Post 502.

OVER THE weekend, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest gathered more than 100 novelists, short-story writers, biographers and poets to exuberantly celebrate books.

There was a glittering wealth of writing from the Caribbean, and from TT. In-person or online, one could hear readings from recent publications and backstories from this generation of award-winning Caribbean authors as they are ascending a global stage. Up close and personal, the connection to both writers and their work felt wonderfully intimate and familiar, so typical of us in these small islands.

While the One Caribbean Media (OCM) award, symbolising the most commended book of the festival, went to Ayana Lloyd Banwo for her outstanding novel, When We Were Birds, the poetry prize went to Anthony Joseph for his recent collection, Sonnets for Albert, which captures his memories of his father in snapshots of vivid verse. The non-fiction prize was awarded to Ira Mathur’s epic transnational autobiography, Love the Dark Days.

These are just a handful of the nuggets that comprise the entire treasure of what we are producing through home-grown creativity, hard work, talent, mentorship and ambition.

Circling the national library’s atrium in-between sessions, I pressed close to booksellers’ tables like a candy store window, trying to decide which books to buy. Such choices were a question of space; I’ve no more empty bookshelves even after agonizingly whittling down by about seven boxes to mostly Caribbean literature. However, deciding on the hard sweet or the soft toffee was also a matter of money. I was like a child clenching precious pennies.

Books are expensive.

Perhaps if they were more affordable, more men would buy them instead of guns, carrying smaller ones rolled in their back pocket to read instead of killing time rolling weed. Perhaps if Caribbean books were more accessible, we might see each other’s outward violence and inner confusions more compassionately, finding characters in novels or descriptions in poems that enable us to recognise and forgive even ourselves.

Booksellers may make sales, but their trade is a labour of love, hardly making the profit they should, perhaps explaining why we have more rum shops than bookshops – places to drown loneliness and sorrows rather than be steadied by the humanity of shared desires and fears.

Contributing to this situation is a senseless tax on books imposed by the present government in February 2016. Educational materials such as school texts and exercise books are exempt. However, the cost of literature, even locally produced, was increased.

At the time, the finance minister described the tax regime as fiscal policy, not social policy, but that’s merely a mirage. All taxation reflects an assessment of social needs and priorities as well as principles of who should contribute and how.

For example, VAT applies equally to all consumers, whether rich or poor, and is therefore inequitable. In contrast, property and income tax should raise greater revenue from the wealthy, and be graduated rather than flat, meaning the rich should be taxed at higher rates than the poor, always.

At the time, booksellers protested. Prof Bridget Brereton described the decision to tax literature as strange, surprising and disappointing. She wrote, “VAT will be applied to all ‘literary books’ – this means novels of all kinds, modern and classics; volumes of short stories, plays and poetry; non-fiction books (biographies and autobiographies, works on social and natural sciences and his­tory, books about art and music).”

Recently, a sort of literary renaissance has taken place in TT and the Carib­bean, with more local or regional authors publishing novels, short stories and poetry, and winning big awards, too, as well as interesting non-fiction books of all kinds. Do we want to reduce their market by ma­king their books more costly?

Richie Sookhai, then president of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce, rightly observed, “This cannot be the way forward in a society where low levels of literacy can be cited as contributing factors in crime, poverty and social mobility.

“One of the ways we encourage pride in country is by reading about our history, about those who went before us and the great literature produced by our own writers like the Naipauls, Selvon, Lovelace. When we put that out of the reach of our children and the wider population, we do our country no service.”

And so it continues today. Caribbean literature, blooming in our midst, can transform our reality. Yet, as long as they are taxed as a luxury, people are least likely to choose books with their precious pennies.

Post 501.

WITH Earth Day just passed on April 22, there is one lesson. Women are fighting back. 

On April 19, women of Red Thread in Guyana spoke about multiracial, grassroots Caribbean women’s organising against oil extractivism and its impact on life, species and nature in our beloved region. 

As they put it, “The oil conglomerate ExxonMobil has established a foothold in Guyana. What does this mean for the environment, the economy, politics and society?”

We should all be asking these questions. 

Take note of their courage while facing backlash and death threats. Women across the Americas (and activists across the world) have been assassinated for resisting extractivism, whether for mining, oil and gas production, industrial livestock farming, logging, mono-agriculture and even the building of dams. 

Extractivism refers to overexploitation of natural resources, which destroys rivers, oceans, groundwater, soil, coasts, forests, climate balance, human health and life, biodiversity, livelihoods and communities. 

It refers to a belief system that puts wealth above life and nature, and to use of power (and bribery and corruption) to secure resource extraction regardless of social and ecological costs, whether forced displacement and migration or increased social conflict and violence. It is as brutal as colonialism and has its roots there. In the Caribbean, colonial history should teach us that people can be killed by the millions as long as there’s profit. 

Extractivism is a “necropolitics.” “Necro” refers to death and “politics” to the use of political, administrative and economic power to determine how people will live and die. 

This is what is happening to us as we watch ourselves buffeted between hurricanes, flood and drought. For Red Thread women, it’s a necroilpolitics, pelting the planet into a crisis that is accelerating in timing, unpredictability and impact. 

Exclusions resulting from poverty, race, gender, disability, family size, dependence on public transport and health care, age, educational level and sexuality most affect those marginalised, making it hardest for them to survive. Even when they have reason to be afraid, this is why women fearlessly fight.

Women’s resistance is just one strand in the weave of gender, extractivism and climate change. Extractivism also creates conditions for women’s sexual and economic exploitation, for example in mining communities. It increases ill-health, for example cancers and respiratory diseases, which further adds to women’s responsibilities for the aged, young and unwell. 

When families are displaced by climate disasters, women, girls and children are the most unsafe, and have inadequate access to resources or land ownership for resettlement and recovery. They, and those from LBGTQI communities, are least represented in corporate boardrooms and government cabinets when decisions are made. 

In Jamaica, there’s longstanding resistance, also long led by women, against extractivism in Cockpit Country. Gorgeously biodiverse, Cockpit Country is historic home to Jamaica’s Maroons. It is the largest remaining natural forest in Jamaica, supplying 40 per cent of Jamaica’s freshwater needs.

The government has opened Cockpit Country to the company Noranda for bauxite mining. People instead want its protection. On May 4 at 6pm Jamaica time and 7pm TT time, you can listen to a webinar about these protests. Register at:

This past week, the Breadfruit Collective and the Climate Conscious Podcast held their second Caribbean Women for Climate Justice conference, focusing on themes such as women’s gender sensitive “leadhership” for climate resilience. 

It was a brilliant show of regional vision, analysis and organising by a younger generation of feminists. For Christine Samwaroo, 30 years old and a founder of the collective, gender justice and climate justice are inseparable struggles, and “those most impacted are also our most important advocates.” 

Caribbean women are allied with our sisters in Latin America, challenging logging and mining as it has decimated forests, rivers and communities. For example, in October 2014 in Ecuador, the Declaration of the Meeting of Women against Extractivism and Climate Change stated, “We do not want the development alternatives that have signified the extinction of cultures and peoples; this is a development of death, of destruction, based on exploitation, primarily of oil and minerals. This development has no future. We know this because we have already lived with it for more than 500 years.” 

They proposed renewed efforts at food sovereignty, water sovereignty and energy sovereignty. 

Such earth and gender justice organising by girls, women and LBGTI folk is multiplied across our hemisphere, taking risks for our very future. 

If we fail to hear, Mother Earth herself will rebel. Like Caribbean women, her purpose was never to be exploited to death for unsustainable accumulation of obscene wealth.

Post 496.

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day (IWD), now being commemorated for more than a hundred years, celebrates the contributions of women and feminists to social progress. It acknowledges the issues of gender and sexuality and the political and economic struggles that still define the lives of women and girls. It affirms continued solidarity with the advancement of women’s rights.

It is a call to energise the anger, joy and hope of collective movements seeking an end to patriarchal beliefs and systems as they intersect other hierarchies, inequities, exclusions and organised forms of violence, including the violence of war and against the earth.

In short, IWD includes commemoration, celebration, revitalisation, recognition and solidarity, whether with our sisters fighting religious fundamentalism in Iran, or with indigenous women fighting for Amazonian ecosystems and their traditional ways of life, or with mothers navigating survival of their families in dangerous sea crossings from Syria to Europe or Venezuela to Trinidad.

It’s a day to also express solidarity with transwomen. Transwomen are not born female but come to identify as women at some point in their lives. They are a minority among the world’s girls and women, and face specific difficulties. These include lack of acceptance by others who mobilise stereotypes that present transwomen in terms of perversion, threat and fear, and who focus on the biological, reproductive, life cycle or social differences between transwomen and women who were born female.

Why emphasise this today? When a group understands what it means to be excluded, stereotyped and even demonised, as Caribbean women have been for centuries since colonisation, there’s greater responsibility to compassionately ensure that others live without such harm.

Second, feminist struggle fundamentally targets a binary division of sex, gender and sexuality that patriarchy, and its henchmen of homophobia, sexism, violence and the sexual division of labour, keep in place. This binary constructs us all into two sexes – male and female, two genders – feminine and masculine, and two sexualities – heterosexual and non-heterosexual.

In Western society, this binary has always reproduced women’s subordination, defining how women can appear, behave and exercise power, what labour they perform, who they can love, and how much violence (and its constant threat) they must endure. Transwomen, just like women in historical feminist struggles, are resisting that binary. We must fight side by side.

Being born female doesn’t give women a right to exclude transwomen from the category “woman”. There are many kinds of women with different biological and social experiences. As well, ultimately, all women are made, not born, for we all must shape ourselves into acceptable representations of our sex or pay the costs.

Some who were born biologically female may not even wish to identify as women, but as non-binary people or as men. Those who are female and appear feminine from birth will have specific experiences of inequality and vulnerability because of their sex and gender. Others who become female or feminine at other life stages will have their own experiences. All exist. All are valid. They don’t threaten each other.

Transwomen are another manifestation of womanhood, with all its contradictions, challenges and complexities. In different contexts, many kinds of women were or are not considered real women – those who are disabled, childless, migrant, poor, black, indigenous, lesbian, jamette, masculine-appearing, in “male” jobs, big or considered fat, with too much body or facial hair, with mental illness, without a menstrual cycle or labouring as a sex worker.

This history, these contexts and the sometimes difficult conversations that are happening globally about what it means to be a woman could take a 12-week UWI course just to explain, so don’t rush to opinion if you have more to learn about debates and activism that are hugely nuanced and, ultimately, rooted in justice.

If someone identifies as a woman, even if you don’t think they should, just respect that. It’s not your journey. If someone doesn’t identify as a woman, even if you think they should, just respect that. It isn’t your journey. If someone isn’t the kind of woman we are expected to be, that too isn’t your journey.

Your journey is to create a better world where women (and people) are safe, equal, free and loved, where being female or feminine is not a source of vulnerability, exclusion or inequity, and where we transition from judging the coherence of others’ sex, gender or sexuality.

Champion the journey each woman is on to become who she is meant to be. Such loving embrace is one way to commemorate IWD.

Post 493.

ON SUNDAY the Express’s front-page photo featured Renella Alfred, who comes from the famous Alfred family from Couva, playing jab jab. The caption described her as the Whip Princess, sticking out her coloured tongue as part of her portrayal. However, this banal description failed to convey what Renella was bringing to town through her mas, which is her invocation of the Hindu goddess Mother Kali.

This is easy to miss unless you are thinking about Indianness in the Caribbean, and how it is being practised beyond the Sanskritisation of Hindu life as authorised by religious texts and authorities. It speaks to how Indian women in Trinidad and Tobago take up mas in ways that breathe life into post-indenture feminist legacies.

When Indians arrived in the Caribbean, they brought an eclectic range of cultural and religious practices, and a pantheon of goddesses whose spiritual power confronted European patriarchal belief systems, where God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and disciples were conceived of as male. African religious traditions with, for example, a pantheon of female orishas such as Yemaya, Oshun and Oya, similarly offered an alternative cosmology of feminine divinity and energy.

Stereotypically, Hinduism and Carnival are cast as oppositional. One is associated with purity and the other with sin. However, mas making among Indians in TT tells a different story of mas being played to express a sense of spirituality, reverence for ancestry, devotion to discipline and respect for aesthetic forms of connection.

Among traditional mas makers, mas is a deeply sacred moral universe full of ritual, which is not opposed to being Indian or Hindu. In fact, mas making in the lives of Indo-Caribbeans weaves together all of these, brilliantly and creatively defining the afterlife of indenture, and redefining creolisation.

For Hindus who understand how village youth can play the sacred roles of Ram and Sita for Ramleela, mas becomes another stage for a leela (or play) about an epic journey and experience of exile, morality as it confronts the demonic, gender and sexual tensions, and legacies of Indian presence in the Caribbean.

The concept of “post-indenture feminist legacies” refers to the spiritual and cultural traditions, artefacts, myths, symbols and imagined possibilities brought from India in jahaji and jahajin bundles (creolised as “georgie bundle”) which, today, are being drawn on by women – and not just Indian women – to express feminine power and feminisms.

As Lisa Outar and I describe in the edited collection, Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought, such woman-centred world-making articulates “a feminist praxis where Indian gendered experiences in the Caribbean are not marginal, while being understood in ways centred in a politics of solidarity across ethnicity, class, gender, sexualities, and nation” (2016, 2). Praxis describes more than action. It means action, portrayal or performance grounded in considered thought and reflection.

It is a profoundly philosophical contribution and, in the Caribbean, we don’t just do philosophy through lyrics and music. We do it through the sacred, and the clashing and combining of belief systems or cosmologies; through gender and sexuality, which has long been defined by struggle against authorities that demarcate the good, holy and respectable from the polluting, profane and improper; and through embodiment, or the pleasures of how we assert our right to exist, and affirm the value and joy of our sovereign selves, with our bodies.

The photo also showed her wearing a “nath” or nose ring with a chain connected to her hair. The nath is associated with bridehood and childbirth, and goddess Parvati, but also with Parvati’s incarnations as goddess Durga, a warrior goddess, and goddess Kali, who emerges from within Durga to destroy the demonic with her dance of destruction. The nath is also a symbol of Indian femininity, hardly seen outside of weddings and Divali, or in mas.

By naming herself the “Whip Princess,” Renella has elevated her royal status in mas “lore” as above that of secular law, challenging the State’s monopoly over violence. She is also defying male religious prerogative over when and how she can be Indian, woman and Hindu. Finally, she is douglarising Carnival, continuing an Indian presence that shaped sokah itself.

All that I have described and more is in Renella Alfred’s sacred invocation of Mother Kali in Carnival. Such combining is important because many of our ancestors were brought to be violently exploited and dehumanised in what was meant to be a labour and conversion camp. Yet, in such mas is also our painstaking crafting of a society of beautiful, powerful, equal and free human beings.

Post 491.

WHEN referring to UWI’s political and intellectual leadership, people typically cited the Black Power moment of the 1970s, and students’ contribution to mobilising and transformation. As absolutely important as that history is, I often found such nostalgia almost negated the decades that followed.

Following the 1970s, there was insistently radical thought and action that sought to dismantle the status quo of intersecting race, class, gender, sexual and disability hierarchies. Such radicalism wasn’t always well-received, and was frequently marginalised, misunderstood and misrepresented, but it was always absolutely positioned as the business of the UWI.

There had been a fearless and visionary feminist revolution in the Caribbean, to which the UWI and its students contributed, and which challenged and transformed all of our lives as well as the basic foundations of scholarship, statehood and movement-building.

I thought we needed UWI principals to refer to these later decades of feminist-informed social justice struggle as they did to the period of 1970s, claiming them with a sense of pride.

For the UWI remained at the forefront of a Caribbean radical tradition that sought to disrupt the continuing coloniality of patriarchy and transphobia, ableism and the Anthropocene as much as students once marched against white supremacy.

That principal is now here. Brilliantly, she’s long been part of these very struggles, showing it’s not just about having a woman at the top. It’s about having a woman who is also a transformational leader.

At Saturday’s induction of Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine as principal, I thought that for all the decades since I’ve been on campus as a graduate student, this is the kind of leadership about which I’ve dreamed.

She has also long been at the forefront of a contemporary Caribbean radicalism in which gender justice and LBGTI rights are just as important as the rights of people with disabilities, women’s rights to safe and legal abortion, indigenous rights to sovereignty, and migrant rights to belonging.

For those looking for such inclusion and change at the UWI and in our region, it’s the first time it feels like there’s no need to lobby, play nice, be patient or have to explain basics established by scholarship 40 years ago, such as why gender matters.

Different people want different things from campus principals. Some are looking for administrative reforms, others for increased revenue, settling of disputes, policy implementation, more patents and factories, more private sector partnerships or more public impact.

I’ve looked for political and intellectual leadership. For me, that’s the core contribution of a university, making it different from the State, corporate sector and vocational education.

Universities are where independent thought and freedom, and a connection between inquiry and social responsibility, are nurtured as their own ends, and because these are also social necessities. It’s what we contribute to social good, not being defined by either political power or profit.

The neoliberal push of the last 20 years to measure everything by metrics, funding and the bottom line, combined with global economic precarity that reduced both scholarships and students’ financial capacity, put pressure on universities everywhere.

We all had to pivot to job market preparation and income generation. Yet, universities must also always question market logic as much as they contend with its demands.

Some disciplines can produce what is useful to housewives, available at grocery stores, manufactured locally, designed in response to our contexts and time, inspired by Caribbean creative traditions, and home-grown in our Caribbean soils.

Others address issues of health, work-life balance, violence, poverty, ecological destruction and gender inequity through changing public consciousness and policy. Some can be easily packaged. Others – such as poetry, philosophy or history– are less income-generating, although of no lesser worth.

Our business is therefore entrepreneurship, product invention and monetary stability as much as activism, educational access, social and economic rights, historical grounding, and undisciplined imagination.

As Principal Belle Antoine put it, we have a role in “healing our wounded society,” challenging discrimination, and collaborating to “save the planet and ourselves” through bringing expertise to people and people’s expertise to greater potential.

It feels like a radical coming-of-age in UWI St Augustine’s history, 40 years after the 1970s, with a woman at the helm who gets that the economic crises we must weather have made intersections among gender, sexual, social, economic and climate justice ever more urgent, rather than superfluous.

Similarly, although we labour in the vineyard of wealth creation, such labour should not define our purpose, identity, value or humanity as a university, as a region or as future generations.

Post 484.

ENDING VIOLENCE against women and girls is the aim of the annual campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, from November 25-December 10.

Today, I focus on how violence drives girls’ adolescent unions and reproduces violence in girls’ lives.

Adolescent unions are common, with at least one in three adolescents in Trinidad (28.4 per cent) becoming sexually active between 13 and 17 years old (38.8 per cent in Tobago). Of this group, more than half first had sexual intercourse before the age of 14.

As reported by the 2017 Global School-based Student Health Survey, there was a much higher incidence of sex among boys than girls.

However, 25-36 per cent of women whose first sexual experience occurred before age 15 (12 per cent of total respondents in the 2018 Women’s Health Survey) were more likely to report having been forced into this act than women whose age of first sexual experience was 15 years or older. Early sexual initiation for girls is too often violent and non-consensual.

Besides normal adolescent sexual curiosity and desire, family violence is one of the drivers of such early unions. Growing up in a home with violence between parents, against mothers or against children leads girls to seek escape and feelings of safety in others, or to consider later violence in their own lives to be normal. Addressing the vulnerabilities associated with adolescent sexuality requires ending domestic violence, which causes intergenerational dysfunction and trauma.

Girls also search to have unmet needs for love, care, encouragement and attention met through early unions. Their unmet needs may be economic and include food, shelter, school fees, transport costs, clothes and phone top-up.

Low-income girls also develop complex coping strategies as they grow in insecure neighbourhoods dominated by men in gangs. Girls recognise that they are attractive to older men because they seem easier to control. Such power imbalance is eroticised, becoming part of what men seek.

This makes poor girls especially vulnerable to predatory adult men whose dominance and income can seem reassuring, though these relationships can become controlling, threatening and violent.

Marriage and union data suggest that one in ten girls enter unions before 18 years old. Among women who reported at least one experience of physical violence in their lifetime, it was prevalent among 47 per cent of those who were married or lived with a partner before 18, versus 28 per cent of those in a union at 19 years old or older.

Current partner violence – meaning happening within 12 months of the 2017 WHS data collection – was one in ten for those in a union at 18 or younger, versus one in 20 for those whose first union was 19 or older. Early unions correlate with higher levels of intimate-partner violence in girls’ lives. This is why we must teach girls (and boys) about gender-based violence through health and family life education in schools.

Programmes that focus on abstinence and virginity in sexual health education miss the fact that experiencing child sexual abuse also leads girls to early unions. In TT, one in five women reports experiencing sexual abuse before the age of 18. Further, one in four women who were first married or cohabiting with a male partner by the age of 18 or younger also experienced sexual abuse before she was 18. Child sexual abuse is a driver of and correlates with adolescent unions.

Early unions are themselves considered a form of gender-based violence because they increase risks of partner violence, unplanned pregnancy, school dropout, burdensome care responsibilities, economic dependence and poverty. Whether visiting, transactional or cohabitational, they can (and do) harmfully affect girls’ human rights, equality, development, well-being and independence.

Given the data and established risks, it’s also a form of state violence (rather than morality) to deny sexual and reproductive health-rights information, resources and services to adolescents without parental consent.

The family, which should be a primary protective institution, was widely and consistently flagged as a driver of early unions, and uncomfortable with protective approaches that include comprehensive sexuality education. Transforming social norms that reproduce fear, shame and denial about the realities of violence in adolescent girls’ lives is therefore key. Significant work is needed with men and boys to reduce male sexual entitlement, and predation and rape of girls. Men in families have roles to play too.

Adolescent unions are both driven by violence and increased risk of violence against girls. Making the connection between adolescent sexuality and violence against girls and women is necessary.

Post 473.

THE LEAD-UP to our 60th year of independence is excellent timing for a reignited conversation about decolonising our landscape of statues, streets and parks. 

This is a decades-old discussion whose fire has been kept alive by global reparations research and advocacy, changes made in India and Myanmar, student protests from South Africa to Bristol, Black Lives Matter movements, Caribbean historians and African and indigenous organisations. 

As always, what is happening in TT is interwoven with complex global currents, including a Latin American emphasis on decoloniality which has influenced thinking over the past two decades. 

This is different from postcoloniality, where black and brown men (and a minority of women) filled the roles and institutions previously held and dominated by white men, but kept the legacy of colonisation intact in newly independent nations. 

By contrast, to be decolonial is to question everything about the postcolonial world from the perspectives of the marginalised and oppressed, those least remembered or valued, those seeking to right historical wrongs, and those who radically challenged social order as it was forcibly established over hundreds of years. 

It is to champion care, freedom, justice and solidarity over mere continuity, whether in relation to law, governance, schooling, gender or sexuality. With these values in mind, everything about ourselves, our landscape and our institutions is up for renewed self-determination. 

It’s an amazing time to be a young person, unintimidated by the entrenched authority of dead white men and their beliefs, ideas and actions. It reminds us that independence was not only a historical moment, something that happened and is over, but a continuous and collective act of forging a nation from an unapologetic love for liberty, as its meaning evolves over time.

In our little local teacup, of course, we are whipping up a storm. Some are against any change, some for changing everything. Some argue for naming only new things, leaving in place the old. Some don’t think cultural change is as important as addressing our social, economic and infrastructural failings. Some worry about ethnic and gender bias, technical challenges of changing postal addresses, risks of state lip service and creation of communal disunity.

Some argue that changing names denies history. Rather, is an act that acknowledges history, and the colonials and plantation owners through whom we still locate ourselves. It is also an opportunity to name those, such as our ancestors, who were often in resistance to these men, but whose names have disappeared from our geography, schoolbooks and memories. 

We could replace street names entirely or leave them but instal plaques that provide the truth of violence, exploitation or inequity endured, so that we are reminded at every step of our resistance, creativity and survival. 

The first is a far more radical gesture of national self-making. It replaces those symbols, like scars of harm, with those of our homegrown movers and makers of history. It could transform TT for future generations. 

The second option is a conservative compromise. In a postcolony, public space is a living, breathing arena for teaching about the past. Here, mas is a theatre of the streets. Similarly, we don’t need a European-museum approach to history. The places where the past was made, where we walk every day, can make us more conscious of our past, present and future dreams, the isms and atrocities fought, and freedoms hard won. 

Removing statues such as that of Columbus can powerfully show indigenous people that we now condemn a man whose invasion of the Americas led to the genocide and dispossession of millions of their foremothers and forefathers. It should remind us that our nation was built on occupied indigenous land, and we are inheritors of such domination. 

Alternatively, leaving such statues in place, but toppled, reframed or defaced for all to see, shows those figures are no longer held in high regard. Still others have suggested creating an area where such statues could be located and the story of their displacement told, instead erecting an indigenous woman where Columbus once stood or replacing Picton’s street names with Luisa Calderon’s. 

There’s value in different options and possibilities. We therefore need thoughtfulness and an ability to listen, willingness to change our minds, skills in building consensus, and a path away from quick and dismissive opinion. 

Liberty and loving are messy, but are ours to choose in this deliberation. More than about statues and street names, on the cusp of independence, let’s not mistake this chance to forge our shared beliefs as a nation.

Post 454.

LAST Wednesday’s national blackout should direct us to lessons from sister isle Puerto Rico. 

In 2017, after Hurricane Maria demolished swathes of the electricity grid, leaving some without power for as long as a year, Casa Pueblo (the People’s House) provided a solar power “energy oasis.” The lights never went out and hundreds of residents turned to the non-profit to plug in cell phones, fridges with medicines and dialysis machines in the following weeks. 

Spurred on by their survival, Casa Pueblo continued to lend and instal thousands of solar panels, solar lights and solar-refrigerators throughout the community in Adjuntas, as they had been doing since 1991, to provide cheap, renewable energy, grow a network of microgrids and break dependence on fossil fuels. 

This is an important example for us here. We saw how easy it is to shut down the national grid, without even a hurricane or earthquake in sight. The first knocks down transmission lines. The second rattles power plants themselves, challenging the resilience of centralised grids. 

We are also still limping along with our fossil fuel addiction, in need of fast-tracked, alternative paths to economic and energy development. In Doha, we are still calling gas “the fuel of the future.” Look up. Renewable power is right over our heads. 

Local electricity is over-produced and cheap so these issues haven’t been taken up, but they should be, as they could help prevent what happened last week. More than that, solar energy can reduce business and household bills, provide clean and dependable power, decarbonise our footprint and reduce our contribution to climate change, and democratise energy infrastructure – meaning return decisions about power and management of microgrids to communities. 

Again, this is important for us. There’s a tug of war between those who believe in big government with central authority and those pushing for privatisation as more efficient, but that’s a false choice. 

Casa Pueblo’s “energy insurrection” shows this, precisely because its vision is centred in community-based development and a right to energy self-sufficiency, which for Puerto Rico is also part of movements seeking environmental justice and decolonisation from the US. 

What is being called a “decolonial future” is additionally about imagining a world of social justice, freedom, equality, peace and collective care for our shared commons of land, air and water, as well essential services related to education, health, housing and food. 

Mobilising communities around these interconnected concerns challenges models of increasing accumulation of wealth and power with ones of sovereignty, solidarity and mutual aid. It’s about challenging both state bureaucracy and corporate control, after all the sun shines for free and each home should be able to generate electricity. 

Imagine communities not having to beg for connection and supply. Imagine low monthly bills without having to hear about the costs of state subsidies. 

Our current approach is all big business. The “largest solar parks in the region” are being undertaken with Lightsource BP. Globally, communities are pushing back against “energy colonialism” and these industrial approaches. The Brechin Castle park project says it recognises the issues of biodiversity conservation, landscape impact and cultural heritage. But, why should Lightsource BP power the world when communities can power themselves? 

We should have these conversations without being provoked by a crisis. We should at least have these conversations when a crisis provokes them, otherwise we sit waiting for the next time our dependence becomes painfully apparent.

Here at home, long recommended transformations include amending the T&TEC Act so that power independently generated can be shared with the grid, enabling households or businesses to generate their own electricity, and paying or providing credit for what they contribute to a microgrid. 

These power supply solutions, promoting energy generation at the point of consumption, are just part of a more radical vision. That’s important to keep in mind too. 

Ultimately, renewable energy movements are also connected to those working on ecological regeneration and increasing community capacity, power and resources to autonomously respond to critical needs and climate crises. This is ever more urgent as debt rises and state finances contract, leading to poorer infrastructure and service delivery. 

I’ve highlighted Puerto Rico, but what Arturo Massol-Deya of Casa Pueblo calls “anti-colonial plan making from below” and an “energy insurgency” is bubbling across our archipelago because all of our islands face economic and ecological threat.

In our darkest moments, remember we have power to change people’s current frustrations, fears and losses when electricity goes. Under our shared Caribbean sky are grassroots examples of what we can do.

Post 439.

“If this continues without any control, we will all pay the price for the destruction.”

– Luisa Laita of the Aishara Toon Village, quoted in the South Rupununi District Council’s 2018 report on Wapichan environmental monitoring. 

THE REPORT highlights how extractive industries violate rights to life, health and a healthy environment, food and water, cultural identity, freedom from forced displacement, equality and non-discrimination, and community consent, information and redress.

What are extractive industries? Goldmines in Guyana, oil and gas extraction in TT, bauxite mining in Jamaica and planned copper and mineral mining in Haiti are but some examples.

These industries are worsening the global climate crisis and threaten natural resources for food, water, fishing, farming, and both traditional and climate-resilient livelihoods.

As the Wapishan point out, such violation of human rights and the right of nature also causes community-level distress, trauma and spiritual pain. Indeed, courts are increasingly recognising the rights of rivers and forests as living ecosystems.

The Caribbean’s voice on these issues was heard for the first time at yesterday’s historic Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing on the Impact of Extractive Industries on Human Rights and Climate Change in the Caribbean.

The hearing was proposed by Jamaican activist and women’s- and human-rights lawyer Malene Alleyne and environmental filmmaker Esther Figueroa, to resist rising fossil-fuel extraction and mining activities across the Caribbean. Such human-rights strategies are gaining momentum globally and regionally.

Two constitutional cases were filed against mining projects in Jamaica. There’s a landmark case challenging fossil fuel plans in Guyana. In The Bahamas, environmental organisations have challenged approval for oil drilling.

There are also wide challenges to the Environmental Impact Assessment process, such as in Trinidad and Tobago, for lack of public participation in decision-making, lack of access to information and failure to take social and environmental costs into account.

People once thought environmental degradation and climate change were not bread-and-butter issues. Now we know they are connected to food prices, drought, hurricanes and flooding, and forced displacement. Usually the poorest are the ones hardest hit. These actions are therefore in defence of an equal right to life and a future for us all.

Alleyne and Figueroa’s request to the IACHR describes “the destruction of biological diversity; pollution and the contamination of crucial ecosystems; the erosion of food and water security; and the devastation of rural livelihoods and traditional ways of being.

“The impact on Indigenous, Afro-descendent and rural communities is near apocalyptic given their dependency on the natural environment for physical and cultural survival. In Guyana, for example, gold mining operations are destroying forest cover and causing extreme mercury pollution in rivers traditionally used by Indigenous Peoples for food and drinking water.”

For Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples, there is also state failure to recognise customary lands and their boundaries.

“In Jamaica, the near 70-year-old bauxite-alumina industry has wiped out entire rural communities; destroyed prime agricultural lands; and contaminated rivers, causing fish kills that dislocate the livelihood of fisher folk.”

A 2019 World Bank study on Marine Pollution in the Caribbean concluded that in the Eastern Caribbean, TT contributes the largest industrial-pollutants load to the marine environment.

The annual cancer risk from consuming fish from the Gulf of Paria is almost six times higher than international standards. According to Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, to date, those responsible for the 377 recorded oil spills between 2016 and 2019 have never been held liable.

In Haiti, Kolektif Jistis Min and the Global Justice Clinic published a 2014 report documenting issues of forced displacement in predominantly subsistence-farming communities in northern Haiti where mining companies hold permits.

The hearing’s objectives were to show the impact of extraction on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and its threat to Caribbean ecosystems, emphasise the dangers of non-participatory decision-making by Caribbean states, and advance a necessary vision for “a new earth-centred, rights-based approach to development in the Caribbean in Harmony with Nature.”

As well, the hearing intended to highlight outdated laws, weaknesses in monitoring and enforcement, corporate flouting of regulations, obstacles to information and failures to provide sufficient redress to affected people, who lose their livelihoods, homes, health, crops and access to drinkable water.

As one Jamaican in Figueroa’s film about Cockpit Country put it, “I see it as not only an ethical but a theological responsibility to preserve and protect the environment.” To return to Luisa and yesterday’s hearing, if we don’t support all available strategies to resist extraction, we can all expect to pay the price.

Post 438.

AMONG our political elites, man, woman and dog attacking man, woman and dog.

It’s remarkable to see how gender and womanhood have been being flung in this fight. Let’s start with Dr Rowley.

“The way she loves the accolade of being the first woman prime minister, one would think that she would behave properly and with a modicum of respect for the first female President, her superior,” he lambasted, invoking the Opposition Leader and the President’s womanhood as definitive of their public identities, roles and relationship.

For Persad-Bissessar, this gendered accolade was always a double-edged sword.

Rowley could have said the Opposition leader was being disrespectful or any of his usual litany of insults.

However, he highlighted her sex and the sex of the President as a disciplinary tactic. It is one thing to fail as a politician and a next to fail as a woman, and to be the first woman in the nation to do so.

The PM deliberately tapped into debasement of females who don’t know how to behave with deference and propriety in public. When schoolboys fight, we shake our heads. When schoolgirls fight, we bawl that all broughtupcy in the world has collapsed.

When two public officials, one already “inferior,” are pitted against each other and their sex is made the basis of comparison, it’s a gendered weapon in a war of words.

PNM PRO Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing called the Opposition Leader “an embarrassment to women,” again invoking her womanhood and expanding the wielding of gender by referencing all other women in the nation, who may have been foolishly considering an issue of how today we have no Commissioner of Police, for the first time in our history, and missed the relevance of femininity to the public call for answers.

The PM’s “imps, pimps and chimps” line again brought both gender and sexuality into political mud-slinging. Pimps are usually (but not only) men who (sometimes violently) force women to have sex for their profit. But what does prostitution have to do with 19 parliamentarians? Who is or are the whores? Aspersions of licentiousness and immorality land implicitly.

In his latest salvo, the PM described the Opposition Leader as an “abusive man,” continuing, “It’s like some of them fellas outside there…if I can’t get you I go mash it up. If I can’t get you I go kill you. I will mark your face with a knife…I go throw acid on you. That is what you are seeing there.”

This was a move from womanhood in disrepute to the kind of violent and depraved manhood that brought historic crowds to the streets in protest just earlier this year. This was highly cynical from a man who has blamed women for their choice of men, without apology.

It was also highly consistent in its blame on the population and women, and a warning against choosing someone who will kill you, stab you and throw acid on you, politically speaking.

It’s like we are all, or perhaps just us women, witnessing a woman being battered for being a woman, rather than pressured because of a brouhaha. The violence of the analogy was desperate, even for Dr Rowley.

The reference to “domestic” abuse is again deliberate, for this is the domain of women and one we are called on to protect. In such times, the solidarity of women against degeneracy and abuse is necessary to save us all.

It makes sense, then, for him to urge women to “stand up and support their female counterparts instead of bringing each other down,” like Persad-Bissessar.

We all know that women who bring each other down are “our own worst enemy.” The PM even brought up her failure to protect young girls from child marriage, throwing in the whole kitchen sink. But what does that have to do with the CoP?

Finally, Nizam Mohammed described the President, who is not a mother and was not appointed because of her representation of or identification with mothering or reproductive issues, as expected to connect with the public in a “motherly and exalted” fashion.

Idealisation of “good motherhood” here is bizarre to say the least.

I’m not defending the Opposition Leader or the UNC. There’s atrociousness on all sides. Rather, I’m observing how sex, gender (often femininity), and sexuality are being politically mobilised.

Such logic, like much of what I have highlighted, reveals the labels and stereotypes still targeted at and governing women in political life.