I believe, were holidaying in Trinidad, staying at the Hilton Hotel.

Because Hilton did not yet have tennis courts, the hotel had an arrangement with the Country Club whereby its guests would use their courts. The Afro-American couple were refused entry. That overt act of racism became a cause celebre of NJAC, which Daaga led. In fact, it sparked a march against the club.

Fernandes stood firm, refusing to retreat or to apologise. Long after 1970, the Country Club remained racist. When it did open its facilities to non-whites, it was out of need for their dollars, not their presence.

I understand that anyone who has the money can book the venue for wedding receptions, corporate functions and even Carnival fetes.

And in an ironical twist, when the Government acquired a small piece of the club’s land to widen Saddle Road and build a roundabout back in 2006 or thereabout, the current Fernandes said: “You have no idea of the abuse that we have suffered at the hands of the State.”

Many people might argue that we have to forgive and forget, that even in apartheid South Africa, the great Nelson Mandela later embraced his one-time persecutors. I have no problem with that—once the sinners atone for their sins.

The owners of the Country Club never did. In fact, in 2004, when Mandela visited Trinidad, his host Jack Warner had arranged for a banquet in his honour to be held at the club. Outrage forced Warner to change the venue.

The club may have changed its colour, in a manner of speaking, but it is no place for a self-respecting party to host any function.

We must never forget its racist history.

14 thoughts on “Please, not the Country Club”

  1. Signs of the times Indos and Afros are able to unite and bring down class differences under the PP banner. Historically many places were class exclusive but into today’s world such things are now in the past. We must embrace the present dispensation as an acknowledgement that “we have arrived”…

    1. A meeting at an organisation that refused people like you and me entry 40 years ago, and never apologized for their past conduct does not say we have arrived. It says we have no self respect in this new millennium

      The country club only opened its doors to the ”rest” when hard economic times faced them and they could no longer afford to be ”exclusive”.
      Its just my humble opinion but organizations like that should have been left to starve. Africans and Indians should have withheld their purchasing power thereby allowing those organisations to fail.
      That is people’s power.

      Returning to ”Massa” club, where years ago the only thing you could do there was to serve, says that you are still seeking the approval of Massa and that your journey in nationhood and self respect is not yet complete.

      I do not know if the Hymalaya club is still in existence, but if it is, she would have earned my respect if she had chosen that kind of venue.

  2. One of the ironies of the Trinidadian society is it’s colonial past and the continuance of it’s apartheid-like social structures. Carnival, with all of it’s bacchanal-ish behavior is a time of deep color and class segregation. I do frequent the restaurants and surrounding districts in the St Clair/Maraval area and it is as segregated as one would ever get in the Southern United States. In Trinidad especially, race remains a problem and it will always be a problem. It so happens that those at the higher end of the social strata practice it and those at the lower end of the structure accept it. When the social gatherings started on the Avenue, it was mostly those at the upper end of color and class who participated. Now that such gathering became a staple, the lower middle-class and lower class have replaced them, with a behavior worthy of admonition to booth. The lower class always feel the way to be accepted is to go where the ‘coloreds’ are or used to be. This suggests the superiority and inferiority complexes that people demonstrate everyday on the streets in Trinidad. As a matter of fact if one surname is Stollmeyer, DeVertuil, Boone, Bossiere or Cipriani, it goes without saying that they belong to the upper echelons of society and therefore comes from a privileged class. What we see and experience today, is a modified form of this behavior where those who have the means to socialize in those circles, think of themselves better than the ordinary working folks.

    1. ”One of the ironies of the Trinidadian society is it’s colonial past and the continuance of it’s apartheid-like social structures. Carnival, with all of it’s bacchanal-ish behavior is a time of deep color and class segregation”

      Dear Kian

      Truer words have never been spoken in This Trinidad
      These things have to be said.

      The time has come for us here in Trinidad to stop fooling ourselves about this rainbow people nonsense, ”all a we is one”
      That has never been the case in Trinidad and will never be the case if we refuse to acknowledge our past, and address the legacy left to us by a colonial past.

      Winnie Mandella came to Trinidad in the early 1990’s.
      It was her first visit here, and it only took her one weekend to identify the similarities to her native South Africa.
      There were those who were offended when she expressed sentiments, that there seems to be no black in the rainbow.

      I was shocked at the Prime Minister’s decision to hold a meeting at the country club. To me it betrays a state of mind.

      Mr.Panday would never have done that.

      Is it that she does not understand the history of that organisation? or is it that she does not care?

      Maybe like TriniZulu she feels all of ”that” is in the past and has no bearing on the present.

      It is clear we as a people have no regard for our History, as is evidenced by the destruction of a church nearly 200 years old.
      A people without regard for the journey they have made in the past have no self respect.
      If our History has no meaning to us, is it any wonder at this point and time in the life of our nation, we can truly say we do not know what the future holds. In other words we do not care where we are from and therefore we do not know where we are going as a nation and as a people.


      THE constituency of La Brea has affluent areas with established communities of high- and middle-income families, and where many oil and gas service companies and related businesses are thriving.
      However, if you visit La Brea’s historic town centre you would find nothing has changed in the past five years and, in fact, little has been done to encourage gentrification in what is the heart of the constituency.
      Four years ago, the Express spent time in the area speaking with residents about their hopes and fears as a result of what was then a new political movement in the People’s Partnership which cancelled the Alutrint aluminium mega project but promised a light manufacturing industrial estate that would have solved the unemployment issue in the area.
      Although the constituency is one of 12 the People’s National Movement (PNM) retained when it was defeated in the 2010 general election, it was promised economic and infrastructural renewal.
      Five years after the election, and many residents believe the promises were never kept. Proof of this is a stretch of road from Pt D’or Junction to Station Beach, La Brea, where houses and roads remain unstable because of the moving asphalt.
      The constituents’ main needs: jobs, education, proper roads.
      PNM could put a dog…
      Carlton Marshall, 48, a resident of Banga Alley said: “After four years and ten months, they give us a box drain. PNM was here before and they said this is a safe seat so they not doing anything.”
      Marshall said: “The PNM could put a dog, a big snake or a rat to contest La Brea, they will win.”
      The machinist said the main problems in La Brea were unemployment and education.
      “La Brea have nothing, just a rum shop and police station,” he said.
      For any major transactions residents needed to conduct, they had to go either to Point Fortin or San Fernando, he said.
      The last bank closed more than ten years ago. There are one or two fast food outlets, a few supermarkets, several more bars, a variety store, a clothing store and a hairdressing place in the area.
      During the oil boom, the place was as bright as San Fernando, some remembered.
      Now, make-work programmes are the only way some residents could get temporary work, which was not sufficient, Marshall said.
      A 70-year-old resident of Banga Alley lamented lack of opportunities for learning.
      She said: “I am a mother of five and all my children have their foundation in the library. There was a little fire in the library and it was never fixed. The library has been closed two years now. Just before the library was closed, the senior citizens and others were doing a computer course. Now they have nothing.”
      She said there was a place called The Cottage, where residents would have learnt craft making, but although repairs were done to the place it remained closed.
      “All the retired people used to go there and learn soap- and candle making, cake baking, leather craft, jewelry was a big thing. Why are no classes being held there?” she asked.
      She said the former member of Parliament Fitzgerald Jeffrey tried his best to work with the monies allocated to the constituency.
      Commenting on the bad roads, she said if the roads were regularly maintained, it would not be a major problem to fix.
      Nothing has improved
      Several residents did not want to reveal their names for fear of victimisation.
      Lennox John, from Pt D’Or, said: “One box drain in 30 years.”
      Another said: “One or two drains, nothing really much.”
      A business owner along Pt D’Or Road said she has been living in La Brea for 30 years and La Brea constituents will always be devoted to the PNM, no matter what.
      She complained about business, saying there was competition from Chinese nationals who were setting up supermarkets in the area.
      Crime was also a problem, she said, pointing out that recently a bar owner was robbed of $45,000.
      Another resident from High Road mentioned refurbishment began last October at the La Brea abattoir at Three Hands Road. The La Brea market was also refurbished, but wasn’t in use.
      A shopkeeper said: “There has been no development at all in the area for the past five years. Nothing has improved. The roads need fixing.”
      Gwendolyn Lewis, more popularly known in the community as Miss Dolly, said La Brea was not the La Brea she used to know and love.
      Lewis, who is 94 years old, said “everything was getting worse”. Lewis lives at High Road.
      She said: “We are not getting the road fixed. A pipeline burst so long and we can’t get it fixed up to now. It causing flood in the area.
      “I remember La Brea in its glory days. Now we have nothing.”
      Another shopkeeper at High Road said: “Sales are very slow. They are not doing anything to lift the area. The roads cannot get fixed because it is always a fight between Ministry of Works and the corporation. Two buses used to pass on this road comfortable, now one could barely pass here.”
      Independent candidate
      changes his mind
      Wilfred Edwards was expected to be in the election race as an independent candidate, but has changed his mind. He said an official announcement will be made soon.
      He identified employment as the biggest problem for La Brea, which he had hoped to address by encouraging corporate social responsibility for the industrial estate.
      Edwards also had plans to encourage training and education among residents, encourage eco-tourism and develop the port facilities.

      1. Jerry boy the Express get you too. Don’t believe everything you read in that newspaper. These people are small islanders, some 50,000 of them came in through the back door in the 1960s were given ID cards and told to vote PNM. Whatever the UNC/PP does would not matter but just for the record and to clear the gas bomb you drop. Here are the facts:
        *There were also renovations and upgrades to the old magistrates’ quarters, the Ministry of Works building, the tourist facility at the La Brea pitch lake, the tourist facility at Vessigny Beach and the fishing complex at Erin.

        Completed projects over the past five years include the construction of the Rousillac Presbyterian School and Palo Seco Government Primary School, the re-introduction of the bus service, installation of several water lines, construction of pavements, the paving of several roads, construction of the concrete bridges, flood lighting at Pt D’or Recreation Ground, Salazar Trace Recreation Ground, Subnaik Park, Santa Flora and the installation of traffic lights.
        *completed police station and renovated magistrate court house.
        The contract for the $43.5 million La Brea Police Station began on August 13, 2012 and includes the demolition of existing structures at the site located at the Junction of Brighton, De Silva and La Brea Village Roads
        *highway to Point Fortin passing through the area will change transportation system forever bringing more visitors into the area.
        *point Fortin hospital when completed will be a few minutes away via highway.
        *labidco- close to $9 billion in investment in the pipelines all initiatives of the PP.
        ” He spoke about a joint venture among Neal & Massy, the Russian firm Severstal International and Meltadom from the Dominican Republic to build a vertically integrated iron and steel complex on Union Estate, La Brea at a cost of US $400 million. He also spoke about Neal & Massy’s project developmental agreement with Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsubishi Gas Chemicals Company and the Government of T&T to construct and operate plants to produce Methanol and Dimethyl-Ether (DME) at Union Estate, La Brea at a cost of US$850 million.”
        *$4 billion in Port development with a possible 3,000 jobs. All under the partnership.
        Gosine, who spoke with reporters at a public consultation on the La Brea port proposal, at Paria Suites Hotel, La Romaine, on Tuesday, said the privately-funded multi-million dollar project will create 3,000 jobs and generate downstream industries at no cost to taxpayers. “La Brea is an approved industrial estate. It has been there for the last 30 years so La Brea has the attributes for what is needed—the cost of building is a fraction, private investors are interested,” he said.

        “Now if we compare that to what we have been hearing in the media and reading here and there, the Chinese project is US$550 million with a loan from China. In these hard times how are we going to borrow that much money when we can do it locally with local money and investors who are interested in locating a port here?”

        Gosine said apart from being costly, there are serious environmental concerns about the China project which will occupy about two thirds of the Rousillac swamp. He said Brighton port is estimated to cost US$328 million initially with a further US$159 million in the second phase and can be completed 24 months after “shovel to the ground” in time for the opening of the Panama Channel.

        The Express always go and find a few lazy unemployed people on the street and interview them. Labidco will realize about $15 billion in Investments in the next few years. Plus over 5,000 jobs, only the PP could do that… People in La Brea must get out of the small islanders mentality and support the PP.

        1. Quote “These people are small islanders, some 50,000 of them came in through the back door in the 1960s were given ID cards and told to vote PNM. Whatever the UNC/PP does would not matter but just for the record and to clear the gas bomb you drop. Here are the facts:…”
          Yes Maamoo and you and T-man came through the front door with toilet bowl cleaner in your hands to clean Miss K and she …….

  3. What a lot of hogwash! The goings-on at the Country Club is now Old History, and I as a previous “Not-of-that-class” person, certainly hold no grudge against ghosts. The building itself is not contaminated and Mr. Shah, whose contributions I generally agree with, should be ashamed of himself for dredging up these ancient happenings which we are striving to forget, apology or no apology.
    If former class-conscious colonial buildings bother him so much, why does he not consider leaving the island itself, after all it was colonial long before he or his predecessors got there.
    As far as so-called racism is concerned, there will always be social segregation in every race group, as well as between race groups. This is a fact of life! People are comfortable mixing with others with the same standards, morals and social values and no law is going to change that. THE SOONER THIS IS UNDERSTOOD, THE SOONER PEOPLE WILL BE MORE TOLERANT OF ONE ANOTHER.

  4. trinizulu i thumbs up your response with some colonial vernacular
    “here here jolly good”, “tu escribas muy bien” and, some cariban words i know nothing of.

  5. Thank you Trinizulu. Maybe it is time to retire Mr. Shah. Holding to principle is a good thing; this is merely silly posturing.

  6. Without the owners of the country club ever apologizing for their racist history, they must be embraced as if nothing happened? Absolutely not! I know this is a hard concept for Caste conscious Indians and upper class wannabees to get.

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