Trinidad is just falling apart, and I vow never to return

I arrived in Trinidad full of expectation. It is the land of my birth, but it is not my home. I haven't actually lived there for about 40 years. I have travelled to and fro, spent extended periods there, and have maintained family relations and friendships. Yet, after the despondency of the Antigua experience which I wrote about last week, I hoped that Trinidad would lift my spirits.

I left after six days with the newspaper headlines of Monday 15 May screaming before my eyes: the Guardian, a local daily of the old colonial period, stated: "Father chopped to death by his neighbour." The Express of the same date said: "Sons see dad die." And Newsday, the youngest of the three papers, told us that a government minister's secretary had committed suicide after being jilted and that there was another murder after a gambling dispute.

Then there was the cousin I visited the day before I left. I had been told that he was ill, and I could see that he was dying of cancer. Unlike me, he had stayed at home and worked in the oil industry from the age of 17, and later in the natural gas industry. He inhaled gases containing poisons of every kind, he told me. Now, a relatively young man, he is close to death, as are several of his fellow workers. Health and safety have been disregarded for profit.

The final seal on my visit - the purpose of which was to make a television series about the Caribbean - came when my producer, on signing the crew out of the hotel, discovered there was no change in the till because bandits had dropped in earlier and robbed the receptionist at gunpoint.

Trinidad is falling apart. All the genies are out of the bottle. More than any other Caribbean country, it is being drawn into this globalisation fashion. Only recently, BP Amoco invested millions in the economy to exploit huge reserves of natural gas. Several downstream activities flow from this. Oil prices are rising gloriously and Trinidad exports the stuff. More money comes into the country via the transatlantic drugs trade.

But these heady riches are not spread evenly among the population. Trinidad is a divided society. The Indians, formerly marginalised, have been brought into the mainstream by a government that is now almost all Indian. They get the benefits of the new wealth, while the urban African population believes that it has been abandoned. In the working-class community from which I come, scores of people, young and old, are reduced to mendicants. The two tribes stare at each other in a murderous gaze. The tensions are high.

There is very little by the way of public health. If a government minister suffers from a slight migraine, he is off to New York or London for treatment, and his departure is splashed across the front of the daily newspaper. Talk about in-your-face.

Day after day, the rulers parade their wealth. The family gets a third car while dad promotes himself to a Mercedes Benz; mum goes to New York for a bit of shopping. So the deprived form themselves into armies of bandits who wait quietly for the sun to set before setting off on journeys of murder, rape and pillage.

Am I exaggerating? In fact, I am being the master of understatement. A certain Dr Cudgoe, who runs a tiny pro-African party organisation in Trinidad, had a visit by two gunmen to his home while he was lecturing in America. His sister was slapped about, and one of the intruders fired a gunshot into the ceiling. There has been no police investigation. And then Yasun Abu Bakr and Hassan Anymabwile, two leaders of the fundamentalist Muslims who attempted an armed insurrection ten years ago, visited the scene of the crime and announced to the public at large that they were taking over the security of the home. There you have it: an armed group substitutes itself for the police before the entire nation, and no one bats an eyelid.

As the plane lifted off at the Piarco International Airport - with the howl of pain from my sister, as we embraced in farewell, still ringing in my ears - I knew I was saying goodbye for the very last time. Only miracles in abundance can change my mind.

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