Saturday 24th February, 2007

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Jumbied away—another Boyie story

The lines were drawn this Carnival, not because of race but because of safety. People went where they felt safer. Even if that meant out of T&T and to certain spots only.

It must have been with some relief that Ministers Joan Yuille-Williams, Martin Joseph and Howard Chin Lee sat down to Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing at Whitehall.

A week before they had been jumbied by a daunting challenge: safeguarding T&T’s greatest show on Earth in the face of escalating crime plus increasing international advisories against T&T. All in an election year.

And worse—no Savannah stage.

A week later, an all-out security alert, cancellation of all police leave, the musical magic of Machel Montano and the artistic aptitude of Brian MacFarlane plus a hip-swivelling cast of many more got T&T through the national fete, reputation intact.

Government alone will not obtain the credit. Everyone appeared to have taken their own precautions. In some fashion.

Monday’s lack of spectators including vendors along Tragarete Road and Ariapita Avenue was repeated near the Savannah staging area. But Tuesday’s increase at some points still didn’t help vendors, whose numbers have gone under to the pinch of the all-inclusive bands.

Little wonder Government in its wisdom (the kind that rolls around every five years) wants “to look at” the issue, as Culture Minister Yuille-Williams said Thursday.

That acumen (the same one that’s about to give public servants an increase) may have passed the test in terms of handling crime. Over the whole two days of Carnival, that is.

Police Commissioner Trevor Paul’s television soundbite on Monday was likely a hopeful projection when he pronounced a “crime free Carnival.”

Unbeknownst to him on the next channel, Barbadian based CMC’s Sharon Coward was reporting T&T’s 25 arrests for weapons and narcotics plus the stabbing of a US visitor and robbing of Swiss tourists. Up to then.

Stoutly resolute also, National Security Minister Joseph in another TV soundbite on Tuesday, dismissed claims that people had gone away or not played mas.

Joseph recently told reporters that prior to becoming minister. he had left T&T over Carnival.

However his own confirmation of his lack of status as a proficient masquerader would obviously have precluded his ability to comment on the situation above the superficial survey that a glance at Tribe—where his PNM colleagues played—or Trini Revellers would have yielded.

Nor did Joseph acknowledge the smaller number of spectators on the streets on both days.

Apart from the fact that masqueraders at the Savannah would have obviously had to keep moving because of the use of the road, the free flow of bands which Minister Yuille-Williams hailed on Thursday, might also have been attributed to the smaller number of people around the bands, as well as in several.

The lull in-between—which she did acknowledge as not “normal”—might have also confirmed the smaller numbers out on both days.

Brian MacFarlane’s marvellous production India—The Story of Boyie, about an ill Indo-Trinidadian boy’s journey to his forefathers’ homeland, may have struck a slightly ironic note with certain sectors of the community which have been particularly jumbied by crime in the last five years.

If the story of their dilemma—and the resultant level of participation in festivities this year—went unnoticed, leaders of business groups in those hard-hit areas confirmed the situation on Wednesday.

San Juan Business Association president Gail Merhair, who usually plays mas with Trini Revellers, said:

“I didn’t play. The majority of business people in my area left T&T also. They went up the islands, Tobago, Miami or Canada. People were apprehensive about crime, as I was. I had my car broken into recently.

“Some members didn’t want to play mas with bodyguards—as some did last year—and some played with bodyguards. Some gave their kids very specific instructions to stick to.”

Merhair added:

“You also saw distinct divisions between the various people in the socio-economic classes. You saw it clearly at the more expensive fetes. People seemed to feel safer with friends and family knowing everyone was together.

“There was a particular damper on the spirit of the community since Vindra (Naipaul-Coolman) was kidnapped and make no mistake, it was compounded by the (Sunday) Guardian articles by Anand Ramlogan where kidnap victims spoke about their ordeal. That heightened people’s fear about what’s taking place in T&T.”

Merhair added:

“The lines were drawn this Carnival, not because of race but because of safety. People went where they felt safer. Even if that meant out of T&T and to certain spots only.”

Merhair believes bandleaders would not have felt the difference due to new masqueraders resulting from income streams out of mainly government programmes.

Chaguanas Chamber president Garvin Seemungal, a 20-year masquerader with the former Poison and Hart’s, said he and “a lot” of CC’s 250 members opted out this year.

“Many members usually play mas in Port-of-Spain and they didn’t—they stayed home, went to beach houses or went away. Some visited kids studying abroad.

“I just wasn’t feeling to play. It stemmed from the situation in T&T; quite a few members shared my feelings. The malaise in T&T didn’t motivate you to play,” Seemungal added.

“I know of people who had security playing with their kids who played. Last year when I played we had loads of people who had private security with them. The number might not seem smaller since more young people play every year. But it’s come to the point where the security services must shape up or ship out. Before people do the latter.”

TTMA president Paul Quesnel said some of his members may not have played due to the crime situation.

Penal/Debe Chamber president Rampersad Sieu said:

“There was a marked decrease in terms of physical participation among those in the East Indian community—including our 190 members—who usually would go to Port-of-Spain to play mas.”

Sieu added:

“It was due to the effect of crime on T&T and the perception that this community specifically is targeted. People very obviously—even TV coverage showed—took a step back this year.

“There was a decrease in our members—and it seemed the general population—among those who go to spectate. Also a decrease in our area in the number of relatives who usually come from overseas to play mas. Members stayed home or went away. Families who normally would have gone to the beach, didn’t go either.”

Billy Ali, Couva/Pt Lisas Chamber’s spokesman on crime, said:

“More youngsters continue to play mas and we’d have had more visitors due to the marketing of T&T by the Soca Warriors’ success. I’m a Carnival freak. I go to everything. But I went to Miami last year and I tried to leave this year. But I couldn’t get a flight to go anywhere—all booked.

“I went to one fete, in my neighbourhood. Many of our 200 members—and they are predominantly East Indian—stayed out of the celebration.”

Supermarkets Association president Heranan Maharaj said the organisation didn’t start off the year as it normally does due to the kidnapping of Vindra Naipaul-Coolman:

“Some members who’d normally play mas didn’t,” he added.

Arima Businesses Association president Raj Jadoo was among those in his community who took the opportunity to go on a two-week business trip. And Tunapuna Chamber president Rohan Roopnarine said at least 50 of his 200 members went away:

“Some didn’t participate for fear of robbery or kidnapping. Many business people stuck to the all-inclusives with more security. A few years ago, many E/W corridor businesses would have opened over Carnival, but not so this year.

“People didn’t participate as much as they may have wanted. We can’t live in denial—a heightened degree of fear has worked against participation in Carnival. The fact that Government had to give so many assurances tells a lot about the situation.”

Dreamteam leader Paul Singh dismissed the view that people did not stay out of the mas:

“Nonsense! Many people stayed out. Crime on the whole has affected the country, but also masqueraders wanted a stage to justify their money’s worth. There were lots less spectators too. Possibly it was a wait-and-see approach and people will return to mas next year.”

Hopefully with an equally infectious Montano sequel: “Back to Weself (Jumbie Crime Out).”

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