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Small (Island) Change
Yesterday was the general election in Barbados and, if you gathered together in one room everyone in Trinidad who gave a flying firetruck whether the Barbados Labour Party replaced the Democratic Labour Party in Government, you’d find yourself in a meeting of the Barbados Students Association of the University of the West Indies at St Augustine; not one other mofo would be there, unless Rickey Singh was in town, or George Lamming came for a funeral.
And, is it me, or is it just a little odd that Barbados, with whom Trinidad and Tobago shared so much of its history (and practically all of its police force until just one generation ago) should have conducted its most important public exercise of the next five years yesterday, and the handful of Trinis who think about Barbados at all today should care far more about which horse will win the Gold Cup at the Garrison Savannah tomorrow than which party won the election yesterday?
Now the cynic might raise an eyebrow over my expecting Trinis to care about Bajan elections when they don’t much care about their own—and you can’t blame them, since to care about which party wins an election in Trinidad is to prove you are insane, at least if you accept the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Trinidadians have learned, from every election farce they’ve taken part in since the one the National Alliance for Reconstruction lost, that putting a different political party into office either makes no difference at all to the hardships the average citizen faces, or it actually makes them worse. Mr Panday’s first Government was so hugely harmful to the place, it had to be brought down from within by Bas’ own erstwhile right-hand-man—but, when Mr Panday was booted out in favour of Mr Manning, the violence being done to the place didn’t change, only the perpetrator: instead of having useless desalination plants and harmful smelters, Trinidad and Tobago had useless palaces and harmful Christian fundamentalist crusading shoved down its throat.
And when, almost four years ago, the non-PNM-‘til-ah-dead voters of Trinidad and Tobago did the right thing and flushed Mr Manning away, they found a PNM floater rising in the People’s Partnership. Kamla, God bless her, has proved to be just as bad or worse than either Patos or Bas, or both. And the group of scoundrels occupying Parliament on her skirt-tails are worse than any of their predecessors, if only because they had the example of how hard it was for the nation to bear Mr Manning’s pack of jokers, and they really should have been a little more considerate of an exhausted electorate.
So it might be fair to ask why the Trini should take on Bajan elections, when his own elections make him miserable enough? But isn’t it odd, though, really? Should we not, as sibling territories, be bothered by, not just our near-complete ignorance of one another, but our satisfaction with it? Last year, all of us on these little rocks paid far more attention to the US presidential election than to the governmental elections of our own Caribbean brothers and sisters. Again, the cynic (realist?) might point out that the fate of these nations would have been far more dramatically affected if Mitt Romney had been elected last November than if Owen Arthur was, yesterday, and it is the sensible thing to do, to pay closer attention to what happens in Washington than Bridgetown.
But what does that say about us all, as West Indians? Across the pond, in a little backward land called Europe, Germany, which led the whole world into war twice in the last century, is the main sticking force keeping the 17-country Eurozone together. Germany, France, England, Italy and Russia—the bitterest of foes in World Wars I & II, some with hatreds going back centuries—today co-operate so closely in the 27-nation European Union that stonemasons on English building sites now lay their bricks and mix their cement in metres, not yards. The most dyed-in-the-wool, diehard London chippie (carpenter) now measures his two-by-fours in centimetres. Germany, with all her very great might, is bending over backwards to keep the European Union and the Eurozone going.
But one of the perennial issues in the Bajan general election campaign is to what extent the Guyanese should be kept out. (In my assessment, the Barbados Labour Party is heavily committed to the Caribbean Single Market Economy, while the Democratic Labour Party is equally heavily committed to pulling Guyanese housekeepers off Oistins minibuses and asking for their papers; but I might have it wrong.)
Yesterday was the general election in Barbados and the average Trinidadian probably couldn’t tell you whether Freundel Stewart or Owen Arthur is prime minister of Barbados this morning. (You can’t blame even the above-average Trini for not knowing how to pronounce “Freundel,” though; Bajan Christian names make African-American ones sound pedestrian; Freundel rhymes with “Groin-well.”)
The combined populations of the cricket-playing Caribbean, the only significant group we all belong to, and the only sport we ever dominated totally, when we were together, approximates those of the lesser Scandinavian countries. In population terms, West Indian islands can look down upon only Gibraltar (population 29,000) and Vatican City (population, 1,000, perhaps 999 now that the pope is going). Even the exaggerated nationalist posturing of the lesser former Soviet states yield staggering numbers (Lithuania, 3 million, Latvia, 2 million-plus) as compared to our tiny populations. What the firetruck could make any of us think we could really “go it alone” in this divided world that genuinely doesn’t need firetrucking islands any more?
BC Pires is wearing blue shorts and a red T-shirt. E-mail your spoilt ballots to him at [email protected].
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