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Water and watershed in a week
Sea Lots and Gran Couva were the past week’s thermometers of citizen sentiment towards the Government and each other. “But look at what they doing to them people!” my 75-year-old mother said with a look of horror, sitting in her living room watching local TV—cable TV is not available in Gran Couva—as footage was shown again and again of police firing tear gas and rubber bullets on running and screaming Sea Lots residents.
“Where Sea Lots dey?” she asked, my explanation of “just by the lighthouse,” I was sure, making no difference; I can count on one hand the number of times she has been to Port-of-Spain. We talked about what she would do “if something happen” in the country, the same conversation being had in many homes and offices from town to country.
If she knew Gran Couva residents were going to protest, she would have gone too, she said, a thought I didn’t like one bit given her age and ailments. But she had suffered the whole week before from no water. A cousin had kindly filled some containers for her which she kept for drinking and cooking; toilet-flushing, washing clothes and wares, and bathing were a mathematical equation.
My sister and I spent the week trying to have a truck-borne supply delivered to her home. She had invested over the years in expensive water storage tanks, concrete stands for the tanks, and a water pump that caused her daily worry about her electricity bill.
Water flows in WASA’s mains once a week—most times on a Friday but occasionally not even—and sometimes the water comes at night. If she doesn’t hear the hum of the pipes telling her water is flowing through them, she doesn’t know; sometimes, too, she falls asleep and when she wakes, the water has come and gone and the tanks stay dry.
Two weeks ago was one such. She is getting forgetful and had forgotten to turn back on the taps leading to the tanks; she couldn’t remember why she turned them off in the first place. So water came and went.
We called the regional corporation each morning; staff were polite with promises but no water was delivered. She had a number, she said, given to her by a member of Glenn Ramadharsingh’s entourage when he visited once. She phoned it and asked for water; none came. Finally, I made a request through WASA, communicated the desperation, and a truck delivered relief.
At the back of her small, wooden home, a landslip threatens; concrete drains around her house are already misshapen from the pull. So when Everold Williams and other villagers protested, it was not staged, nor was it prompted by political mischief as the Government sometimes claims. The villages, neglected for decades by the PNM, remain desperate for basic services. In that way, Gran Couva understands Sea Lots.
In the minds of the police, too, there is no difference; they step in heavily armed, impose themselves on poor people, and further enrage a desperate people who already have little trust in and respect for them. In Sea Lots, the same police at whom the rage was directed were sent in to terrorise a grieving, frustrated and enraged people. Activists will tell you these are the seeds of unrest.
What was Sea Lots to do? If our neighbours were splattered over the road, and police reacted like we were antagonists, would we not feel the same way? Grieving, angry, frustrated, and with little history of redress, Sea Lots people, I suppose, were expected to sit in their homes and swallow.
It was an immaculate irony to see Ramadharsingh—the MP, incidentally, for only one side of the Gran Couva Main Road; Suruj Rambachan has responsibility for the other side, such is the absurdity of the electoral boundaries imposed on citizens—this minister whose ministry was to be a panacea for all protests over basic services, being confronted by Gran Couva protesters. That alone speaks to the failure of that ministry-of-the-people vision.
It was doubly ironic to see him asking that the TV cameras to be turned off; this surely must be the most photographed and filmed minister in Government, the minister who most likes himself and cameras? A day later, Sea Lots shooed away both ministers and media. Communities in distress are not photo ops, and Kenroy Dopwell was correct in his assessment that ministers arrived to address residents’ concerns but instead talked to the media.
Meanwhile, in Gran Couva, Williams’ response to Ramadharsingh obviously embarrassed the latter with its truth: when you giving out hampers the cameras doh shut off. So a vexed Ramadharsingh asked authoritatively for the leader of the protest, and was again deflated when Williams answered: we all residents; we all leaders, a gesture at horizontal leadership unknown to ministers of government. When central cannot hold, things fall apart.
Riot police, deliberately dressed with intimidation, were waiting since 2009 to use their weapons. These were the officers trained and outfitted—a la Europe’s riot squads, which turn out en masse for G20 and G8 summits—for Patrick Manning’s two international summits, who paraded through Port-of-Spain in a show of intimidation prior to the summits and who had to be called off by a senior policewoman when they were deployed at Drummit2 Summit at the St James Amphitheatre.
As Gran Couva protests for water, Sea Lots is a watershed.
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