By Raffique Shah
November 30, 2020
If there is not now on our statute books a law that empowers us to deny entry into Trinidad and Tobago to any alien, man woman or child, more so persons seeking to enter our territory illegally, then Government must move post-haste to rectify such anomaly that foreigners are using to breach our borders. Further, if some government in the past compromised this inalienable right that every sovereign state in the world must surely enjoy by signing on to some nebulous convention that purports to promote human rights, then unshackle us, damn it if we are deemed inhumane, sub-human or maybe animals.
It is incomprehensible that in the instant case, large numbers of our own citizenry would rally around the illegal Venezuelans, some of them even aiding in ensuring that their deportation was foiled, challenging the State to prove that its actions were lawful. I shall not comment on the issues that relate to the court matter since that is now sub judice. But I intend to show that most of us are hypocrites of a high order, that we are complexion-sensitive in an extreme way, often without knowing it, and these are what influence us to take action that appears to be driven by compassion for fellow human beings who appear to be persecuted or discriminated against.
The same people who are speaking out against the deportation of illegal Venezuelans insist that this country’s first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, “opened the door” to allow thousands of Grenadians, Vincentians and other “small islanders” to flock into the country, to increase his political support-base, since those migrants were almost exclusively Afros. What they either do not know or will not admit is that migration from the West Indian islands to T&T took place over an extended period that started before Williams entered politics, and occurred in waves that spanned decades going back to the 1930s when the oil industry was expanding.
Tubal Uriah Butler, who led the oil and sugar workers’ strikes that exploded in 1937, was Grenadian. In fact, even before that period, hundreds of Barbadians and scores of Guyanese had migrated to T&T, the Bajans favoured by the British colonial government as police officers and experienced sugar factory workers, and the Guyanese as “chemists” in the sugar factories. One of my father’s bosses/friends, Guyanese Jubrasingh, was a “pan boiler” at the Brechin Castle factory. The islanders who worked in the sugar industry were mostly labourers who could cut canes almost like mechanical harvesters.
Carlton “Lord Blakie” Joseph sang a popular calypso in the 1950s, as far as I recall—and here I rely on the “hard drive” in my head—that “invited” people to flock Woodford Square because the police were catching and beating illegal Grenadians before deporting them. “If yuh see how dey holding de scamps and dem, friends yuh bong to bawl/Some ah dem could read and write but dey cyah pronounce at all/De policeman tell dem to say ‘box’ yuh chupid man/And as dey say ‘bax’, licks in the police van..”
Migration to T&T, legal and illegal, was always an issue. In fact, we are a migrant society, the Afros by and large descendants of slaves who had no choice in the matter, the Indians similarly pre-destined by indentureship, most Europeans by choice with huge tracts of land gifted to them… As someone who was born and who lived most of my life in the “sugar belt”, I was aware that many Indos from “BeeGee” (British Guiana) had come to Trinidad looking for jobs and ended up staying on, They endured discrimination from Trini-Indos who thought they were superior to the Guyanese, and from Afros, who just did not like them.
With respect to Venezuelans, few of them chose to leave the relatively prosperous mainland country and live in this two-by-two island. Our oil industry was miniscule compared with theirs, and there was the language problem. But there was always interaction between Venezuelans in the Eastern quadrant of that country and Trinidadians from Cedros and surrounding villages. Even before that, the Warao Indians (indigenous people) used to make their way to Trinidad by canoes, land at Moruga, and walk with their goods and trinkets to Naparima, later Princes Town, to trade. Thus came Indian Walk in Moruga.
As Venezuela advanced economically, becoming a fabulously wealthy country, its citizens, especially those of European descent who believed they were vastly superior to Indo- and Afro-Trinis, had little cause to come to T&T. There were few exceptions—the Bermudez family being one—mostly from among the educated and well-off Venezuelans who had run afoul of one government or dictator, but who wanted to remain close to base, hopefully to return “home” when the opportunity arose.
What would play critical roles in bringing us to the current sorry state—politics, geo-politics, narco-trafficking, human-trafficking mostly for prostitution—is a story that needs to be told.