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War on our protective services

Never before in the history of T&T has our protective services been under such attack.

No less than four police and army personnel have been murdered in less than one week.

What is going on in my beloved country and who is behind these attacks?

Long ago, criminals understood that killing police and army personnel was off-limits. Now, there are brazen attacks.

Someone in authority better take the bull by the horns before this situation gets totally out of control.

Linus F Didier

Mt Hope

Poor working just to eat

One adult living on less than around TT$1,230 per month is considered to be living below the poverty line in T&T.

This is according to a mathematical equation arrived at by the Ministry of Social Development and applied to the Survey of Living Conditions (2014).

The poverty line represents the amount an individual needs to meet basic necessities, described as a combination of the minimum expenditure needed for a nutritionally adequate diet as well as the amount needed for basic non-food necessities.

In 2005, this figure was TT$655 but was adjusted for inflation in 2012.

For the majority of people interviewed by the Guardian in four communities in T&T over the past few weeks, TT$1,230 was a little less than the amount they spent on food.

“That’s how much I spend on food for the month, for me and my two boys,” said 34-year-old, Aneesa Jantie, a single mother who earns $3,600 a month working as an administrative assistant at a non-profit organisation.

She lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Arouca and her outward appearance to people on the street may suggest that she lives comfortably, but the only furniture in her apartment is a second-hand fridge and stove, donated by a family member, and two mattresses, one for her and one for her boys.

The family’s clothes, which she washes by hand, sits in garbage bags on the floor, because plans to purchase more furniture were delayed by her children getting ill, or needing money to participate in school activities and school payments for herself.

She also juggles her bills, paying some one month and others another month.

“My boys asked me, mommy are we poor? I was shocked. For a while, I didn’t know what to tell them. I eventually told them that we weren’t poor, but that things were hard for us right now regarding money. They notice things though, like drinking water with sugar cause we have no milk or going to school with a hole in the soles of their shoes because I have no money to buy another pair right now.”

Poverty and Women

Stephanie Leitch, director of Womantra, a feminist, civil society organisation, said women are challenged by poverty on levels that are greater than men.

“The poorest people throughout the world are women and children. I think it could be even worse locally, where there is less opportunities for entrepreneurship.”

Leitch said women take on the brunt of the responsibility for care of families, dependents and elderly, which leaves them at risk for the effects of poverty.

“The Caribbean has the highest majority of single parent families, and these families are led by women. It means the poverty has worsened. A lot of times they do not have the support of male relatives who support their children. They are in charge of most of the care and responsibility. They are overlooked for jobs because of child rearing, they are asked questions: If they are married? How recently? If they have kids? These questions can determine whether they even get a job.”

She said working single mothers often had to take time off to take care of family needs, which can have an impact on salaries.

Recently, the Ministry of Gender launched a programme for low-income women, to teach them life skills such as planting a garden.

Leitch said it was a positive indication that the Government was taking stock of what was going on.

For Jantie, trying to improve her financial situation presents many obstacles.

She left the father of her children because of his abuse. Today he has no contact with the children and she has no idea where he is.

She applied for government assistance but was told that she had to find the father of her children. Rather than expose herself to further abuse, she declined.

“We are making out though. The boys go to school. I go to school and work and eventually we will have a better life. I will be able to provide for their needs.”

She makes sure her boys eat every night, although most nights the meals are the same, roast bake and plantain, butter or cheese.

T&T working on decreasing poverty

At a United Nations review in early may, T&T Ambassador Eden Charles told reviewers T&T had continuously addressed extreme levels of poverty.

“In light of the government’s commitment at the last Universal Periodic Review to implement the recommendation to combat extreme poverty, the Ministry of the People and Social Development (now known as the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services) has embarked on several initiatives to ensure that persons of low income and below the poverty line have access to basic goods and services,” Charles said.

He said the National Social Development Programme (NSDP) was a social intervention strategy that was established to provide assistance and to bring socio-economic relief to vulnerable communities and families. 

“These services include improving water supplies, electrification and lighting of community facilities, house wiring assistance, provision of materials for sanitary plumbing and minor house repair assistance.”

Charles also listed the Biometric Smart Card System which will allow people on Senior Citizens’ Pension,

Public Assistance and Disability Assistance Grants to utilize their cards to purchase food from participating merchants utilizing the biometrically enabled Point of Sale Terminals as a measure being developed by Government to help the poor.

More Data Needed

The Caribbean Development Bank estimates poverty levels in the region at 21 per cent.

Measurable, comparable data for countries across the region, however, are virtually non-existent, as national surveys use very different base lines and take place during different time periods, where there may be different economic conditions.

The data in Table 1 cannot be compared due to variations in purchasing power for each nation and the base line used to determine poverty levels. In Bahamas the base line for the annual poverty line since the last recorded study, in 2001, moved from BSD$2,863 to BSD $4,247.

The reduction of poverty is the first of 20 Sustainable Development Goals signed on to by T&T at the United Nations in 2015.

According to United Nations Development Programme country representative Richard Blewitt, T&T has been functioning without a policy for poverty reduction and is only now taking steps to establish a firm policy.

In an interview with the Guardian, Blewitt said the UNDP had partnered with the Ministry of Social Development and was running several poverty dialogues in both Trinidad and Tobago. 

“Under the last administration, it was hard to get traction on a policy on poverty. Under this administration it is different, there seems to be a focus on poverty reduction.

“The idea is to build a national poverty strategy for the country.”

Blewitt said he was optimistic that a poverty policy could be developed within the next four or five months.

“I know the Government is working on a mitigation strategy during the current economic crisis, and we are willing to offer technical support.”

Blewitt said while money had been spent on social programmes over the years, what was needed was more effective targeting of assistance and a strategy which addressed poverty comprehensively.

This strategy should include multi-dimensional poverty research, with a measuring basket of vulnerabilities which would include access to proper education for children, disabilities, healthcare and nutrition, among other things.

He said the country had a history of looking at poverty in terms of income.

“The Survey of Living Conditions is not as comprehensive as a multi-dimensional measuring tool, which is more sophisticated and useful to policy makers and provides a clearer picture of poverty.

Across Trinidad, people avoid using the word poor and resist the idea that they are living in poverty.

Instead they use words and phrases like “getting by,” “need a little help,” “hustling.”

In the words of 22-year-old Kings Wharf resident, Marvin Victor: “We not poor but we struggling,” 

Victor spoke to the Guardian, while sitting on faded plastic chairs, outside of the 16-by-20 foot wooden house he shares with his parents.

The house, not much bigger than some bedrooms, was shared by his parents and two other siblings growing up.

“I mean, it hard, but I’m not going to use the word poor. I wouldn’t use that word.”

While he may not use the word, Victor’s circumstances and income, shared among the members of his household, could mean he is living close to the poverty line in T&T.

The Survey of Living Conditions (2014) which shows an increase in poverty from 16.5 per cent to almost 25 per cent, also details the demographics of people living in poverty in T&T.

The survey has not yet been laid in Parliament, but is expected to inform government policy aimed at decreasing poverty levels across the country.

Victor, like many other residents living on the water’s edge, a few minutes away from San Fernando’s bus terminal and water taxi, works in the fishing depot.

His job includes distributing fish to groceries in the area, but sitting at home around midday with a female friend, he admits work has slowed down.

When it isn’t slow, Victor says he makes about $1,000 a week, the majority of which goes towards purchasing food for him and his parents.

“Food more important than anything else. For the three of us, about 700 per week goes toward food. I try to save a little bit but with the way work slowed down it’s hard.”

His food bill includes the occasional fast food purchase as well as luxuries like alcohol.

Victor’s family doesn’t pay cable, Internet or electricity bills because they have none. Like most people in the village, they use candles or lamps.

The village only recently received a shared water tank, prior to elections, when their vote was being courted by San Fernando West MP Faris Al-Rawi. The village is also situated in the area designated for development of a San Fernando Waterfront project.

“I need to see him. You know how much appointment I have to make to see that man. For election he didn't make any appointment to see me. He say he would pass through.

“I want the same things as everybody else, a house, car, to not be struggling all the time. I want better than this.”

Victor was born at the San Fernando General Hospital and grew up on the wharf. His playground was the overgrown bushes, the uneven roadway and the ocean, 15 feet away from his front door.

“It wasn’t bad, we just always needed things.”

The need for basic things like food, clothes, and shoes to go to school or money to use for medical purchases was always present.

After attending Coffee Boys Primary School and Marabella Junior Secondary, Victor left school at the age of 12 and got a job cleaning fish, so he could help out with family needs and fend for himself.

Economist says spending inequitable

With over TT$25 billion spent on social programmes in the past year, and significant decreases in unemployment, the question arises as to how poverty could increase so drastically.

In a telephone interview, former Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie described the figure as ridiculous and impossible but economist Dr Vaalmiki Arjoon says it boils down to an inequitable distribution of wealth.

“It may be that the money is only finding its way to certain sectors, so that while wealth is increasing for some people, others are not benefiting,” Arjoon said in an interview.

“People who work in certain sectors like the energy industry will receive more than someone in another sector, so it is not a surprise that there are high levels of poverty.”

On the banks of a swamp in Ortoire Village, Thecla Williams stays at home to take care of her disabled son and seven other children, one of whom is her granddaughter.

Williams, who has no one else to look after her disabled son, receives a grant of $1,800 per month from the State.

To supplement this, she digs up chip chip from the Mayaro shore to sell on the roadway. On some days, Williams sells brooms which she makes at home.

“Sometimes I have no money to send them to school, so they don’t go to school. I had to take my granddaughter from where she was living because they were abusing her but that made things harder because the Cepep job that I was doing then, the contractor let go all the workers.”

She is squatting on government land and frequently complains to her neighbour because runoff from his cesspit runs under and at the side of her wooden house.

“He doesn’t care. He said I’m a squatter and I have no rights but it was either live here or be homeless on the streets.”

Ministry developing policy to guide babysitters

The Ministry of Gender and Child Development is in the process of developing a policy to guide nursery operations and to regulate childminders in T&T.

Minister of Gender Ayanna Webster-Roy said this in a brief telephone interview on Friday afternoon.

Webster-Roy said one of her first areas of focus in the ministry was to look at the care of young children, as it was an area she felt needed attention.

At present, there are no legal guidelines or regulations for establishing a nursery or child care centre in T&T. The new policy, which is expected to be implemented by the Children’s Authority, will require the licencing of all nurseries in the country.

Last week, Lisa Ramjattan, 26, found her son, Kristiano Aziz, unresponsive when she went to pick him up at his daycare. He was lying on his stomach in a bed top pen.

The child was later pronounced dead at the Princes Town District Health Centre. An autopsy found his death was caused by positional asphyxia and his death has been ruled as accidental.

Owner of the daycare, Chanmattee Deonarinesingh, said yesterday that she loved baby Kristiano and was very sorry he died while under her care. Deonarinesingh, 45, is a qualified nurse who has been running a daycare at her Barrackpore home for the past ten years.

‘Put babies to sleep on their back’

During an interview, Deonarinesingh said she would usually put babies to sleep on their tummy.

Medical research over the past decade, however, has suggested that babies should be put to sleep on their back.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in 1992, recommended that parents put babies to bed exclusively on their backs in their first year.

At the time, 70 per cent of infants in the United States were sleeping on their stomachs. By 2002, that figure had plummeted to 11.3 per cent.

Over the same decade, deaths from SIDS—Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs—fell by half according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In T&T, some mothers are receiving misinformation from medical practitioners as to the proper way for newborns to sleep. Theresa Adonis, a mother of a two-year-old boy was told by nurses after delivery to place her newborn on his stomach to sleep or on his side. It was only after her own investigation she discovered research which suggested otherwise.

The regulations will ensure that nurseries and childminders are sufficiently trained.

Permanent Secretary at the Gender Ministry, Jacqueline Johnson, in a telephone interview yesterday, said the Children’s legislation, passed in April 2015, made provisions for the nursery regulations to govern nurseries.

State to pay cop damages for injuries sustained in court

An “urgent assessment” of all of this country’s court facilities is needed to ensure compliance with “the appropriate standards of safety and security,” a High Court judge has said.

Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh made the statement as he handed down a judgment on May 19 in favour of a police officer who was injured on three separate occasions during the course of his duties at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court. 

Bunny Kameel Ali sued the State as a result of his injuries.

“The State must do its part to ensure that no one is injured in future as a result of a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety and security of those who use our judicial buildings,” Boodoosingh stated in his judgment.

Ali, who became a policeman in 1982, was transferred to the Court and Process Branch of the Police Service in 2008 and was assigned to the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court. On October 5, 2009, Ali reported to work.

“The complement of staff included one sergeant, one corporal and nine constables,” the judgment stated. “The usual or regular number of officers assigned from (Ali’s) experience to the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court would be one sergeant, two corporals and 17 constables,” it stated.

As a result of the shortage of police officers, Ali and another constable had to supervise 12 prisoners in the holding cell. The list of prisoners for that day included people charged with murder, rape, armed robbery, drug offences and wounding.

“While they were in the holding cell six prisoners began attacking another prisoner named David Bobb. The way the cell is designed is that the cell is in the downstairs area of the court. 

There is a step which leads into the courtroom in question up which the prisoners are escorted to a cage in the courtroom. 

This incident occurred in the presence of the sitting magistrate and members of the public in court,” Boodoosingh’s judgment stated.

“While (Ali) was attempting to restrain the prisoners from causing further harm to Bobb, and in carrying out his duties, Bobb ran behind (Ali) and held on to (his) shoulder and used him as a shield to escape further attack,” it stated.

The six prisoners jumped on Ali. Ali was eventually taken to the San Fernando General Hospital.

The six prisoners were charged and found guilty of assaulting Ali.

Ali was placed on exemption from outdoor duties and was referred to a physiotherapist.

On December 28, 2009, while Ali was assisting another police officer in placing prisoners in the cell block a fight broke out.

While trying to part the prisoners Ali received further blows to his lower back and his injuries were aggravated.

Ali received “various periods of injury leave over an extended period of time.”

On October 11, 2011, Ali was back at work and while he was assisting a fellow officer to “forcefully remove a prisoner from a cell who was being assaulted by other prisoners,” he felt a “piercing pain to his lower back which ran down to both of his legs.”

Ali sued the State for “negligence.”

“(Ali) said on the dates of the first and second incidents the prisoners were brought and placed inside of the holding cells without handcuffs. 

He noted when riots occur, the Guard and Emergency Branch of the Police Service is responsible for bringing the situation under control. They have to be called upon in a process which involves getting authorisation from a senior police officer,” the judgment stated. Ali said all he received was “first aid and self defence training” when he joined the Police Service.

Boodoosingh said the “lack of training opportunities” for Ali to develop his skills in prisoner management “left him unprepared.”

The state’s “sole witness” in the matter, corporal Kassiram Lutchman, described the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court cell block “as one of the most violent in the country.”

The State has to pay damages to Ali.

Those damages are to be assessed before a Master of the Court.

Ali was represented by Jagdeo Singh, Michael Rooplal and Saira Lakhan.

The State was represented by Tinuke Gibbons-Glenn and Stefan Jaikaran and instructed by Nisa Simmons.

Indian Arrival Day re-enactment

They came clutching reminders of their homeland wrapped in brightly coloured cotton, huddled together on a boat, fearful yet excited for the land and adventures that lay ahead and hopeful that they would find a better life for themselves.

Stepping off the Fatel Razack after a perilous three-month journey across the seas, the 200 or so East Indian indentured labourers were screened by local immigration as their tasks on the plantations of this strange land were to begin soon.

The East Indian indentured labourers came to Trinidad in ships by the thousands from 1845 to 1917 after African slaves fled the sugarcane and cocoa plantations and estate owners turned to India for cheap immigrant labour.

Yesterday, members of the Fyzabad constituency office of MP Dr Lackram Bodoe re-enacted the arrival, complete with tassa drummers at the Mosquito Creek in La Romaine.

The actors who played the parts of labourers bowed to the earth when they reached dry land, as their ancestors would have done 171 years ago to show their gratitude for a safe arrival. 

They were quickly accosted by Micheal Chattergoon, who played the part of the dreaded immigration officer and would decide if any among them was to be sent back to their homeland.

Sookram Mungroo, whose grandfather came as an indentured labourer in 1906, carried with him the Hindu holy book, the Ramayanna. 

Mungroo spoke of the times on the sea, as he delved into his character’s life. “We came here with the blessing of God and we are happy to be here,” he said. “We had some hardships on the way but we will not think of that now, we will look to the future.”

Rebecca Abder, one of the two women in the cast, was more forthcoming about the struggles the labourers faced on their journey. “A lot of people got sick, some of them even died and their bodies were thrown overboard,” she lamented. “A woman even gave birth at sea, it was not an easy experience. I am praying now that things go well for our people in this land.”

While it would take another 72 years for indentureship to be brought to an end in Trinidad, the labourers persevered through the hardships to make a better life for their family. Many of them, like Mungroo’s grandfather, chose to stay in Trinidad after their period of indentureship was over. Those labourers, both Muslims and Hindus, passed on their religious traditions and their rich influence is now a part of T&T’s culture. The re-enactment ended with a motorcade.

‘Ministers speaking out of turn’

Former diplomat and head of the public service Reginald Dumas says there has been an impression given of a shortage of coherence within the Keith Rowley Cabinet.

Noting that some ministers have said one thing and others say other things while the Prime Minister also says something different, Dumas said: “There have been contradictions. It suggests the PM has to sit with them and not discuss any particular subject but more so how they are to work together. They might want to bring in someone who knows about working together. I can think of a person myself.

“There is a way to do things and not to do things. Once the shortage of coherence is given, it sends the wrong message to the population and outside world also, as international agencies might say, ‘you’re saying one thing, but suppose we hear something else from others in Government?’”

In April, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, at a weekly press conference, caused a stir with his abortion comments.

Responding to reporters, he said abortion would remain illegal in this country despite the medical implications of the Zika virus. But Rowley later told the country that the minister was speaking for himself and honouring his oath to uphold the law. Rowley said sometimes the law must be challenged.

Then in early May, a similar incident arose, this time with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi over comments made about the decriminalisation of marijuana. 

The story was published in the Sunday Guardian. The PM said the matter had not been discussed. But the AG later said he does not discuss everything that goes on in his office with the PM. 

Rowley told the media he would have been “very surprised” if the AG had in fact made the comments about decriminalisation. Rowley said at no time was it discussed since the Government assumed office.

Also in May, on his return from a two-week trip, Rowley said his drivers will be adhering to the 80 kilometres per hour speed limit. 

In his absence, there had been much talk about reviewing the limit but when asked if it should be raised to 100 kilometres per hour, the PM said it was not his place to say if there should be a change.

Ministers Al-Rawi, Fitzgerald Hinds and Colm Imbert have said the limit will be reviewed. 

Efforts to reach the PM via SMS, WhatsApp and calls to his mobile to get his comments on the impact this miscommunication could have on the public perception of his Government were unsuccessful.

According to Dumas: “They must be very careful. Perhaps they could follow in example of Michael Manley of Jamaica. Every so often, he and his ministers and PSs and public officers would spend a weekend in the hills talking about things—hard subjects, also ideas.

“So everyone must be on the same page and the Prime Minister might want to consider this. The Prime Minister also has to watch what he says in public and certain statements might be unnecessary. Being in Opposition is one thing, but being in Government is another as there are some things you ought not to say if you’re in Government.

“You might say them privately, but not publicly. Also if there’s a difference with a minister, that could be expressed differently. Because if you’re ‘boofing’ ministers publicly, you create difficulties for yourself as they might say’ boy, I ent sure I could work with this fella,’ and you might create dissident elements in your ranks.”

Dumas said: “Ministers must feel ‘funny’ if they’re ‘boofed’ publicly. But ministers must also watch what they say. For instance, Minister (Terrence) Deyalsingh saying he was shutting down the discussion on abortion was wrong. This is a democratic country and no minister can shut down any discussion.”

Dumas said Deyalsingh’s statement brought to mind two quotes from former PNM leader Dr Eric Williams:

“That is, ‘no damn dog bark...’ and ‘I’m bringing back Solomon and who doh like it, get to hell outta here’. But those days are over and ministers must understand the public may not like it (such statements) and would see it as arrogance—and they will punish you at the polls as they punished Patrick Manning in 2010.

“I also hoped the (PNM) ministers in the Cabinet who were there before—Camille Robinson Regis, Fitzgerald Hinds etc—are giving assistance to the new ones that would assist in the process to full coherence on the Government’s part.”

Analyst: Govt communication 

issues a weakness

One political analyst said the problem with communication within the Cabinet level and at ministerial levels was a weakness and would impact on the Government’s credibility.

Dr Maukesh Basdeo said there was a sense that there were mixed signals from Rowley and his individual ministers. 

“These incidents that happened could be considered serious breaches. 

“It would seem the minister is doing things independent of Cabinet and that there is no discussion on the matter.”

Basdeo said it would then make Rowley look as though he was in the dark about what happened in the ministries.

He said: “The Prime Minister is supposed to be on top of things because he is the head of the Government and although he may not have information on each individual ministry, the issues are about public policies and important ones too, like the decriminalisation of marijuana.”

Basdeo said regarding the AG’s comments, it looked like the PM was scolding him. 

He said the PM has demonstrated that there is a Cabinet and a Prime Minister and matters should be discussed at that forum before each minister goes out and makes public statements. 

(With reporting by Rhonda Krystal Rambally)

International relations expert: Play close attention to Rowley/Maduro deal

After three years and Venezuela’s failure to repay a US$50 million debt to local carrier Caribbean Airlines Ltd, (CAL), international relations expert Prof W Andy Knight says close attention must be paid to the arrangements discussed last Monday between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and President Nicolás Maduro.

Knight said there was every indication that Venezuela, once a potentially very rich country, would begin to default on its loans and perhaps experience difficulty in buying goods that were even subsidised in price.

Venezuela owes CAL monies for ticket sales. 

The airline has been trying to get back the funds in US dollars but it has been unsuccessful.

When Maduro visited T&T in February 2015, former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the debt was discussed. She said Maduro was very adamant on settling the debt to CAL.

Last week, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said the debt had not been repaid.

Knight described Maduro’s visit as “a propaganda visit” that would accomplish very little in terms of improving the relationship between T&T and Venezuela.

A Barbadian by birth, Knight teaches international relations at the University of Alberta, Canada. 

He spent the past three years on a secondment from his university to be director of the Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus. That secondment ended in December 2015.

Among the agreements made between Rowley and Maduro were trade, collaboration on gas exploration, security, the repatriation of Trinidadians being held in Venezuelan prisons and the repatriation of Venezuelans who found themselves behind bars in T&T.

Knight said, “I may be overly sceptical, but the fact that a promise was made by Maduro, on his last trip to Trinidad in 2015, that his government would pay the millions of dollars owed by Venezuela to Caribbean Airlines, should make one stand up and take notice.”

Will the food loan

be sustainable?

Meanwhile, it is uncertain how the US$50 million revolving food fund made between Venezuela and T&T will operate or even improve trade relations between the two countries.

Knight said Rowley will need the support of the private sector for the arrangement to work.

“Basically it seems to me that the US$50 million will be used to purchase such goods as butter, chicken, pork, ketchup, toilet paper, rice, black beans etc, so that the people in eastern Venezuela who are experiencing these shortages will be placated at least for now.”

However, he said, Trinidadian business people, as in other parts of the globe, were in business to make money and if they were being asked to offer their products at cost without any markup, he could not see how that revolving fund would be sustainable.

He felt that perhaps Rowley was looking at this as an opportunity to help prop up the Maduro government and, in so doing, stave off the inevitability of refugees from Venezuela, especially those from the eastern part of the country flocking to Trinidad.

Knight said it was a demonstration by Maduro to his domestic public that he was still in charge and was doing all in his power to use his good relationship with T&T and Jamaica to negotiate a series of agreements aimed at staving off the inevitable.

He added that it was becoming quite evident that Maduro was losing control of his country and it must be painfully embarrassing for Venezuelans to be in a position where they have to literally ask for subsidised goods from T&T, a country also undergoing its fair share of economic difficulty with the low oil revenues and what seemed like economic mismanagement by the past government.

“The fact that Venezuela is reaching out to Trinidad and Tobago, its close neighbour, to help provide manufactured goods (food, toilet paper, medicine, etc) is an acknowledgment that the Venezuelan government has seriously mismanaged its economy.

“After all, Venezuela was considered the wealthiest country in South America. It has the second largest oil reserves in the world, after Saudi Arabia. But the country, under both Hugo Chavez and Maduro, has relied much too heavily on its oil revenues.”

Gas deal a “win-win” 

for both countries

The topic of the Loran Manatee gas fields had also been on the agenda during Maduro's last visit with former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

They had signed an agreement to jointly develop the massive Loran Manatee gas fields which are located within the maritime borders of the two countries.

But a year later, Knight said he was quite surprised to see it on the agenda. 

He said, “What this tells me is that not much have been done since last year to put in place the process for joint exploration of the gas fields in that area.”

On Monday though, the two governments signed a unitisation and unit operating agreement that will allow a consortium of oil companies to develop a strategy for joint exploration of the gas fields.

What this means for Trinidad is that the country will process the gas and export it as LNG to international markets.

Knight said, “I think that this particular case is a win-win for both Venezuela and T&T. 

“The sunk costs for the joint gas exploration will be borne largely by Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron Corp, Petroles de Venezuela South Africa, and Shell. And T&T, rather than Venezuela, will be in a position to process the natural gas.”

Prisoner exchange between V’zuela, T&T raises eyebrows

Amid high hopes by families for the release of five T&T nationals detained in Venezuela, questions have been raised by former national security minister Gary Griffith about the process for the release.

The five men—Wade Charles, Dominic Pitlal, Leslie Daisley, Asim Luqman, and Andre Battersby—have been detained by Venezuelan authorities since March 19, 2014, under suspicion of being terrorists.

They were arrested at a Caracas hotel in a group totalling 25 including women and children and three imams. They all said they went to Caracas to seek visas for the Hajj Middle East pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, there are about 19 Venezuelans detained at T&T’s Immigration Detention Centre. 

“This is very unique, almost awkward. I’ve never heard of it in between two states,” Griffith said yesterday of moves at Monday’s T&T/Venezuela talks for repatriation of nationals of each country.

Griffith, under whose tenure the detentions occurred, said the expected release was the first time he had heard of detainees being exchanged this way or sent home as part of such an arrangement.

“Only prisoners of war are exchanged. In this situation we’re seeking to return persons who had been persons of interest on suspicion of terrorism...In exchange T&T’s sending back Venezuelans who overstayed their time in T&T...including lewd dancers and others? The exchange isn’t fair.”

The PP government attempted to deal with the matter via diplomatic channels and then under the supervision of Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall. 

Subsequently, 22 including the women and children were freed, and the imams 60 days after. The men’s families and attorney Nafeesa Mohammed have lobbied persistently for their return, saying they’re innocent.

After Monday’s T&T/Venezuela meeting, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said Government made significant steps concerning the men as well as concerning the two countries’ national security architecture. 

He said Government expressed interest in having special talks concerning the release of “our citizens through the appropriate judicial and national security mechanisms.”

Venezuela also indicated interest in dealing with the matter. It will be tabled specially at a meeting which the National Security ministers of T&T and Venezuela will have tomorrow in Venezuela.

Government officials have indicated the situation is “promising” for resolution, but correct processes must be followed. National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, who was at a recent US anti-crime meeting, was expected back by yesterday, but calls to him weren’t immediately answered. 

A November 2014 Venezuelan news report had stated the men were under suspicion of terrorism and criminal conspiracy for allegedly participating in a plot to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. 

They were accused of working with a member of the Venezuelan national intelligence service (Sebin), a Venezuelan police officer and a Haitian to overthrow Maduro.

The report claimed Venezuelan security forces “seized military uniforms, videos with radical religious content, over $100,000 cash, and 66 passports.” 

Also reportedly seized were cellphone images showing them using high-powered weapons on a firing range and other information. Venezuelan intelligence deemed it “pre-jihad training.” Their court hearings have mainly been postponed.

Griffith: We moved quickly

Griffith said he’d moved quickly when the issue occurred in 2014. “Within 24 hours of the group’s detention we had a mission in Venezuela dealing with it. We extracted the women and children and subsequently the three imams. But when we returned for the five men, Venezuelan authorities told me—just like this—where to get off.

“They were within their rights as I would have been out of place to make demands infringing on their sovereign rights as a country. There had been a serious report of people alleged to be involved in highly-questionable activities. 

“The evidence in their intelligence report was very strong. Venezuelans said they had to do their criminal justice process.”

Griffith said: “I asked Venezuela to expedite the matter. It’s totally untrue to say government’s work somehow got them detained or caused them to be detained. Venezuela had no information from T&T. Their detention was based on their activity which the Venezuelans found, which is why they held them in the first place. Any information from the SSA in T&T came after the detention.”

Kelshall denies he told Venezuela the five had been arrested in T&T. “Anyone in our delegation would attest that my words were that the men were ‘known’ to police. I never said they were arrested.

“I pulled out stops to get the women and children and others back. We were focused on this because there’s no way any country could hold people from another territory indefinitely. The question is why they kept them indefinitely.”

Griffith said: “Now, the difference may be due to Venezuela’s volatile situation, they may be saying ‘take them back’. We have to see if they’ll simply be released if they return or if they will be handed over to T&T for possible questioning or charges.”

New voicenote warns of Isis attack on schools

A voicenote warning of an attack against schools by Isis is being circulated on social media.

This comes as police are currently investigating the authenticity of a voicenote warning of an Isis attack on the nation’s malls which was circulated a few days ago.

According to the latest recording a male voice says he received word that there would be no Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examinations on Wednesday.

“The word is that Isis has planned to blow up the schools so please keep your sons and your daughters and your nephews and your grandchildren away from the schools please. This is not no joke, this is not no kicks,” the man says.

He advises people to keep the information on the “low but yet keep it on the high.”
There is no word if police are investigating the latest voicenote.

Dana murder case accused freed: I feel like I am dreaming

When Deon Peters woke up yesterday he thought he was still dreaming.

Peters woke up in his own bed yesterday after spending more than ten months behind bars.

On Friday Peters walked out the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court a free man after Senior Magistrate Indrani Cedeno dismissed charges against him and 13 others who were accused of being members of the gang allegedly responsible for the murder of senior counsel Dana Seetahal because of an error by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Peters yesterday told the Sunday Guardian he had nothing to do with Seetahal’s death.

“The State knew I had nothing to do with it that is why I was never asked about it and I was charged with being part of a gang,” Peters said.

He said although it took an error to cause him to be free, it was the right decision.

Peters, an artiste who goes by the name “Bigg Lexx,” believes he was unfairly targeted by police after a video of his song “Unfair Game,” which highlighted unfair treatment meted out to murder accused Rajaee Ali by the State, became popular on YouTube.

He is glad the situation is now over.

“When I woke up this morning it was like ‘wow’. You know when you locked up you say there are so much things you would do when you come out and now you don’t want to do anything, you just want to relax. I got up, went outside, chilled and walked around. I even went by the barber,” Peters said.

Peters said he was surprised when he was released on Friday.

“For some months now the lawyers have been arguing back and forth about the different submissions and about what right and what wrong by law so I had an idea it was coming up, but it started to feel like nothing was going to happen and I started to feel despondent,” Peters said.

“I walked out the court and I stood on the corner where we usually see our wives when we leaving court. So I stood on that corner there and the officers told me I had to move further away,” he said.

“I walked down a little bit and when I walked down I saw one police jeep pull in front of me and a next jeep pull around the corner by CID (Criminal Investigation Department), so I found I started to see too much police around me and I started to feel like they were enclosing me and I started to feel uncomfortable so I started to walk away,” Peters said.

Peters said he borrowed money from a friend working in Port-of-Spain. “I walked to City Gate and got in an Arima maxi. In the maxi it was surreal and I was wondering if at any moment I would wake up to find it was all a dream,” he said.

Peters said a woman in the maxi allowed him to make a call using her cellphone. He called a friend who met him in Arima. In Arima he called his wife, Kelly Ann Gabriel.

“I asked her what she was doing, she said she was heading to a retreat. I told her ‘well, I was now studying to come and check you’. So you could imagine the reaction. She said ‘What? what you mean?’ I told her if she wanted to see me I was by XYZ and she just came and that was a moment itself,” Peters said.

Peters said for his first meal as a free man he bought a bucket of fried chicken from Royal Castle.

While Peters was locked up behind bars he used to call his daughter, Deneicia, and help her study for the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination.

“I missed being there with her on the day of SEA. She begged for me to be there because many times while I was in (prison) I was working with her over the phone with the SEA and I was praying to be there with her but I didn’t make it,” Peters said.

Peters, however, promises to be there to support Deneicia at her upcoming graduation from the St Hilary’s Preparatory School in Arima. 

Deneicia is the valedictorian.

Charges dismissed

Cedeno dismissed the charges which were laid under the Anti-Gang Legislation, stating it would be unlawful for the State to continue the prosecution given that the charges were laid incorrectly and that it would be an injustice to the accused.

In its application, the DPP’s Office admitted to laying the charges indictably (heard and determined by a High Court Judge and jury), as opposed to summarily (heard and determined by a magistrate) as prescribed by the legislation.

However, Cedeno said the amendment could not be permitted as she felt the accused would be prejudiced by it, as the penalty for the offence is greater on summary conviction than that meted out on conviction before a judge and jury. She also criticised the DPP’s Office for its delay in seeking the amendment, as she said it should have been noticed at a preliminary stage. 

The DPP's Office also cannot now re-lay the gang charges against the men as the six-month window for doing so has already expired. Peters lauded his attorney Criston J Williams whom he described as a “young lion” for his work in the matter. Ali, his brothers Ishmael and Hamid Ali, Devaughn Cummings, Ricardo Stewart, Earl Richards, Stephan Cummings, Kevin Parkinson, Leston Gonzales, Roget Boucher, and Gareth Wiseman remain on trial for Seetahal’s murder. David Ector, who like Peters was not indicted for the murder, was not as lucky though, as after being discharged he was led out of court and detained by police on an outstanding warrant for an unrelated criminal offence. 

Unlike Ector and Peters, Stacy Griffith, the third person who was charged for being a gang member and not with the murder, will remain with her husband, Rajaee Ali, as she has a separate charge of benefiting from the gang’s activity, which was laid correctly by the DPP’s Office.

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