PEOPLE WILL kill for their identity. Not because it is a big public holiday and you are with your pardnas on the banks of the Lopinot River, drinking and cooking curried goat, stewed in old talk, jokes and lime, that you have, just for the fun of it, to hold a Rasta, corral him, cut off his locks. How stunned, shocked you are, hopping away like buck-shotted jackrabbits, when he pulls out his planasse, draws blood! Don’t cry foul, pine, run home to mama, hide under the bed. People will kill for their identity.
Trinidad politics is grounded in the reality of identity, ethnicity, race. Since independence, our first foray into democracy and electoral politics, we have voted race. You just have to look at the political map. Port of Spain and its 16 St George seats, and the boroughs of Arima, San Fernando and Point Fortin. Versus the Port of Spain hinterland, the Nariva, Caroni and Naparima Plains, stretching from St Augustine in the North to Rio Claro, Barrackpore, Penal in the South. Districts heavily populated by Africans versus those heavily populated by former sugar cane estates, hamlets, towns, East Indians. Yellow and red, red and yellow.
Both major parties bear the word national in their names. The United National Congress, and the People's National Movement. Yet neither is "national." They each represent distinct voting nations: African and East Indian. There is no "united national;" the nation is not united electorally. There is no "congress;" congress suggests a formal meeting of the nations; there is no meeting, there is split. And there is no "people's national movement." There are two large broad-based movements, divided politically along ethnic lines. Ethnic identity, for which people may kill, race, makes a joke of our formulations and aspirations.
Before the 2015 general election, I tried to convince UNC adherents, against the grain, that their party would lose the election. I put it in graphic terms: “When the election results are announced,” I wrote and said, “you will run home, hide under the bed, cry mama, mama!” This is because the UNC supporters were being carried away in an untutored wave of euphoria, which I felt would be damaging. I felt that the UNC-led administration had so terrified the African nation in Trinidad, no more would it cross that divide (Arima, San Fernando West, for example) once the UNC leadership remained intact.
In the 2020 election, a similar wave of euphoria ran through the partisan, diehard UNC. The UNC was sure to win this time. How could it not? Rowley was so bad! Rowley was this and that! The nation was falling apart under the PNM! I once again warned. Not a sno-cone’s chance in hell for the UNC. The terror of "Indian threat" to the Treasury could not be reversed by the Opposition.
Again, before the recent local government elections, the euphoria returned. Rowley and the PNM are so horrible! They could never win!
Yes, however terrible the Rowley-led administration is, its failure to protect the people against a raging crime epidemic, its mothballing of Petrotrin and its corresponding diplomatic failure to win the cross-border gas fields, Dragon and Loran-Manatee, its failure to nab crooks and criminals at all levels, the UNC could not win. Since 2020, more poison has been dashed into the broil. “At least I have the name of my ancestors. Where you got yours from? Your name is that of a slave-master.”
All our nationals are horrified over our raging crime epidemic. Hits, rape, kidnappings, gang warfare. These have put white-collar crime in the shade. But amongst our nationals, there is a growing body of East Indians who are correctly outraged by crimes involving young African males. Crimes against homes, families, businesses. All kinds of phrases are being used: “Them pest,” “PNM children,” “You don’t see the kind?” “Ent all yuh vote PNM, take that!”
I have ever been a witness to the fact that when I have opposed PNM projects, the UNC supporters are happy. When I have opposed projects that were believed to be UNC projects, the UNC supporters were furious. Likewise, when I have opposed PNM projects, the PNM supporters attack; and when perceived UNC projects are attacked, the PNM supporters warm towards you.
The great ethnic contradiction is as follows: Now that UNC and East Indians in general feel correctly outraged by crimes against their properties, families, businesses, they can turn neither to the UNC nor PNM for effective help. We are in a political log-jam. The UNC leadership has poisoned itself in the minds of the African electorate. Even if you hate Dr Rowley, as a PNM supporter, you dare not shift, for fear of the UNC. And as a UNC supporter, you cannot remove Dr Rowley, once the current UNC leadership is there.
When the PP government was involved in the most egregious forms of misbehaviour, which of its supporters or leaders stood up and revolted? David Abdulah. None else. Now their genuine cries fall on deaf ears. If you don’t revolt against your own "kind," as they say, when they do bad, why should you be believed when you cry against another "kind?"
This race-based status-quo may only be shattered when we reprimand and call out those in our own ethnic groups when they do wrong, not defend them. And thereafter, by the emergence of a genuine national party.