Witnessing a culture shift in the land of calypso, Soca, chutney and steelpan
It’s not by chance that a significant chunk of Trinidadians gave little though about the so-called terror threat that was supposed to disrupt Carnival 2018 on March 12-13. It’s fair to say it was the furthest thing on their minds.
You see, for the hard-core carnival set, nothing comes between them and their mas: not rain, not fatigue, not illness, and certainly not the fear of things that might cause them harm, especially this year when the carnival season was so short and the Soca music so sweet.
This year, more so than any other in the recent past, Trinbagonians needed the social and cultural vent that carnival provides as the country writhes in the grip of a punishing recession, non-stop political wrangling, out-of-control crime and sporadic episodes of lawlessness that resemble anarchy.
For many of the tens of thousands of carnival visitors, the convulsions in this society are not always discernible; such is the complexity of this nation of 1.3 million with its multiple layers of social realities.
At one level, signs of abundance and wealth are on display in communities along the south-central corridors, and in new spots of affluence such Woodbrook 1, Gulf City, Gulf View, The Victoria Quays, and around the West Mall, where multi-million dollars compete for attention with the long-standing palatial structures in Federation Park, St. Clair and other high-valued districts in the Port of Spain area.
Fleets of million-dollar vehicles that whisk the well to do to privileged spots around the country and to the airport for their many overseas visits appropriately compliment these homes.
In their speeding cars, hardly any of them ever notice the pockets of desperation and poverty hidden behind the rusted galvanize sheets in communities such as Betham Estate, Laventille and other areas along the east-west corridor where many of the victims of T&T’s ailing economy are trying to make do.
Some economists say the country’s energy-centered economy has been experiencing negative growth over the past four to five years, much of which is due to falling world oil prices and compounded by shortfalls in T&T’s oil and natural gas production.
And it is evident by on-going depreciation in government revenues over the past few years moving from well over $50 billion in 2015 to just over $45 billion in the last budget.
The impact of shrinking government finances is being felt across the land, especially among public sector workers who face retrenchment and extended delays to receive salaries.
But even in these dark days Trinidad and Tobago still stands as the economic powerhouse in the Caribbean with an energy-centered economy that places it at number 40 among the world’s top 70 developed nations.
That economy is driven primarily by oil and gas, which accounts for almost half of its GDP and three-quarters of its exports.
With some of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, T&T is a strategic trading partner of the United States, supplying it with close to 75% of its liquefied natural gas imports.
The country is also a major supplier of agricultural products and manufactured goods such as food, beverages, and cement to other Caribbean countries, all of which serve to keep its economy buoyant. And as such it remains a beacon of hope for citizens of other Caribbean nations and from around the world, many of who are streaming in from countries such Jamaica, Guyana and Venezuela, along with a steady flow of Chinese immigrants and from Africa.
Many of these new migrants are flocking to jobs as security officers, store clerks and in fast-food outlets across the country, work that is shunned by Trinidadians, even in these desperate days, but helps sustain the families of immigrants in foreign lands.
Managing the changing dynamics that come with a depreciating economy, increased immigration and spiking levels of crime is the on-going challenge for the ruling People’s National Movement under Dr. Keith Rowley.
Three years into their current tenure (after winning a close majority in the 2015 elections) Rowley and the PNM have made the fight against crime one of their priorities, but appear to be making little or no headway.
With close to 100 murders and countless robberies in the first two months of the year, many of which are brazen and without fear of authorities, there’s what has been described as a ‘frontier town’ atmosphere in certain parts of the island.
Some attribute the runaway deviance to a total breakdown in law enforcement with a police force that has lost the respect of society and bandits. And with its leadership in disarray and a rank and file that has lost credibility and trust, many say just half jokingly that they “more afraid of the police than they’re of bandits.”
Others point to the disparities in society: those who have, have too much and those who are without, have too little and there is no middle ground for the two groups to meet.
And a political system as the only mechanism that levels the field and brings order is in itself a joke. As a rule, government and opposition cannot see eye-to-eye on anything.
Recent attempts by the PNM to pass an anti-crime bill which they say, confidently, will put a dent in the crime situation is being held back by the opposition for little or no reason.
The US spy plane lurking around central T&T was there because more young men and women allegedly left the country to join ISIS than from any other country in the western hemisphere, and some have been trickling back home cause no end of consternation to the government and the United States.
Some say they are the source of the carnival 2018 terror threat for which 13 people were detained.
And so it is… Trinidad and Tobago a stand-out nation on the international stage, home to two Nobel Prize winning authors and with “culture” flavored by calypso, Soca, chutney and the steelband is now being defined for a creeping culture of crim