Trinidad has been failed by its middle class; now it faces a coup

I spent the last few days of my visit to Trinidad in a small and well-appointed flat among the middle classes. The caste that rules the country accommodated me effortlessly. Most of them, like me, were schooled at Queen's Royal College, whose colonial tutors educated us to take over the reins of government when independence came.

I had long liquid lunches, visits to their homes (usually complete with two cars and a swimming pool), and short conversations with their kids, some of whom called me Uncle Darcus.

But never before have I encountered such deep authoritarian instincts, fascistic even. This ruling caste is largely responsible for the attitudes of Caribbean youth and we see the results not only in Kingston and Port of Spain, but also in New York, Los Angeles, London and Toronto. These young people have matured in a vacuum, believing nothing, ingesting indiscriminately all the trash that Hollywood releases. Urbanites to the core, they know very little or nothing of their own past, still less about the geography and economics of their own countries.

The children of the middle classes, wholly divorced from their equivalent in the working class, are garlanded with O-level grades. But ask them about huge moments in the development of working-class culture and revolt, and they know nothing. Go back a generation or so, when the nationalisation of the oil industry in Trinidad was fought for with strikes, demonstrations and states of emergency, and they look at you with blank stares.

In small countries, these details matter; they help to create social cohesion. During my boyhood in colonial times, the middle classes provided a cultural lead, ensuring a universality of values outside the straitjacket of religion.

After independence, all that was lost. The superior educational qualifications of the Caribbean middle classes - degrees or qualifications in law or accountancy - allowed them to assume the leadership.

But they have no experience of capital. Give them £1,000 and see what they have done with it after a year. Nothing. They will have bought some garments labelled from abroad, imported a piece of furniture and perhaps gone on a trip to America, but they will not have tried any kind of investment. They aim at nothing but the car, the extravagant bungalow and the swimming pool. Any interference with these creature comforts, and they go bananas. They consistently stress their patriotism but, when it is tested, it amounts exclusively to the defence of their own comforts. You cannot build or develop a society in that way without courting disaster.

To Trinidad's current crisis (of which I have written in previous columns), they react with the most extreme solutions. At one of my long lunches, the most popular suggestion was hanging for murder at any age from 16 upwards, closely followed by taking people to the forest and shooting them. "What about throwing them from helicopters?" I teased. "And why not?" came the reply.

The ruling caste would prefer to have a state of emergency but, in the present political impasse (the two parties are deadlocked at 18 seats each after the latest election), they cannot convene parliament to declare one. The authorities proceed all the same to declare curfews, to search whole communities without warrants, to issue orders to shoot on sight.

Government here means getting your fingers in the national till and distributing revenue to your supporters. Corruption is on everybody's lips. Lawlessness is everywhere. The schools are in such a mess that middle-class rulers send their children abroad to be educated.

A military coup is very much on the agenda. "What will the Americans have to say?" I asked. "Bush is for military capitalism and so are we," I was told. Any day now!

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.