Stories from Quick Reads and Trinidad & Tobago
While Trinidad and Tobago is in the midst of political woes and police try to determine the identity of the country's latest murder victim, at least one blogger thinks that mainstream media is doing its level best to ignore these pressing issues and capitalise on the pre-Carnival frenzy. (Trinidad and Tobago Carnival takes place on February 16 and 17).
aka_lol accused the leading national daily of “us[ing] its precious mind-swaying front-page to highlight a suspected personality flaw in the country’s top, home-grown, international Soca superstar, Machel Montano”:
Maybe it was because his alleged bad attitude took place at a town school fete is the reason it was given grossly exaggerated importance or some other ulterior or political motive – I don’t know. I doubt the newspaper is being paid off by some Big Men with shares and money to distract the public from the real issues that are, have always been plaguing the nation for some time […]
That Mr. Montano might be throwing temper tantrums all over the place for some very good reasons and a couple bad ones is not new, news or close to headline news. However, the discovery of a decomposing body which might be that of the missing Caribbean Airlines director is depressing and frightful thus should be fitting as a the main headline and a lifesaver given the need to alert unsuspecting visitors merrily flocking our shores for Carnival.
Christmas isn't quite over yet, but Trinidad and Tobago is already in the throes of its Carnival season – that frenetic period of masquerade, soca, celebration, creativity and revelry that some say is unmatched by any other carnival in the world.
One blogger is thrilled to bits that the much-anticipated Carnival is here again – Trinidad Carnival Diary, who takes her moniker from the festival itself. Over the years, her posts has evolved from a small mas’-lover's blog to a full-fledged website that is regarded as one of the authorities on all things Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. She's done a delightful post outlining 10 reasons people love the festival so much. It's worth a read, but to whet your appetite, it involves infectious music, an incomparable sense of freedom, lots of partying with kindred spirits, incredible costumes and a real sense of togetherness.
Today's lead story in one of Trinidad and Tobago's most popular newspapers was the contents of slain Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal's will. Seetahal was gunned down five months ago in Port of Spain; no one has yet been arrested for her murder.
The blog Wired 868 could not understand the rationale behind printing such personal information. In a post titled “Will and No Grace”, Mr. Live Wire thought that the daily “pushed the boundaries of good taste”:
At a time when the Budget, a brazen attack on the Besson Street police station, gay rights, Trinidad and Tobago’s stance on ISIS, a missing police file on Junior Sammy’s son, Sean, and the accidental shooting death of 17-year-old Ricardo Mohammed by a lawman all cried out for further probes and analysis; the Express opted to rummage through Seetahal’s gifts to her family, friends and staff members instead.
Did Seetahal leave all her earthly possessions left to former insurrectionist Yasin Abu Bakr? Was there an autographed picture with former Iraq President Saddam Hussein? Or maybe a book on conflict of interest bequeathed to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan?
Then how could Express justify this invasion of Seetahal’s private space?
Once the video of Ray Rice (the American football player for the Baltimore Ravens) hitting his wife went viral, Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella couldn't get the incident out of her mind. “The video where he spits and hits the woman who would go on to be his wife, where he knocks her unconscious and drags her out of the elevator,” she says, “It’s enough to give you nightmares.”
She was also not impressed by the public's response, citing distasteful hashtags on Twitter that made light of a distressing situation and a general bent towards blaming the victim. The blogger, Patrice Grell-Yursik, expressed her concern for the plight of Janay, Rice's wife, and their daughter – but in her effort to understand her situation, she realised that Rice is one of many women stuck in the cycle of domestic abuse:
The more I […] considered this story […], the more I kept thinking about my best friend from childhood. Her name is Carys Jenkins, and she works as the manager of the independent domestic violence advisory service (IDVA) at RISE. She’s been working closely with women dealing with domestic violence for years and years. When I mentioned how sick seeing the Ray Rice video made me, she simply responded, ‘I see lots of videos.’
Jenkins shared with her the “cycle of abuse” and the psychological tactics women use to survive. The post also offered practical advice to women who may be contemplating leaving an abusive union, with the blogger noting that “one of the few good things to come out of this story is the sharing and honesty by people who have experienced domestic violence themselves […] For anyone who’s stuck in an abusive relationship, please know there’s a way out. Please know that a healthy, loving relationship isn’t one that diminishes you as a person or threatens your health and happiness. You can break the cycle of abuse.”
As the Trinidad and Tobago government, in anticipation of national elections next year, serves up a massive budget, two political bloggers take the country's leaders to task.
Afra Raymond, whose blog keeps a close eye on politics, corruption and transparency, provided some disturbing financial context:
The Minister of Finance has just met cynical expectations by announcing Trinidad & Tobago’s largest-ever budget for 2015, with estimated revenue of $60.351 Billion in support of estimated expenditure of $64.664 Billion. This expenditure is $4.313 Billion more than the expected revenue, with 2015 being the sixth consecutive year of deficit budgets with a nominal total of just under $34 Billion in excess expenditure in that period.
While Raymond was not surprised at the “high-stakes election budget”, he maintained that there were a few key issues to be considered – the importance of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property law being passed, the government's exclusion of a billion dollar water recycling project in the country's accounts, continued ambiguity about the specific output of the state housing programme and the issue of campaign finance reform, to name a few.
Over at This Beach Called Life, the blogger had additional concerns, such as the intolerable traffic situation between south and north Trinidad (most corporate offices and state agencies are concentrated in the island's capital, Port of Spain, with nothing being done to alleviate the problem), as well as the government's latest controversial crime-fighting gimmick, the purchase of armoured vehicles that has been one of the hot topics of discussion on social media, with many netizens getting the sense that the concept of community policing has been traded for an approach that could potentially endanger civilians. The blogger summed up the situation this way:
Naturally, Kamla’s [Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister] amusing and often childish sounding chant ‘serve the people, serve the people, serve the people’ can no longer be heard as the Government buys fifty two armored vehicles to ‘blow up the people’ should they step out of line. Are we a nation on the verge of revolt?
Yes, a revolt might be near simply because when the Government […] removes the unsustainable subsides on gasoline, water, electricity […] all hell will break loose in paradise and whether party financiers get their contracts and the appropriate kickbacks paid will be the least of the Government’s concerns.
What is it like to be gay in the Caribbean? The Travelling Trini occasionally gets emails from young gay Trinidadians who “have the burning desire to go abroad, travel, and see the world”. She deduces that this wanderlust stems from the fact that “the Caribbean is a incredibly homophobic place with a raging macho-man culture, and coming out is an incredibly difficult, and often dangerous, thing to do.”
The post goes on to list several songs that promoted homophobia and gay violence back in the nineties: Buju Banton's Boom Bye Bye was unsurprisingly at the top of the heap, but the blogger describes them all as “dark, violent and downright disgusting.” She asks:
Why is it not considered hate speech? Why are radio stations allowed to play it? […] The question is, why is it okay to still be so violently anti-gay in 2015?
She connects this constricted reality with the desire many gay Caribbean people have to migrate and testifies that the Far East, where she currently resides, “is a very gay friendly place, indeed”:
There are thriving gay scenes in every country, from the liberal far east to the conservative Middle East and everywhere in between.
The whole world is not straight. It never has been, and it never will be. […]
Unfortunately these liberal lifestyles are not tolerated in the Caribbean, and are in fact still criminalised under law. There is no legal protection for LGBT citizens […] just as people fought for equal rights based on race, and equal rights based on gender, the next step in our human evolution is equal rights for all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
After one national newspaper published the contents of murdered Trinidadian attorney Dana Seetahal‘s will, public relations expert and blogger Denise Demming is more concerned that five months later, no-one has been arrested:
As the days pass and the likelihood of laying charges against the perpetrators of this crime recedes, I wonder how our first female Prime Minister feels. Is the Prime Minister now numb to the callous murders which occur daily or does she see them as just hard luck. […] Dana must not simply be another statistic. The popular view is that this was a planned hit, designed to snuff out a voice of reason.
Demming suggests that the crime was more than a murder; it was an assault on the country's democracy. She stated emphatically:
When our mistrust of the state and the institutions designed to protect us is eroded, we are near to anarchy.
Blogger and public relations professional Dennise Demming is disillusioned with Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who claims to “listen, learn and lead”, but then takes action to the contrary. Demming first cited the example of the country's recent Constitutional Amendment Bill, with which, “despite popular objection, the Government manoeuvred their way and got the Independent bench to support this unpopular change to the constitution.”
Now, she wonders why the government has not listened, learned and led when it comes to the Highway Re-Route Movement. Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh has undertaken a second hunger strike in protest over a portion of proposed highway that will displace a community and could also have a negative environmental impact. Amidst ongoing construction work on the highway, the Prime Minister has, thus far, refused to meet with Kublalsingh to discuss alternative routes. Demming says:
Re-routing the highway is a reasonable request by a credible group of activists which has come together under the leadership of the PM’s one time friend Dr. Wayne Khublalsingh. I salute this man who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the environment. No matter how this hunger strike ends, his blood is staining the hands of each member of the PP [People's Partnership] Government.
Corporal punishment has, for a long time, been ingrained into the fabric of Caribbean societies, with some making the connection between the region's harsh colonial history and its modern day bent towards violence. In many cases, the recipients of such beatings are the most defenseless members of society – children.
In Trinidad and Tobago, this year alone, there have been two high-profile cases in which videos, one of a mother beating her daughter with a belt and the other of a mother repeatedly hitting a child with a shovel, went viral, prompting a national discussion on the fine line between discipline and child abuse.
Discipline, in its truest sense, is nothing more than an opportunity to teach, and judging from the findings of modern scientific research, you can't connect with children – or anyone for that matter – when they're scared, because the fight or flight instinct takes over.
In reality, though, it can be difficult for parents to walk away from old ideas, especially if the rod was not spared during their own childhood – which is why it was especially refreshing to come across this blog post by a Trinidadian father, living in the United States, detailing exactly how he came to change his mind about corporal punishment:
I used to think spanking a kid was okay – necessary, even. I come from a culture where it is accepted, even expected. I no longer think that it is any of those things.
If you think that a stronger, more physically powerful person hitting a woman is wrong under all circumstances, then you must accept that hitting a weaker, much less powerful human being is equally as wrong – if not more so.
The idea that ‘well, I got hit as a kid and I turned out okay’ is, I think, a fallacy. Because I think that if you think that hitting a kid is okay under [insert circumstances here], you, in fact, did not ‘turn out okay’.
Hitting a kid, especially a young kid, is pure laziness. It’s ‘I can’t be bothered to understand what’s driving my kid to do X so I’m going to revert to my base instinct and lash out.’ It’s lazy, and it is wrong.
I was spanked as a kid. Not often […] but I got spanked. I love my mom, and she is my hero for how she brought us up – but on this, she was wrong […] If I am half the parent to my children that my mother was to us, I’ll be an excellent parent. But I will never hit my kids. That’s one thing that stops with me.
Trinidad and Tobago's Finance Minister yesterday delivered what many are calling a “welfare budget”, but prior to its unveiling in Parliament, blogger Afra Raymond had hoped that “a more restrained approach might be taken.”
In examining the country's national budgets since 2005, Raymond found it telling that “many of the key issues identified a full decade ago are still at the fore of the more recent budgets.” There have been recurring themes: the need for economic diversification, better infrastructure, more effective crime fighting and tactics to help reduce the incidence white-collar crime. The figures revealed a tendency towards increased expenditure, with only occasional surpluses, leading him to conclude:
The reality that we are on the verge of a national election which is sure to be strongly-contested, leaves me in little doubt that the 2015 budget is also likely to be a deficit budget, with the State spending more than it earns.
Making the point that “the extent to which our Treasury is protected from being plundered by criminal elements is a serious question which should concern every citizen”, the blogger notes that adding insult to injury is the fact that corruption goes virtually unpunished in the country.
But how to stem the tide? Raymond is convinced that passing the long overdue Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill “would play an important part in greatly reducing the scope for waste and theft of Public Money.”