Storm clouds gather over Trinidad

Darcus reflects on some of the problems facing Trinidad and Tobago and how the people are reacting

I am somewhere over the mid-Atlantic heading for the island state of Trinidad and Tobago. The charter flight is packed. A quarter of us, I reckon, are returnees going over to join the carnival celebrations. It's an annual trek. However, the overwhelming majority are British-born, British-bred and white. And they are making the pilgrimage to the sunny isle despite travel advice from the Foreign Office that Trinidad and Tobago is a dangerous destination.

A friend had called me before I left London and played to me, on his mobile phone, a recording of a radio phone-in programme alleging that I was responsible, in the NS and on Channel 4, for poisoning the minds of British politicians on Trinidadian issues. Little did the radio bigots know that the source of the Foreign Office advice was the UK high commission in Port of Spain.

The advisory says: "You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could take place in public areas, including those frequented by foreigners. There were five separate bombings in Port of Spain between July and October 2005, in which a number of people were injured. Police are continuing their investigations into what looks to have been a series of domestically motivated actions." It then warns the tourist of rising levels of violent crime, especially shootings and kidnappings. A special warning is directed at those visiting during the World Cup cricket finals in March and April.

The radio presenter presumes I am responsible for grassing up Trinidadians and Tobagonians to the Foreign Office. I admit to making a couple of documentaries over the years in which I claimed not to be moved by national sentiment. However, the high commission accepts in its advisory that the information came from British nationals who visited the consulate for help and advice. As is the practice of diplomacy, these advisory documents are important for what they do not say - that in Trinidad passions are stirring that will inevitably lead to a social explosion.

The Trinidad government, in a headlong rush into industrialisation, has littered the west coast with heavy industries financed from abroad. Lakshmi Mittal has sunk his claws into the steel industry, ethanol plants abound and last year an emboldened government gave permission to the US-based Alcoa to construct a $1.5bn aluminium smelter. Concerns over carbon emissions, disfigured landscapes, the destruction of local agriculture and fishing were dismissed as namby-pamby Luddism and the prime minister announced that the smelter would go ahead.

But a skilful campaign was organised across the community, bearing the slogan "Smelt Patrick", Patrick being the first name of the prime minister. Oil workers, sugar workers, university students, schoolchildren and teachers came together to protest. Finally, in a victory for people power, the government caved in (although a new site for the smelter has since been proposed that is causing equal concern). Emboldened by this victory, the movement has shifted its focus to fighting crime and summoned workers and students in the south of the island to join them. The storm clouds are gathering.

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.

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni v Shia