By Raffique Shah
April 08, 2017
In case you have not noticed, Trinidad and Tobago is gripped by war. Maybe I should rephrase that: there are several wars raging across the country. I wish I could say “civil war”, But there is nothing civil in the barbaric rules of engagement that seem to allow for one side to catch the other off-side and blaze them with bullets, only to have shooters from the home side exact revenge when the opportunity arises.
These are wars without reason. The police tell us that the thugs are fighting over drug turfs, meaning control over the sale of marijuana and cocaine in districts where the trade is lucrative—right? That should translate into big bucks, hence, one would assume, sprawling mansions a la Dole Chadee, whose Piparo palace was seized by the State and converted into a drug rehabilitation centre.
Not so with these warring elements: when we see video-clips and photographs of where they live, fight and die, all we see are ramshackle hovels, shacks that have bare essentials, sometimes not even running water. Invariably, galvanise latrines litter the landscape, and a mass of children and women who look like refugees from famine-hit Sudan, perform for the media.
Which begs the question: what are they fighting over? It can’t be money—not big money anyway. The only thing they have in common, I repeat, is they inhabit the slums.
The late social activist Hal Greaves, who did tremendous work in reducing gang-wars in the East PoS environs, would have given me an “A” for identifying poverty as a root cause of these bloody wars. But Hal will also agree with me that poverty is no excuse for crime, certainly not the heinous murders that have taken the lives of a few thousand young black men, some of them mere children, over the past decade.
Hal, who passed on last year, was, like me, from a generation that knew real poverty, when kerosene lamps were a luxury in barrack rooms or dirt houses, and when the children of such families who might have been lucky to eat one good meal a day, attended school barefoot and in the one uniform their parents could afford, yet garnered an education or acquired skills that would see them clamber out of poverty.
And they dared not steal or rob anyone: their parents and communities would beat them senseless, such were the punishments for dishonouring the codes of neighbourly coexistence when the village raised its children.
But I digress: I am addressing the many wars that are taking lives like ninepins. I pointed out that almost always, the victims, who, in a reverse scenario might be the perpetrators, are unarmed at the time they are killed. There is hardly ever a firefight—bullets coming at you, you shooting at the “enemy”. If ever these punks come up against hostile fire, especially from professionally-trained personnel, they’d urinate and defecate themselves before they die like the rabid dogs they are.
Now, we have at least 2,000 soldiers who are trained to do precisely these things—to move tactically, to attack using available cover and smite the enemy with selective but deadly fire. We have hundreds of commissioned officers who are trained to plan and execute operations that would mesmerise gangsters who have had their way for far too long. There are strategic devices that the army can employ to seal targeted districts and flush out the gunmen and their associates.
Today’s military technology includes surveillance drones, CCTV cameras, and cellphone jamming equipment that support the ground troops during such operations. While search-and-destroy might be unacceptable in our jurisdiction, maim-and-capture should be no problem. Armed with good intelligence and countering leaks to criminals from a sieve-like Police Service with near-secrecy, how long will it take the army to flush out the 1,000-or-fewer murderers who are terrorising the nation? Six months? One year?
It can be done. It needs to be done. Why it has not been done defies explanation. Why Major General Edmund Dillon chose instead to walk through the hottest spots in Enterprise and engage in gun-talk with known criminals, rather than let the soldiers use their military hardware to speak in the only language they understand, the staccato chant of machine-gun-fire, defies logic.
It is he, as National Security Minister and a career soldier, who must advise the civilians in Government on what can be done, what must be done, to restore some sanity to the madness that is consuming the country.
His predecessors failed. They, too, with their prime ministers, paraded through “hotspots” with heavily-armed escorts and media personnel: what did they achieve? Exactly what we are reaping today!
Major General Dillon must either do things differently, professionally, or surrender to the criminals by resigning from office, in which case the entire Government must resign.
In war, there are only victors and the vanquished: will you fall on your sword, Major General?
For all their crowing, the other political parties can do no better. So failure now will mean, for the population, “all ah we ar*e dark”.