Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Turning 49 in peace

This year’s Independence celebrations will not be punctuated by fireworks; a night time display being unfeasible in a state of emergency with an attendant 9 pm curfew. We are convinced though that Trinidad and Tobago's (TT’s) citizens, however disappointed, are willing to forfeit tonight’s show of lights in exchange for the possibility of peace that may eventually come from Government’s declaration of war against the gangs and cartels.

Today, the day we mark our liberation from Britain 49 years ago, finds us in a more sombre, reflective mood than usual and facing uncertain times, under a state of emergency, fighting gang violence. But we can celebrate our collective maturity as Trinbagonians. At 49, we have accepted that we must wage war against the increasingly powerful criminals or lose our cherished Independence — the nation we love is in peril. As a people, we have begun to face facts that are chilling, as we learn of the size, wealth, influence and complexity of the criminal enterprise turning TT into a little Medellin. 

As we turn 49, we battle a criminal element operating a criminal drug and gun trade on and via our twin island state, gangsters we thought we had rooted out when we executed Dole Chadee and his gang 12 years ago. Today, we have to accept that when we got rid of Chadee and his henchmen in 1999, we did not tackle the compelling reason for Chadee’s era of criminal activity: illegal drugs and their attractive, illicit, tax free profits. The dons changed location and names and TT, gateway to South America, had a new generation of gangsters. 

As we enter our 50th year, the nation faces multiple challenges to its security. Even as it fights the crime war, Government is struggling to balance the budget while it settles wage negotiations, upgrades crucial infrastructure and stimulates a bearish economy. Detractors are cynically seeing the state of emergency as an expensive distraction/stalling mechanism and a means to quell pre-budget protests, though if that is the case, enormous effort is being expended on something that is purportedly a show. If the critics are right, and the PP is engaging in political gimmickry it will pay the price for its alleged tomfoolery. However widespread arrests seem to contradict the conspiracy theory and the statistics are coming from the police. 

In the coming year, TT will have to battle cartels and gangs as well as grapple with an international recession and falling oil prices in an unstable market. Our resolve as a nation will be further tested during impending future shocks to the global economic system, which we will only withstand if we continue to diversify the economy, reduce debt and avoid falling into the clutches of the international banks. 

Trinidad and Tobago has been through some extraordinarily testing times since Independence in 1962, moving from crisis to crisis. No free country can escape growing pains and the people of this country have also shown their determination to survive, their creativity, adaptability and their passion for life. Slowly as we mature as a nation, we are learning that Independence is more than a gift granted by a former imperialist, but an objective for which a nation must constantly struggle, as threats to its sovereignty arise. However, once Trinbagonians continue to be the people who believe they were forged from the love of liberty, TT will prevail. May God bless our nation.