By ALEXANDER BRUZUAL
Trinidad and Tobago is at war….its citizens know it, they just don’t want to believe it.
Since the 2014/2015 budget (which occurred on September 8, 2014) and the announcement that this country will be procuring several Armoured Personal Carriers(APCs) as well as several armoured SUVs, the vocal consensus of this country seems to be in the negative, with most citizens condemning the Government’s decision.
From the “big questions” posed in the Trinidad Express, to the “people in the street” posed in the Newsday on the issue, and honestly (though it really is a poor example because most people appear to use it to troll one another) the comment sections of various news agencies in this country, most citizens seem worried and concerned on why “war vehicles” are needed for such a small twin island state.
Truth be told, this country is at war, and our Government needs to arm itself to fight this war.
But let me be clear, I said our Government, as in the representing body of the citizens of this country. The politics in this country, or poli-tricks as we would commonly refer to it, absolutely bore me. I care little for any of the majour parties that exist, including the current ruling People’s Partnership and its Opposition, the People’s National Movement. They bicker and squabble among one another like intoxicated and emotionally dependent members from the cast of Jersey Shore, and the people of this country are the viewership who, for God knows what reason, know they deserve better, know they are watching a train-wreck, but despite this, we just can’t reach for that remote and enact change….we just….can’t…look….away…
We are a nation of citizens who are so enamored at simply being content that we continuously, repeatedly accept sub-par governorship at the risk of the development of this nation as a whole….you need to look no further than the current socioeconomic status between Trinidad and Tobago, and Singapore, two countries that were both granted independence at roughly the same time(1962 and 1965 respectively)…but that’s a rant for another time.
Today’s rant, the first of many to come hopefully, stems from the fact that this country needs to prepare itself and arm itself for the challenges that it faces, and yes that includes the procurement of vehicles.
Yes, there are concerns of criminal escalation, retaliation, and the potential for a ruling party to abuse these new toys, and heck even the furtherance towards the creation of a military state, and the global statistics on this issue speaks for itself. But the same way I am not blinding myself to these issues, and dear God does it terrify me, it does not excuse me from blinding myself from the reality of the state of our existence.
Admittedly, this “clairvoyance” may come from my profession, which has been for the past six years as a crime-reporter in this country, and has allowed me to bear witness to the truths, lies, exaggerations, and understatements of our protective services. Take for instance, I have seen for my own eyes, the bullet holes in apartment complexes along St Paul Street, Laventille, Desperlie Crescent Laventille, Ovid Aly, Laventille, Picton Road, Laventille, (just to name a few) where mothers, children, fathers, and elderly people walk, live, sleep, and in several cases, tragically been killed.
( http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/St-Paul-St-still-under-fire-264337551.html )
I have heard with my own ears the silent warning whistle of Azrael, the angel of death, as the air is violently pierced by bullets which are shot towards residents of these communities. I have felt the bruises on my forearms and knees as I have thrown myself to the ground after hearing the horrifying, thunderous pops as these bullets hit their marks (in this case, thankfully, buildings, and not people), in an effort to avoid harm.
Weapons of war are being used in these communities. You can see for yourself if you go in these areas, the size of bullet holes in the walls of homes, some the size of basket balls. And if you think the fall out is simply limited to residents, think again. Businessman Parmanand “Pancho” Yarna was shot on June 12, 2014, around 6 am, while standing near his snackette, Pancho’s, on Queen Street, Port-of-Spain. The type of bullet he was shot with? 5.56 ammunition. Where was it fired from? Police believe the hillsides of Laventille and East Port-of-Spain. In fact Inspector Sahadeo Singh of the Besson Street Police Station said from the spot where Yarna was shot there was a clear line of sight to the hills of Laventille, and just a few days later, a M-16 rifle, was found in an area along Picton Road, which had a clear line to sight to Queen Street.
( http://www.newsday.co.tt/crime_and_court/0,196269.html )
( http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-06-28/weapon-war-seized-raid )
Meaning that this is not just a problem for residents of Laventille or East Port-of-Spain, but ANYONE who works, or comes through the Capital City can potentially be a murder victim. THAT is the horrifying reality.
I have colleagues including Jensen Lavende and Azlan Mohammed, who had to duck for cover while covering a story. They had to contact senior officers they knew from the Port-of-Spain Division and request assistance, as gunmen were walking along the roadway in broad daylight and in full view of media personnel, emptying clips of their handguns in the direction of a group of persons including these media men and residents of the area. People in this country love the quote from the movie 300 that Persian arrows “will blot out the sun.” Admittedly it is a cool line……but when it occurs in real life, and the skies darken as it starts raining lead on your location, and the only thing you have to shelter with are the thin aluminum of parked vehicles and the poorly constructed walls of Laventille homes, while your heart threatens to claw itself out of your chest from pure fear… You are REALLY going to be thankful for the sun.
( http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/___Journalists_take_cover_from_gunshots_-169065366.html )
It is not an experience I think anyone should ever experience, but do you want to know the sad fact? Children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, anyone who lives in the East Port-of-Spain area, Laventille, and Morvant….they experience this terror on a nearly daily basis. And citizens of this country have become desensitized to this fact simply because these persons live in these communities, and it is what is expected. And that is such a sad, sad reflection of us as a society.
The best summation of this de-sensitivity actually can be summarized in the infamous words of a beautifully depicted comic book movie character…The Joker as acted by Heath Ledger.
“You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!” The Joker.
( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iwf20t9J1k )
Because of the high murder rate that we have experienced on an annual basis since the year 1999 ( the last year in which the murder toll was under 100. The toll for that year was 93), as a nation, we have emotionally removed ourselves from the plight of the people in Laventille and Morvant. This lack of emotion and concern is hammered wider each time residents of these communities do their best David Carradine impression (what? still too soon?) and try to shed light on their issues by choking the daily economic revenue made in Port-of-Spain and environs by blocking access to the capital city by throwing burning debris on the Beetham Highway or the Priority Bus Route.
And it is with this in mind that I come to the salient point (I know, I know….I’m so, so sorry…I expect this is how the companions of the Doctor feel whenever he gets into a zone and starts explaining things on the T.A.R.D.I.S….thankfully the name of this blog is TRINIRANT….so you kinda were prepared for what you’re getting yourself into). It is the members of the protective services who have to patrol these areas. The men and women of the T&T Defence Force and the T&T Police Service who are obligated to serve and protect, are as much at risk as the residents of these areas, if not more.
And to this end, as they are the ones who volunteered to plunge their hands into the filth so that we as law abiding citizens can keep our hands clean, and as such they should be, ought to be, need to be, protected. With weapons such as rifles and hand grenades floating around our streets (and these are just the weapons the police have seized, so God alone knows what exactly is really in circulation), APCs and armoured SUVs are a necessity, not a luxury.
My contention however, is not the procurement of APCs but rather, the high number which the Government intends to procure and where exactly do they think they can deploy these vehicles to? If they are to be utilized in these “hotspot” areas, then you can technically classify any significant purchase of these vehicles as a misappropriation of funds. The roadways which exist in these communities can barely contain the Toyota Hiluxes and the Nissan X-Trails that the police and soldiers currently use on their joint patrols.
In fact the access to many of these areas can’t facilitate vehicles, leading to significant foot patrols in these communities. So where exactly are these vehicles to be deployed? To the bottom of Besson Street, while these same men and women continue on their foot patrols? You see this is where I take issue with the purchases of these kind of vehicles.
The last release that was issued by the Ministry of National Security attempted to pacify and address concerns and revealed that only six APCs will be purchased initially. This number I have no problem with. But when you cross into an arena of double figures, one must consider if we are in a situation of wanton spending. And true to form, 12 more APCs have been budgeted for.
( http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Govt-to-buy-6-armoured-personnel-carriers-274842281.html )
WHERE ARE THESE VEHICLES GOING TO GO!? WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO BE USED? The narrow roads of Laventille, East Port-of-Spain and Morvant that can scarce accommodate regular sized vehicles? So why such a high focus on these armoured land vehicles and not on vessels to bolster the might of the T&T Coast Guard? As I said, six to nine APCs to treat with the entire nation I can begrudgingly be comfortable with. It is a needed accessory in our war against crime. But when the Government intends to purchase at LEAST 18 over the course of the year, on top of 20 armoured SUVs….. it just seems that this money should be put into the procurement of more coastal patrol vessels and interceptors.
But, I am just a madman with a blog ranting out to the universe. I am not the definitive authority on any issue, so to that end…..Where are the sustainability reports of these vehicles for our roads?
And I know I mentioned escalation before but before I go, it bears mentioning one more time. Once upon a time police were assigned six shooters and the criminals started carrying 9mm round clips; police in turn procured 9mm and similar criminals escalated to semi automatic weapons; police get semi automatic weapons and criminals get automatic weapons; police get bullet proof vests, criminals get armour piercing rounds, and so on and so on.
Therefore, if our protective services get APC’s and make this information PUBLIC as they already have, what will we be encouraging the criminals to get?
Our main focus ought to be, NEEDS to be the prevention of the proliferation of drugs and guns which gangs in this country are fighting over. There has to be better, and more patrols of our maritime borders as there exists worrisome evidence of human trafficking occurring in Central and South Trinidad where females from Colombia and other parts of the Caribbean Basin are being exploited in “clubs” (cough cough).
I have ZERO problems with the appropriation of APCs, it’s the number of these vehicle types I am concerned about, when the money could be better spent elsewhere if the issue really is about protecting citizens of this country.
But by acquiring 18, especially without sustainability reports and heck even road audits for the use of these type of vehicles in the areas they are most likely to be deployed, it comes across as the Government hitting itself on the head with a cricket bat to treat a cold, instead of simply taking panadol or even better yet….. staying out of the rain.