This is a draft copy of my paper.
Please make corrections and comments to me personally.
ABSTRACT OF PAPER
CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERIENCES:
PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN IN THE CARIBBEAN
GLOBAL ORGANIZATION OF PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN (GOPIO)
THE GUYANESE EAST INDIAN CIVIC ASSOCIATION (GEICA)
ST JOHN'S UNIVERSITY, JAMAICA, NEW YORK
SATURDAY MARCH 20, 2004
DR KUMAR MAHABIR - ANTHROPOLOGIST
DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS, COSTAATT (COMMUNITY COLLEGE)
MT HOPE MEDICAL SCIENCES COMPLEX
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
POLICE ASSAULT OF PEOPLE PROTESTING AGAINST CRIME:
THE OCTOBER 6, 2003 ARRESTS IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
- On October 6th 2003, disgruntled people in a village in multi-ethnic Trinidad
began a peaceful procession that started with an inter-faith service. The men,
women and children were escorted by three policemen and were led by the Mayor of
Chaguanas. During the course of the two-mile journey to the town, the throng
swelled to 1,000 participants. Businesspeople had also closed their stores in
order to join the march against the Government's apparent inability to deal with
the wild wave of crime and kidnappings directly mainly towards Indians. On
reaching the town, heavily-armed African policemen confronted the crowd and
refused them permission to enter a car park to hold a public meeting. A heated
debate ensued which erupted into police assault and the arrests of nine people
including an imam, a pandit, two politicians and an investigative journalist.
Using mainly newspaper reports and eyewitnesses' accounts, this paper seeks to
describe and analyze the police action against the anti-crime march in Chaguanas
from the perspective of human rights violation and racial discrimination. It is
argued that the aggression unleashed to the protesters by the police is a
violation of people's right to dissent peacefully. Article 1 of the UN Charter
and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states that discrimination
on the ground of race, colour or ethnic origin is an offence to human dignity,
and is a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of a people.
Keywords - human rights violation; crime; racial and ethnic discrimination, Trinidad.
Correspondence - Dr Kumar Mahabir,
President, Association of Caribbean Anthropologists,
Swami Avenue, Don Miguel Road, San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies.
Tel: (868) 675-7707. Tel/fax: (868) 674-6008. Cellular:
Trinidad and Tobago is a twin-island democratic republic located in the southern Caribbean 11 kilometers (7 miles) from Venezuela. It is a wealthy country which exports petroleum and natural gas to the U.S. and Europe from its southern-based industrial complexes. It is a base for the world's energy giants like BP Amoco, British Gas, EOG, BHP Billiton, and Exxon Mobil. Canadian companies in the island include PetroCanada, Talisman Energy, Vermilion Oil and Gas, and Methanex - the world's largest methanol company.
Trinidad and Tobago has a population of 1.3 million consisting mainly of people of African and (East) Indian origin who are almost equal in number. They are descendants of slaves and indentured labourers who were brought to work in the sugarcane plantations in the eighteenth and nineteenth century under British colonial rule. Most Indians are either Hindus (24%), Muslims (6%) or Presbyterians (3%), though conversion to Christian evangelical faiths has been increasing dramatically over the years. Roman Catholics form the largest (29%) religious group in the society.
Electoral politics in the islands have always been divided sharply along ethnic lines with the majority of Indians now supporting the Opposition UNC, and Africans rallying behind the ruling PNM. Africans dominate the PNM Government, the security force and the civil service. Indians are to be found mainly in middle and lower rungs of the service, retail businesses, private industries and agriculture. Ethnic tension in Trinidad is such a serious issue that the Prime Minister deemed it necessary to establish a Race Relations Committee, and the President appointed a National Self-Discovery Committee in 2003.
Writing in the Ottawa Citizen of January 24, 2004 in an article investigating "Trinidad's ties to terror," journalist Donna Jacobs states that the island's "tropical beauty conceals a darker identity." Associated Press reporter Michael Smith (March 30, 2003) also writes that "Trinidad is a study of extremes," with it ostentatious wealth flourishing next to severe poverty, and exotic restaurants not far from smoking garbage dumps. It is a place of colour and music, he states, where "people lose lives and loves in almost daily shootings and kidnappings."
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
International Human Rights Day is usually observed world-wide on December 10. The Day is of special importance to Trinidad because of the multiracial, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature of the society. In Trinidad and the wider Caribbean, the issues featured include prison conditions, death sentence, police abuse, domestic violence, and the rights of women. Never is the issue of racial discrimination against ethnic minorities and Indians discussed.
Trinidad has signed and ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and if Indians are not treated equally as other citizens by the Afro-dominated Government, then the state is guilty of non-compliance. Article 1 reaffirms the principles of equal treatment:
Discrimination between human beings on the ground of race, colour, or ethnic origin is an offence to human dignity and shall be condemned as a denial of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, [and] as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ..
The UN views racial discrimination as morally wrong, fundamentally unjust, and an evil which must to be eradiated. It declares racism (direct, indirect, covert or overt) as totally abhorrent to the conscience and dignity of mankind, and a crime against humanity. Discrimination, and unfair or arbitrary distinctions, have no part to play in a decent society, and an "accident of birth," such as race, ethnicity, or gender should not be a liability. Unequal treatment based on race, colour or ethnic origin is so much a serious concern for the UN that it held a World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa in 2001. What is needed in Trinidad and Guyana is the establishment of a special institution for recourse for victims of (real or perceived) racial discrimination.
TWO MONTHS LEADING TO THE MARCH
In June 2003, Government brought a closure to the sugarcane producing state-owned Caroni (1975) Ltd. By September 2003, the traumatic effects of being unemployed was bearing down on the 9,000 displaced workers, the majority of whom were Indians. Yet, as Guardian (Oct 23, 2003) editorial writer pointed out, there was no sustained programme in place for vulnerable groups, "single mothers or Indians affected by the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd." The Maha Sabha also later contended that the Government did not respond to the "distress call" of Hindus and Indians reeling from the impact of social displacement (Maharaj, Parsuram 2004:10).
In August 2003, Prime Minister Manning indicated that HIV/AIDS education was lacking in Trinidad, and the Caribbean as a whole. In his 2003/2004 National Budget presentation on October 6, 2003, Manning revealed that his Government was establishing a National AIDS Coordinating Committee, which was to be supported by a loan of US $20 million from the World Bank. Little or no emphasis and expenditure is being spent on social and health problems that particularly afflict Indians like rural poverty, functional illiteracy, domestic violence, diabetes, alcoholism and suicide (Rampersad 2003).
Early in August 2003, the Government began to organize a cultural contingent to represent the country for the regional show-case, CARIFESTA V111, in Suriname. Of the fifteen groups selected to be part of the organizing committee, only two were Indian-based. All fifteen groups, except the organizing National Chutney Foundation, were asked to select a representative to be among the 100-member contingent traveling to Suriname. Cultural groups like The National Phagwa Council were not invited and, therefore, the dholak [drum] - the national symbol of Suriname - could not have played a significant role in country's performances. It is needless to say that Indian cultural artistes and performances were grossly underrepresented in multi-ethnic Suriname, which hosted the show under the theme, "Many Cultures: The Essence of Togetherness, the Spirit of the Caribbean."
The support for, and existence of, the Theology Department of the only state University (UWI) in the country came under scrutiny from the Maha Sabha. The Hindu organization charged that "the dispensation of theological studies perpetuates discrimination and religious bias better suited to the Middle Ages." It added that the Department provided priests and pastors with theological degrees at the taxpayers' expense while the Hindu community has been told over the years to provide its own funding to establish a Chair of Hindu Studies at UWI (Maharaj, Parsuram 2003:10).
Connected to the Theology Department at UWI is the Trinity Cross as a national symbol of honour in a multi-ethnic secular state. The supreme symbol is bestowed by the President to an individual annually on Independence Day (August 31st) in a country where there are followers of Orisha, Islam, Hindu, Baha'i, and Shouter Baptist. The Maha Sabha argued that the "advocates of the Trinity Cross are contemptuous of devotees who are not Christians. Moreover, the cross is a symbol of European arrogance, and is an insult to some people who have suffered under colonial domination" (Maharaj, Sat 2003: 22).
The Maha Sabha went on to link the issue of the Trinity Cross with Afro-domination in employment in state institutions and agencies like Petrotrin (oil company), The Central Bank, National Flour Mills, the Unit Trust Corporation and CEPEP (road cleaners), and COSTAATT (Community College).
A spark burst into a racial fire when it was revealed that the Government wrote in its Social-and-Economic-Policy-Framework-2004 document that it was seeking to "establish targeted recruit programmes for male Trinidadians aged 17-24, especially Afro-Trinidadian males" for COSTAATT. While one Minister rushed to describe the paragraph as a printer's error, two others confirmed that it was indeed part of Government's policy.
KIDNAPPINGS BEFORE OCTOBER 6TH
Trinidad, Guyana and the Dominican Republic have seen a rise in kidnappings for ransom in the Caribbean that police believe to be a lucrative new business for criminal gangs. At the end of March 2003, nine kidnappings were reported in Trinidad with most of the victims being released relatively unharmed after wealthy families paid as much as TT $5 million (US $830,000.) (Smith 2003). By August 7, police sources disclosed that there were 33 victims for whom abductors demanded a total of nearly TT $58 million (US $9,280,000.) of which only TT $2 (US $320,000) million were paid. By October 5, 2003, 39 people were reported snatched for ransom (Marajh 2003:5), though non-police sources (e.g. Maharaj, Parsuram 2003a:10) state that the number was about 170 victims.
Nevertheless, the 43-victim police figure reported by October 18, 2003 skyrocketed tiny Trinidad into international limelight as second only to Colombia as the kidnapping capital of the world (Johnson 2003).
Indian commentators (e.g. Maharaj, Parsuram 2003a:10) noted that more than 80 percent of the kidnapped victims in Trinidad were Indians, particularly Hindus. The Member of Parliament for San Juan/Barataria - a Muslim - observed, too, that "the victims of kidnapping are Hindus and others with Hindu-sounding names" (cited in Singh 2004). The charge was also made by UNC Opposition leader Basdeo Panday that businessmen were being abducted not only because of their wealth, but also because of their race. He noted that there were other rich individuals in multi-ethnic Trinidad who were not, or hardy ever, captured for ransom. At a public party meeting, Panday said: "Kidnapping is a racial thing because the people of Goodwood Park and Westmoorings also have money, and they are not kidnapped." He added that for some groups, kidnapping for ransom of wealthy Indians may be "a way of distributing the wealth of the country" (Homer 2003:7). In neighbouring Guyana, that ethnic crimes are far worse. In a study done between February 2002 and February 2003, it was found that all 18 kidnapped victims were Indians (GIHA Crime Report 2003:5).
The day of the protest marked 99 days since Darrell Chootoo went missing, and there was the real fear that he was dead. Chootoo, 25 years old and a father of two, was abducted by three armed men from his home in the presence of his common-law wife and one-year-old daughter on the night of June 30. A ransom of TT $300,000 (US $48,000) was demanded for his safe release.
On October 1, 2003, Shamshoon Mohammed, 33 years old, was abducted at an aerobics classes and a TT $10 (US $1.6) million ransom was demanded for her safe return. For three nights, vigils (described as a "wake without a death") were kept at her Caroni home. On October 4, three days after her abduction, news spread that she had escaped her snatchers. What is significant about Shamshoon's abduction was that no ransom was paid for her release, and a massive protest was ignited by scores of villagers with the support of members of her Islamic faith.
On Friday October 3, 2003, residents of Caroni staged a fiery demonstration against the high rate of uncontrolled kidnappings in the country. Shamshoon Mohammed of Caroni was still in the kidnappers' custody, and prominent Muslims led disgruntled and frustrated residents of her community to vent their feelings in protest action. The main street was blocked with burning debris, and the abandoned Caroni Post Office was burnt to the ground. "Muslims . sat quietly in the middle of the road, [and] said they would not stay quiet after juma [evening prayer], later that day" (Bisnath 2003:13). Police were deployed but could not contain the rising anger of the residents and the "aggressive behaviour from the Muslim community" (Bisnath 2003:13). Though organized by Muslim leaders, the Caroni protest was cross-sectional and multi-layered. As one journalist/scholar (Meighoo 2003:11) wrote:
The explosions on Friday in Harlem Village, Caroni was spontaneous (meaning, without external cause, or self-generated, as in "spontaneous combustion;" it does not mean instantaneous, or to catch "a vaps"). It spurred parallel self-organisation in Chaguanas on Monday.
One of the important aspects of the Caroni protest was the visible defiance of the villagers. But the action seemed to mean more. It seems a defiance of fear itself. One felt that the action, however dangerous and out of control, demonstrated the sentiment, "We are not going to live in fear anymore!" even as others feared - quite legitimately - the implications and risks. It suggested an important new development that had to be examined.
The protest action was inevitable, and it sent a clear message to the Government. It set the pattern and fashioned the form for another demonstration that was to take place in Chaguanas the following Monday.
To prevent and control a repeat of the anti-crime demonstration in Caroni, the police and army came out in full force in Princess Town on Monday October 6, 2003. Members of the Crime Suppression Unit, and Guard and Emergency Branch were waiting for action. Another solidarity protest had been organized by another group of residents to shut down the town. All but one of the more-than 200 stores closed their doors, and taxi-drivers took the day off. The stores of freed kidnap victims Tricia Teelucksingh-Suryadeva and Saran Kissoondath remained closed, and business owners heeded the call to put up red flags and ribbons as a sign of protest.
But although red-clad motorists honked their horns, switched on their headlights and placed red ribbons on their vehicles to highlight the problem, no one dared to participate in a planned illegal march to the Princess Town Police Station.
The much-anticipated march was expected to start around 9 am, but police thwarted the demonstrators, threatening to arrest anyone who participated in the march. A Hindu priest sat on the sidewalk in the blazing heat mediating, while police officers kept watch over demonstrators who converged outside open stores holding red flags
The protest was co-ordinated by a non-Indian, UNC Opposition Councillor Clifton De Couteau, who said that the shutdown was "a community effort" (Asson 2003:5).
It is widely believed that a black Muslim group, the Jamaat al Muslimeen, is behind the spate of kidnappings of mainly Hindu businessmen. Indeed, one investigative reporter wrote:
The police have linked the Jamaat al Muslimeen to the continuing rise in violent crime. Out-of-control criminal cells with connections to the Mucurapo mosque are said to be behind the latest crime surge which has pushed murders and kidnappings to an all-time high (Marajh 2003:5)
It is this militant group that had staged a failed coup d'état against an elected Government in Trinidad in 1990 that made headlines around the world. It was a bloody tragedy that left 31 people dead and 693 injured in the wake of shootings and lootings. The Jamaat is active and growing, and is still feared by locals and foreigners. It has powerful connections with, and influence on, the ruling PNM which it helped to capture the Government in the last 2002 elections. The belief that the Jamaat has links with al-Qaeda has prompted the British and US Governments to be on the alert of possible terrorist threats to its people and property in Trinidad. The country's natural gas tankers are easy explosive target (Jacobs 2004).
THE OCTOBER 6TH ANTI-CRIME MARCH
During the Friday October 3, 2003 fiery anti-crime demonstration in Caroni, the police were publicly chided for their apparent inability to control crime and kidnapping in the country. The Acting Commissioner of Police, Everald Snaggs, was not at all happy with public condemnations of his apparent incompetence. He convened a two-hour meeting with his mainly Afro-Trinidadian executive officers, and issued a public warning to groups planning illegal protest action to cease and desist "or bear the full brunt of the law" (Cambridge 2003). He said that he had information that "the intended activities of certain persons . may disrupt the flow of normal public activities" on the next day in Princess Town, Couva, and Bamboo Settlement. But despite the threat from the Acting Commisioner, and cautious of it, residents of central Trinidad were determined to make Monday October 6, 2003 a day of protest against crime and police incompetence.
At 9.00am, the march started at Montrose Junction along the main road to the bustling town of Chaguanas on a two-mile trek. It was organized by irate businessmen and concerned residents in the area, and led by led by Chaguanas Member of Parliament (MP) Manohar Ramsaran, Chaguanas Mayor Dr. Suruj Rambachan, and members of the business community. The procession began with a small interfaith service. Ramsaran advised marchers to walk in twos, so as not to cause any disruptions, since, he said, he had information trouble-makers were in their midst (Boodan 2003:3). Individuals discarded their placards out of avoidance of possible police attack. The marchers, numbering more than 500 were heading west and traveling in pairs on the sidewalk (Beharry 2003:3). An on-site journalist (Boodan 2003:3) reported:
The marchers, led by Rambachan, were escorted by three policemen. As the crowd made its way into Chaguanas, where all businesses had chained their doors for the day, the gathering swelled with the influx of a number of concerned citizens
The otherwise peaceful march, which swelled to about 1,000 participants, turned for the worst upon reaching the Chaguanas Market. Assistant Commissioner of Police, Oswyn Allard, appeared on the scene and announced that the demonstration had to end there. The command caused uproar among the large crowd. Trinidad Guardian journalist Theron Boodan wrote:
At this point, Allard and a team of heavily-armed policemen approached the crowd. He told the crowd the police would use force and arrest everyone if the march continued.
Rambachan tried to calm the angry crow. However, a plea to enter the Chaguanas Market car park fell on deaf ears, as the crowd decided to push on.
At this point, several members of the public were manhandled by the police, who succeeded in bringing order for only a short while.
Political analyst Dr Kirk Meighoo who had gone to cover the march as a columnist for the Express was one of the first to be arrested (Beharry 2003:3). He began shouting from the back of the police van, "What is the charge? Why am I being arrested?" A few metres from the Chaguanas Police Station, at around 10.30 am, Ramsaran had an argument with the police. Ramsaran was insisting that it was a peaceful march without chants, bullhorns and placards. Allard exclaimed, "I had enough!" and grabbed Ramsaran by his arm, pulled him off the sidewalk, and pushed him into the van. Ramsaran's colleague, Hamza Rafeeq, was also grabbed and tossed into the waiting police van and taken to the station (Beharry 2003:3). This show of force, assault and arrest angered the crowd even more. Allard then instructed his mainly-African officers to form a chain with their batons to disperse the crowd. The protesters eventually backed off and moved into the area used for driving tests by the Licensing Authority (Boodan 2003:3).
One angry female eye-witness (Marajh 2003:13) wrote:
On more than one occasion, the police batoned female members of the public for standing in the roadway; they pushed pedestrians and grabbed them by their shirt necks.
As of today, this society now views Oswyn Allard and acting Police Commissioner Everald Snaggs with immeasurable scorn, disdain and hatred.
But yesterday's savagery and police thuggery must surely have demonstrated tangibly what Mr. Manning means when he say that "East Indians have nothing to fear," should they wish to come into the PNM. .Monday, October 6, 2003 has now become a day of infamy.
Let it be known that as of now, instead of the people cowering in fear, we are now driven by anger and rage at the sadistic turn of events in Chaguanas.
I hope the world was watching as the police brutalized the residents of Chaguanas and environs. Mercifully, the television images showed how the partisan force demonstrated their loyalty to the PNM by continuously barking orders at helpless Indians.
Dr. Meighoo was among the nine persons arrested. MP Rafeeq, Pundit Bisram Siewdat, ASJA Imam Muakil Abdulah, Boysie Roy, Abdul Jabro, Jeewan Lutchman and Bissondath Ramkissoon were charged for participating in a public march without police permission. Ramsaran was charged with inciting people to take part in the march. A national security helicopter flew overhead and the people gathered at the police station waved to it. It circled the station twice and then disappeared. After the charges were laid, around 2.30 pm, the men were escorted to the nearby courthouse to appear before Magistrate Margaret Alert. Ramsaran was not called to plead, and was granted bail in the sum of TT $650. (US $104.) The others all pleaded not guilty, and were grated their own bail of $750. (US $120.).
In a show of solidarity, most of the UNC MPs and senators went to the Chaguanas Police Station. They had refused to attend the two-hour long presentation of the TT $22.3 (US $3.6) billion Budget delivered by Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Patrick Manning, that day. A team of attorneys and legal personnel also showed up at the Chaguanas Police Station to give free assistance. Former Education Minister and Attorney General, Kamla Persad-Bissesesar was manhandled by a plainclothes police officer outside the Station, while attorney Anand Ramlogan had to face an "arrogant, hostile and aggressive officer" (Ramoutar 2003). Opposition leader Basdeo Panday, who arrived later, said the Budget presentation paled in comparison to the rights of people, and described the use of force by the police on the streets of Chaguanas as "obscene." Journalist Theron Boodan wrote: "Tears of joy and the applause of hundreds of supporters of MPs Manohar Ramsaran (Chaguanas) and Hamza Rafeeq (Caroni Central) filled the air near the Chaguanas courthouse yesterday, when the duo was released on bail."
There are those who even hold the view that the Opposition has been organizing the spate of kidnappings of mainly-Indians in the country. Even if this theory is true, it still does not exonerate the police for not identifying and arresting the abductors. Critics and opponents of the march were quick to write if off as an Opposition UNC politically-organised and -motivated form of protest. However, investigative Newsday reporter Rhondor Dowlat (2003:8) wrote that the October 6th 2003 march was a "solidarity walk" organized not by politicians, but by the Chaguanas Businessmen and Women's Group in their fight against crime and kidnapping. The fiery Friday Caroni march as well as the Chaguanas street procession was a popular people's protest. Political scientist, Dr Kirk Meighoo (2003:8) who was arrested in Chaguanas, wrote:
Frustration of villagers burst out like spontaneous combustion. It went beyond politics. The UNC could not have organized that. The passion was too strong. The villagers obviously were not concerned about the petty scoring of points against the PNM, or the improbable task of trying to get the UNC into Government (how could this be achieved with an election due in 2007?). The defiance was a sign of confidence, although with many dangerous risks.
If the march was "political" at all, it was the attempt by politicians to re-gain recognition and integrity by riding the back, and taking the lead, of a popular protest movement that would have gained more potency without them. The spirit of the march was neither sparked by the UNC nor was it directed by the politicians. Opposition MP Hamza Rafeeq, for example, who was at the forefront of the procession, is lackluster politician and a poor orator with a fixed smile on his face, who can motivate no one.
Guardian columnist, Nirad Tewarie (2003:23), also wrote:
The people who were involved in the protest may or may not have been affiliated with the UNC but, whether they were or not, they are still citizens who feel that their concerns about the record-breaking murder rate and increase in kidnappings are not being taken seriously by either the Government or the police.
Participants of the march were angry frustrated people who had lost confidence in the integrity and competence of the police and Prime Minister. They were determined to make a public statement about an issue that threatened their very life.
THE RIGHT OF PEOPLE TO PEACEFUL PROTEST
Every individual in Trinidad is entitled to all the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 2 of the Declaration states that a Government should not make any distinction of any kind based on race, religion, or political affiliation in its treatment towards its citizens. The Declaration sets out different kinds of rights and freedoms to which human beings are entitled, one of which is the equal right of work in all state departments and agencies. The Government in Trinidad has a responsibility and duty to every person to provide security from physical harm, criminal acts, kidnapping, and police assault. Article 20 of the Declaration also states that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. To disregard this right is to show contempt for human rights which has resulted in barbarous acts against people in other parts of the world. The right enshrined in Article 5 could reasonably imply freedom from unlawful assault, arrest, and many other forms of physical interference or restriction, including interference with one's freedom of _expression (Robertson 1991).
The police physical interference, restriction, assault and arrest of participants in the peaceful anti-crime procession in Chaguanas constitute a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In far-away New York, a political analyst (Bisram 2003:33) wrote about the October 6, 2003 incident in Trinidad:
The recent arrest of MPs and several other prominent individuals, and the alleged beating and roughing-up of protesters in Chaguanas, infringe on long-cherished basic democratic rights of the people.
A demonstration is a core fundamental right, as long as it does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. It is part of public action, which in turn is related to the formation of democratic public opinion.
In democratic countries, people are free to assemble, providing they are not violating the rights of others. So, unless the two arrested MPs and demonstrators were violating other people's rights, for example by impeding access to businesses, they should have been free to march and assemble.
He argues that a police permit is usually sought for demonstrations only in areas where there is limited public access, or where the would-be protesters need police protection. Where a large demonstration is expected, a police presence is advised to regulate the crowd and traffic.
Protest marches of a rowdy, high-risk nature were undertaken by Afro-Trinidadians in support of the PNM in 2001, and the police did not assault and arrest anyone as they did Chaguanas participants in 2003. PNM Legal Affairs Minister, Camille Robinson Regis, and PNM Public Relations Officer, Rose Janiere, led one such march and no one was arrested. The senior police officer on the scene said that once the protesters kept moving, they were not breaking the law (Tewarie 2003:23). A police permit was not obtained. Another "illegal" march was led by Dr Selwyn Cudjoe, who is a PNM party campaigner and Director on the Board of the Central Bank of Trinidad. In December 14, 2001, he led a march towards the President's House to deliver a petition by hand in support of the PNM in the 18-18 PNM-UNC electoral deadlock. Cudjoe did not obtain a police permit, and more so, was more of a security threat since he was stepping into the guarded property of the President of the Republic. Cudjoe and his followers were neither stopped nor arrested. In response to the discriminatory assault and arrests in Chaguanas, attorney-at-law, Anand Ramlogan, asked, "I want to know where was Mr Oswyn Allard and all those police officers with guns when Selwyn Cudjoe was marching? I want to know, is it going to be one baton for Indians when they march in this country for their rights?" (Newsday Oct 7, 2003)
Opposition MP Manohar Ramsaran blamed Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Oswyn Allard, for the physical interference and restriction which caused the chaos in Chaguanas. Ramsaran said, Allard "caused all the bacchanal." He added that the march was "very peaceful until Allard arrived and everything then turned ole mas[querade]." Manohar told a newspaper reporter (Ramoutar 2003: 8 & 9):
You could say that it was a church march; it was quiet.
We did not use any bullhorn because police said no to do it; we did try chanting, but because the crowd was about half-a-mile long, the chanting faded quickly.
Some people had placards but the officers told us that that was illegal, so we put them down; we were marching two by two and cooperating with the police.
As I said, it was when Allard and company arrived, the trouble started. The ACP started shouting that we should break up the march immediately, and I looked at him wondering why he was carrying on so.
My cellular phone rang and I started to talk. When I raised my head, I saw Dr. Meighoo in a police van, and I put away my phone asking what was going on.
I heard Allard telling Dr. Rafeeq that he has 30 seconds to call off the march; I was not taking him on, so I suppose that's why he spoke to Hamza, and I heard Hamza saying 30 seconds was too little to disperse any crowd.
Exactly 30 seconds later, while we were discussing it, Hamza and I were snatched and pulled into the police van.
Ramsaran said that during the first two hours in custody, they were "treated very aggressively." They were not allowed to answer their cellular phones, and the police treated them "very rough." One of the organizers of the march, Sursatee Bharat, felt that the actions of the police were "clear intimidation and abuse of power." She said: "This is a non-political move [march]. This is residents of Chaguanas saying enough is enough." (Newsday Oct 7, 2003)
A public UNC meeting was hastily summoned at the in Debe High School on the night of the march on October 6, 2003. Dr. Hamza Rafeeq told the large crowd that he realized for the first time that citizens' rights and freedoms were being taken away from them. He said if persons were not allowed to show how they felt about the crime situation in the country peacefully, they then had no other alternative but to protest violently. Rafeeq added: "No struggle is too great for freedom in this country, and under no circumstances would we allow our people to be brutalized and just stand up and watch" (Ramoutar 2003b:20)
Political scientist and Express columnist, Dr Kirk Meighoo, detailed his experience of being arrested without an explanation. As a member of the media, he had gone to Chaguanas that day to observe and "get a first-hand account of this historical event." While following the march, he (Meighoo 2003a:11) wrote:
I was apprehended and put into a police van. Mystified, I respectfully asked the officer whether I was being arrested, and if so on what charges. I received no answer. I asked again, "Sir, on what charges am I being held?" No answer. This continued for five to ten minutes. I received no answer and the police van pulled off with two Muslim brothers (of African descent) and me in the back.
I asked the policeman in the van, "Sir, on what charges am I being held?" No answer. I asked again. When I arrived at the police station, I asked, "May I ask on what charges I am being held?" No answer. I asked, "In that case I would like to go home. I will leave my name, number, and address if you would like to press charges at a later time." But I was prevented from doing so.
Dr. Meighoo was arrested and detained without any immediate stated reason or explanation. The usually-vocal Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) was noticeably silent. In the entire print media, it was only fellow-Indian journalist Nirad Tewarie (2003:23) who raised the issue publicly in his column. He saw the action of the police as an infringement on "the constitutional rights as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago." He said that, as a journalist, he was prepared to defend his own rights and the rights of others in such circumstances.
The large deployment of armed police officers at Chaguanas, and the assault they inflicted upon the participants of the march was seen, by attorney Ramlogan, as a "total show of intimidation" against target victims of crime and kidnappings (Newsday Oct 7, 2003). One on-site reporter (Persad 2003:4) wrote that the march "was progressing peacefully along the pavement, escorted by three policemen," when ACP Oswyn Allard appeared and chaos broke loose. The reporter captured the sentiments of participants and on-lookers:
"Like is a police state we have now," muttered a rain-soaked, well-known, middle-aged, bespectacled businessman .
"It looks like only criminals and police have rights," a rotund retrenched female Caroni (1975) Limited worker enjoined from the fringes, anger etched on her face. "But what is the difference?" someone else interjected, "police and bandits same blasted thing. Why Allard and them don't go and lock up the bandits and kidnappers?"
"How they go lock up their friends?" the emotional woman, hand on hips can cheek colour now matching her red jersey with a rush of blood, blurted. "You ain't see they protesting them bastards. You can't see whose side they on? Imagine they against we for demonstrating against crime. They supporting the criminals then. Well, I never see more."
Columnist Nirad Tewarie (2003:23) wrote in his Guardian column:
The arrest of 12 people, including two Opposition Members of Parliament, in Chaguanas on October 6, is abhorrent, unjust and an attack on basic democratic principles. It should be condemned by every person who believes in freedom of speech and freedom of association regardless of creed, race or political affiliation!
One female by-stander (Marajh 2003:13) was intense in her condemnation of the police action on a day when the national budget was being presented in Parliament:
And to think, those parliamentarians including those of East Indian decent sat in the Parliament, indifferent to the brutality and breach of the human rights taking place. All of them sat there pounding the table like fools.
After Monday, October 6, 2003, Mr. Manning has shown clearly how the Police Service is indeed a force to be used against the people. We now understand why kidnappings of Indians are being allowed to become so fashionable. It is simply because the police do not care and have bought into the Executives sinister agenda to terrorise their perceived political opponents via criminal acts of one kind or another until they either succumb to political indentureship, Vision 2020-style, or leave the country.
I say that as of Monday, October 6, 2003, this nation's resolve has been strengthened. It is now abundantly clear to all and sundry that the police are not on the side of the lawful and the decent, and are prepared to beat, baton and manhandle citizens who oppose Mr. Manning.
The police have become a partisan army and are now the enemy of the people and conversely the friend of the criminal. This political directorate will pay dearly for the atrocity meted out in Chaguanas.
The Chaguanas march was historic in more ways than one. It took the limelight over the Budget presentation in all the media networks. The police action also found disfavour with Indian columnist Raffique Shah, who is a known pro-PNM and anti-UNC commentator. Shah (2003:12) wrote:
Still, once the protesters were not blocking traffic or other people from using the road, why arrest them? Personally, I have always found that particular law to be in breach of people's fundamental rights, and downright offensive. A people must always be entitled, as of right, to adopt such measures if they feel aggrieved, or, as was the case here, if they feel Government is not being proactive on an issue as serious as crime.
Express columnist Raoul Pantin (2003:12), too, would have condemned the police assault and arrests. Pantin is usually not sympathetic to Indians or the UNC. But he had written on the day before the march:
Every time someone is kidnapped in this country, the entire national community should express its outrage and demonstrate in public to impress upon the Government that it is not fulfilling one of its most basic responsibilities - which is to provide the average citizen with a secure environment.
Of the all the condemnatory remarks made, it was that of Opposition leader Basdeo Panday which really hit the nail on its head. The march and its outcome had energized the 69-year old embattled leader. At the public UNC meeting at Debe, Panday said that the PNM was using "the police as an instrument . to discriminate against people." He added: "But people of this country have taken as much as they can. People are saying enough is enough and are ready to fight, ready to fight at all cost" (Persad 2003:4)
In neighbouring multi-ethnic Guyana, the police was used by the racist PNC Government regime to intimidate and arrest people mainly of the opposition party. The Guyanese security forces felt free to arrest Indians who had criticized the Government, or had merely attended an opposition public meeting. An atmosphere of pervasive repression overshadowed Guyana under the regime of President Burnham. Basic human rights, including racial discrimination, had been extensively denied to people perceived as communal or ideological enemies (Premdas 1989:40). There are many indications that Trinidad, under the PNM, is fast becoming like Guyana under the PNC. Non-Indian journalist Kim Johnson, pointed out in October 2003 that Indians in Trinidad were afraid. He wrote, "Maybe there fears are justified; maybe not, but to them it is as real as the rain, and has to be dealt with as such."
THE AFTERMATH OF THE MARCH
The police were successful in diffusing the anti-crime march in Chagaunas, but the protestors felt victorious. They showed that they were not passive lambs waiting to be snatched by criminals and kidnappers. Their strength lay in solidarity and visibility. They were willing to fight police incompetence, Government negligence, ethnic discrimination and racial violence with their bare hands in a silent procession in the main street. The march was held at a time when Hindus in Tunapuna, St Augustine, Carlsen Field, Orange Valley, California, Felicity, Carapichaima, Tarouba, Cedar Hill, Matilda, Debe, Siparia and Rio Claro were preparing to stage the annual enactment of Rameela. The open-air drama recounted the legend of the kidnapping of Lord Rama's wife, Sita, and the eventual defeat of the wicked abductor Ravana. Rama did not cower in fear or hide in refuge. He fought a bloody and fierce battle, and severed all ten of Ravana's heads with a single arrow.
The October 6th 2003 march, and police assaults and arrests, made frontpage headline news. PNM Government Junior Minister of Finance, Conrad Enill, admitted in his contribution to the Budget debate that crime was a serious problem in the society. Enill said:
At this point we cannot be oblivious of the escalating crime situation in this county. Our citizens are under siege. We must and shall respond to ensure the safety of our communities
He said Government had developed an 11-point crime and justice programme to provide additional resources for the safety and security of all citizens. The Prime Minister could not have ignored the public spectacle of 1,000 Indians on a main street protesting about being targeted victims of crime and kidnapping. He was obviously embarrassed about the attack on his apparent incompetence and inaction. But instead of directing his rage at criminals, he spent more time rebuking the protestors. Prime Minister Manning warned, ". the Government wished to make it absolutely clear that we will not tolerate acts of civil disobedience and will enforce the laws of the country rigidly and fearlessly." He saw the silent demonstration as an act of "lawlessness" organized by "persons who wish to disrupt the society" (Persad 3003:4).
Manning's warnings were more than the mere utter of words. He announced that "the Riot Squad will be the subject of review, and shall be provided with the most modern equipment now used in the countries around the world" (Persad 2003:4). He also promoted a Commanding Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, Colonel Peter Joseph, to the position of a Brigadier. Joseph was mandated to establish a Special Crime Fighting Unit. A few weeks after the Chaguanas march, Manning also appointed Martin Joseph as the new Minister of National Security. And as if to teach Indians a lesson for the audacity to demonstrate against his Government, Manning also announced higher financial allocations for CPEP, URP and NHA projects, of which mainly Afro-Trinidadian PNM supporters were the main beneficiaries.
The rate of kidnappings continued after the Chaguanas march but declined during the following months. The protest was not without reward; it had effected substantial positive changes. Still, in October 2003, updated travel advisories from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom warned tourists about "significant" increases in murder, violent crimes, and kidnappings for ransom. Britain, in particular, warned its visiting citizens of an "an increased terrorist threat" in Trinidad (Heeralal 2003:9). As an excuse for his incompetence and inefficiency in apprehending criminals, acting Police Commissioner Everald Snaggs said that "a lot of kidnappings in Trinidad and Tobago were not genuine" (Cambridge 2003a:3). Prime Minister Manning was to echo the excuse of Snaggs by stating to a live foreign audience in the United States that many of the kidnappings in Trinidad were family feuds, drug paybacks and staged events. While a few cases were indeed so, the vast majority were indeed genuine criminal acts of terror and violence.
In the meantime, wealthy Indians are leaving the country with their human and financial capital to invest abroad. Those who choose to stay are re-locating their children to safer grounds in United States and Canada. There are those who are applying for asylum and refugee status outside of Trinidad. Businessmen and professionals have imposed a night-time self-curfew, and hire private bodyguards and armed escorts. And like the spectators who watch the drama of Ramleela, they hope and pray for the eventual destruction of King Ravana, and the triumph of the rising sun over the evil of darkness stalking the land.
It was reported that "CEPEP has been making millionaires out of small-time contractors in the very first year of [the PNM] Government - funded business venture. About 100 of these contractors have been pocketing hefty monthly salaries over the past 18 months since the inception of the controversial URP-style small business venture. In this time, Government had doled out over $73 million to the programme" (Mohammed 2003:8)
In February 2004, the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, Jarrette Narine stated that Caroni Lands will not be distributed to former workers of the old sugar factory. He said, "Distributing small parcels of land for housing and small-scale farming cannot be economically viable to agriculture, and will not benefit our country in any way." Although the original plan was to disburse small portions of the 12,000 acres of Caroni land to retrenched workers, Narine said the Ministry had given this matter serious re-consideration (Mokool 2004:4).
2003 "Princess Town revolts against kidnapping wave on Monday." TNT Mirror October 3. Page 5.
2003 "Curb Crime or else! TNT Mirror October 5. Page 13.
2003 "People have a right to protest." Guardian October 22. Page 33.
2003 "Disorder in Central again." Guardian October 7. Page 3.
2003 "Police chief warns illegal marchers." Express October 6. Page 3.
2003a "Many kidnappings bogus, says CoP." Sunday Express November 1.
2003 "UNC MPs Ramsaran and Rafeq arrested and charged." Newsday October 7. Page 8.
GIHA (Guyana Indian Heritage Association)
2003 Indians Betrayed: Black on Indian Violence, Government's Denial and Inaction. Georgetown.
Guardian Opinion Editorial
2003 "Careless political move by Gov." Guardian October 29. Page 30.
2003 "Tourists warned about crime in T&T." Express October 29. Page 9.
Homer, Louis B.
2003 "Bas plans more 'heat'." Express October 8. Page 7.
2004 "Trinidad's Ties to Terrorism." Ottawa Citizen. January 24.
2003 "Fear is the key." Sunday Guardian October 19, 2003.
2003 "Citizens under siege." Express October 22. Page 7.
2004 "The Best Justice." Newsday February 10. Page 10.
2003 "UWI failing Theology." Newsday October 7. Page 10.
2003 a "Kidnapping." Trinidad Newsday. October 14. Page 10.
2003 "Trinity Cross must go." Guardian September 10. Page 22.
2003 "Cops link Jamaat to crime wave." Express October 5. Page 5.
2003 "Manning's day of infamy." Express October 19. Page 13
2003 "Bacchanal in Chaguanas." October 7, 2003. Page 9.
2003 "Beyond party agendas." Express October 8. Page 11.
2003a "Fear and folly." Express October 12. Page 11.
2004 "Gov't rethinks Caroni land distribution plan." Guardian February 29. Page 4.
2003 "Hefty handouts for CEPEP contractors." Guardian February 2. Page 8.
Pantin, Raoul 2003
2003 "Make more noise." Express October 5. Page 12.
Paul Gordon Lauren
1988 Power and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy of Racial. Discrimination. Boulder: Westview Prss.
2003 "Oh, what a day .." TNT Mirror October 10. Page 4.
1989 "Political Power, Race and Human Rights in the Caribbean: The Guyana Case." Plural Societies July edition. Pages 1-40.
Robertson, Mike, editor
1991 Human Rights for South Africans. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.
2003 "The Chaguanas march against crime turned sour." TNT Mirror October 10. Pages 8&9.
2003 a "Kamla manhandled by cops." TNT Mirror October 10. Page 14.
Ramoutar, Harold 2003
2003b "Panday: We'll fight the PNM, regardless of cost." TnT Mirror. October 10. Page 20.
2003 "Suicide Central." Guardian August 24. Page 32.
2004 PRESS RELEASE. Hindu Writers Forum, Chaguanas.
2003 "Police action backfires on PM." Express October 12. Page 12.
2003 "Gangs turn to kidnapping in Trinidad and other Caribbean nations." Associated Press. March 30.
2003 "Cops thwart illegal march." Guardian October 7. Page 6.
2003 "Tread Carefully, Mr. Policeman." Guardian October 18. Page 23.