Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"Violence Is Everywhere. So Please Help," Wrote the Principal

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"Violence Is Everywhere. So Please Help," Wrote the Principal

Article excerpt

The state of Trinidad and Tobago is hotting up. There is a political impasse caused by the two main parties winning an equal number of seats in parliament. The prime minister, Patrick Manning, refuses to accommodate the power-sharing that the opposition leader, Basdeo Panday, demands.

Panday has raised the political temperature. In a speech to his supporters, he warned that, unless there are elections now, there will be "a long hot summer", with demonstrations, marches and boycotts. Rumour has it that the government intends to arrest one of Panday's MPs on corruption charges. To this, he storms: "You touch one, you touch all. What you will witness is social strife of a kind that this country has never seen."

As I have written before, the island is divided 50:50 along racial lines. Epithets fly across the racial divide. "Niggers" (for Africans) and "coolies" (for Indians) are the basic terms of racial abuse; the population uses them consistently and insistently. As I write, the Indian population -- most of whom support the United National Congress, now in opposition -- is threatening to march into Port of Spain with machetes at the ready.

All is set for a violent insurrection, and for an equally violent reaction from the army and police. I had intended to stay in a council flat in the urban slums of East Dry River. But the community is swarming with bandits who are carrying out an insurrection of their own. They rob anyone, plunder anything that moves late in the night. During the carnival, they murdered, maimed and violently robbed hundreds of masqueraders. More than 500 incidents were recorded; the victims included members of the armed forces and the police.

A policeman friend advised me to move out of the area forthwith. I packed my clothes and fled. Within 48 hours, the minister of national security launched Operation Anaconda. (An anaconda is a snake that squeezes its victims to death. …

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