I have just spent an entire day e-mailing the Caribbean. Mrs Howe and I leave on 23 December to spend three weeks there. Now I wonder whether to go at all. A friend from Trinidad, a scribe on a weekly paper, could not believe what he was hearing about Guyana. He went to investigate. The population is similar to Trinidad's: Indian and African in equal parts. My friend shaved his head so that he could not be recognised as fish or fowl; in fact, he is a Trinidadian Indian.
He was met at the airport by Indian friends who took him to an Indian area. He was given a pistol as an act of welcome. "What for?" he asked. "To shoot niggers," came the reply. They showed him how to use it in broad daylight in the backyard. Not a single neighbour batted an eyelid. Close to 100 citizens have been murdered in the past month, and Guyana is on the brink of civil war. The attorney general admits: "This country is ungovernable." Niggers and coolies, as they call each other, shoot on sight. When buses pass through African areas, they are routinely stopped: all Indians are robbed, some are executed. The same happens to Africans in Indian areas.
The basis of this barbarism is that there are two major political parties, one dominated by Africans, the other by Indians. Democracy here works on a "winner-takes-all" basis, and I mean all. As the government is the largest employer, Indians, who are now in power, have jobs, while Africans starve or live by the gun. I intended spending a few days in Guyana on this trip, but I have decided against it. And I recommend that you avoid it, too.
Trinidad, where I was born, is an obvious choice for a holiday. But I am told that if I go there, I shall have to avoid the area where I grew up. Apparently, a fundamentalist leader was recently shot by a gang of youths and the call is that "blood must flow". More than 150 people have been murdered this year in Trinidad, out of a population of a million and a half. The same "winner-takes-all" system is to blame. No Trinidad for me, and again, I recommend you stay away.
I invite Valerie Amos, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, to intervene. She is Guyanese. Raising the question of a federation of these islands would have the backing of the Caribbean population in the UK that knows them well.
And where am I headed? Tobago, population 46,000. And maybe a few days in Barbados. I can recommend no more.