Post 370.

Like bandits in broad daylight, the US has dispatched warships to the Caribbean Sea, en route to Venezuela.

This is a fascinating lesson for a generation that has never witnessed US ‘big stick’ politics, having been born long after the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the US installing of Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinoche in 1973, and the place of Cuba in the Cold War.

Most of my undergraduate students are born after 2000, in an era when focus on the psychological has taken over from analysis of the geopolitical. This generation would have been too young to remember the US ousting (in his words “kidnapping”) democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, but if young people across the Caribbean need a live example of US imperialism to mobilise against, this is it.

Analyses of this war-mongering and its intersection with the current oil and COVID-19 crises highlight how often global political brawls end up in our Caribbean gayelle, and this might momentarily direct our gaze away from our household challenges toward understanding how badman from Russia, the US, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, China and more fight in our contemporary world.

The military deployment of Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft has been justified by laughable reasons that nonetheless provide an excellent example of how imaginary connections are made everyday truths by state propaganda. This generation won’t remember “weapons of mass destruction” as a similar lie, but that’s how invasion and killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including children, was justified then too.

About 70 000 Americans die annually from a drug overdose, mostly from drugs from Central America and Mexico which breach US borders. Using this data, a White House press conference initiated a good ol’ Republican “war on drugs” arguing that Venezuela is a narco-trafficking state and that the warships are intended to stop shipments of illegal drugs which “penetrate” the United States “to kill Americans”.

Flexing its machoman muscles, the US military announced, “we are at war with terrorists, we are at war with COVID-19 and we are at war with the drug cartels as well…you will not penetrate this country…you are not going to come in here and kill additional Americans”.

The White House released conservative estimates that COVID-19 could kill 240 000 in the US. Guns kill about than 39 000 in the US annually, more than half of drug overdoses, but there’s no state “war on guns” in the US. Indeed, drug overdoses account for less than 3% of US deaths, behind pretty much everything else such as suicide, accidents, medical errors, and especially non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease which 2016 data suggest alone account for about 60% of deaths.

No surprise, no serious news sources are buying this Nancy story. The Department of Defense opposed it, reports Foreign Policy in its newsletter. US officials told Newsweek that it was “a move to deflect criticism about the administration’s mishandling of the outbreak at home”. War is always the best way to rally masses, suppress criticism as unpatriotic, and stimulate some manufacturing sectors, all of which would be convenient responses to the US’ collapsed labour market.

At any rate, though marketing it as a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela”, the US government long has been trying to install an acceptable puppet who will be their man instead of Russia’s. Caricom has been dancing in this gayelle, refusing to meet with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Jamaica in January, and asserting Venezuela’s sovereignty despite its deep political and economic troubles. For to support invasion of one is to set a precedent for all, and that would be sheer hasikara. Indeed, if electoral corruption is a key criteria, and unmatched oil wealth, Guyana would be next.

By comparison, Russia has both already penetrated the US and has those men in suits on their knees. Its stand-off with OPEC has sent economies crashing and made US shale oil production unprofitable. It is securing its state interest in Venezuelan oil, and protecting it from US sanctions. Last week, Putin himself sent a Russian plane to New York with medical supplies even as the US is shamefully blocking medical supplies to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Barbados.

Though we may be cockroach in fowl party, as they say, this is happening in our seas. Our business is, therefore, that the Caribbean remains “a zone of peace”.

Post 365.

Here as in Guyana, we live with myriad injustices, but continue to assert a sense of expectation that state institutions – such as the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) or the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) – will protect us from the likelihood of fraudulent politics which undermine democratic agreement and inclusion.

It is to our credit that, against all odds, we remain invested in rule of law and are provoked into anger at its blatant violation. When that anger turns to violence, however, much more than democracy is threatened.

In their Letter to the Editor, Karen de Souza, Josephine Whitehead and Danuta Radzik, representing Guyanese NGOs Red Thread, Help and Shelter, and Child Link, wrote,

“We are alarmed at the acts of intimidation, the threats, and verbal attacks including sexual threats to women and girls, the physical violence, the reports of property invasion by groups, attacks on police officers and schoolchildren and ethnicity-based attacks being reported in several communities. Recent reports of the loss of life of one young person points to escalating violence which must cease immediately. We condemn and call on all Guyanese to condemn and refrain from all racial and ethnic slurs and actions, to respect the rule of law and keep the peace. We call on all political parties to abstain from provocative statements, ensure that their supporters do not violate the fundamental rights of any citizen and keep all protest action free from any kind of violence or intimidation. We call on the police and security forces to protect the rights of all Guyanese and carry out their duties without bias in accordance with the law of Guyana.”

Invested in each other as one Caribbean family, we are also aware that the precedent set by one signals a risk to us all. In recognition of this, the Caribbean women’s movement and its allies, from at least seven countries, issued a statement echoing the words of these and other Guyanese women. The statement reads:

“We, Caribbean advocates for social justice and gender equality, join in solidarity with the people of Guyana in calling for compliance with the rule of law and specifically with the election procedure in Guyana. A damaged electoral process will negatively affect the likelihood of social cohesion in a country scarred by ethnic and political polarisation. The people of Guyana and indeed the Caribbean deserve better from political actors.

They deserve political leadership with integrity and that honours the collective will of the people. We particularly share our deep concern for the safety and security of all Guyanese and call for peace and calm in all communities. Not one more life should be lost.

We support the call of CARICOM for the lawful completion of the electoral process in Guyana by ensuring the tabulation of results in all regions using the Statements of Polls and the offer of the Chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, to personally assist with dialogue, if needed, once there is acceptance of the results of the lawfully declared elections.

All parties should do their part in ensuring an engagement that is transparent, accountable and which builds trust. Political parties should dialogue with civil society and build consensus on the way ahead. We call on the political leaders to issue a common call for peace, respect and community-mindedness, showing their concern for all people and their safety and well-being.”

No electoral win can be a victory when safety, harmony and dignity, however inessential these seem, immediately become threatened too.

As long-time Guyanese activist  Vanda Radzik wrote last week, “What we see unfolding before our eyes is the poison that emanates, in a heightened way, from the recurring contest between two forces – hell-bent on “winning” power – at the expense of our nation. Being drawn into foolish political, largely race-based camps, with hatred and fear stitched into the fabric – for winner and loser, alike – is a recipe for disaster. It has to be stopped in its tracks now.”

Watching how quickly abuse of power and process devolved into public confrontation in Guyana and noting that, in our Local Government election, there were complaints about insults and abuse from supporters of the major parties on Nomination day, we should not only wet our roof but avoid irresponsibly starting fires in the backyard of our own racial and political tensions.

Trinidad and Tobago’s major parties should therefore re-affirm commitment to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct for the upcoming general election. Meanwhile, we look on at Guyana’s election imbroglio and hope for peaceful resolution.

Post 247.

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Seen from the air, Guyana’s forested beauty is epic. The plane’s shadow buzzed over the treetops like a gnat, insignificant in afternoon sun and in comparison to such wondrously vast tree cover.

In between, bare red rock or white sand pockmarked the surface where old forest had been razed. Mining, quarrying or logging is making some rich in the present while leaving children in the future without this inheritance, for all your generation has to give is this one precious planet.

Such wounds seem small from the plane window, but are matters of life and death, of community traditions and contemporary rights, for Indigenous women continuing to resist in Guyana even as I write.

The taxi driver couldn’t figure out where all Guyana’s money went, for a country with gold, diamonds and timber should be the wealthiest in the Caribbean. ‘It don’t make sense’, he told me.

Not in Trinidad either where our resources made some rich while leaving the place poor: hospitals dirty, public transportation insufficient, prisons over-crowded, landfills unregulated, families violent and schools failing a third of the youth.

Given deals struck with Exxon and other companies, will Guyana’s oil just pass through the country like a dose of salts? If only others could learn the Trinidad lesson that wealth makes you shallow, wasteful, corrupt and consumerist as a nation; changes values so that the main ethic becomes private gain; and erodes attention and commitment to public responsibility, public utilities and public space.

As we drove, I tried to reconcile a Guyana I knew as a teenager when my mother joined Caricom.  At the same time back then, I moved to Barbados to start secondary school at Queen’s College, leaving Trinidad to become, first, a nowherian and, later, a regionalist.

It’s as a regionalist I listened to Christopher Ram, after a television interview in a neglected studio building, talk about his time in the Grenada Revolution and the hurt he still carries at its death.

It’s hard to imagine a generation from across the Caribbean traveled to Grenada to contribute to one island state’s aspiration to get independence right. It’s difficult to identify how much that aspiration was crushed and never quite returned. From Jamaica to Guyana, you can meet people who know what the fire of hope feels like and who carry the failures of that political experiment like the loss of a loved one, in their mind’s eye when they look into distance.

Arriving in Georgetown, there were areas I didn’t recognize. ‘We get modern’, said the driver, ‘we almost like foreign’.  There are better-lit highways, burgeoning suburbs, big cars, money laundering and ostentatious religious buildings. At best, the poor people, who remain the majority, struggling with VAT and joblessness, can hope to one day inherit the earth, but not tomorrow, next year or the next decade.

Such a dream deferred isn’t good enough. So, it’s important to cast our lot with those who remain indefatigable, rather than defeated, often women, often feminists.

One of them is Vanda Radzik, who drew the University of Guyana and the Women and Gender Equality Commission together to launch the collection, ‘Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought’, which I edited with Lisa Outar, a Guyanese born feminist scholar.

I first met Vanda thirty years ago, as I became aware of the anti-violence, ecological sustainability and economic empowerment work of the Guyanese women’s movement. Today, I’m simply and inadequately, like that small plane over such vast terrain, carrying these women’s legacy, trying to always remember and learn from their dream for a different future.

Similarly, the book collection’s premise is that Indo-Caribbean feminist thought requires us to look back as part of gathering our resources for the work ahead. The ways we imagine alternatives to all forms of oppression are richer when they draw on multi-ethnic, woman-centred, solidarity-based legacies of indentureship. This is the real wealth that arrival bequeathed.

The book is being launched in Guyana this week, and on Tuesday at 6pm, in UWI’s Law Faculty Auditorium, in Trinidad. All are welcome, for all these complex and tenuous threads, from Guyana to Trinidad to Grenada to elsewhere, some of which you may be gently holding over all these decades, are woven together there.

Post 224.

It isn’t often that Caribbean people who support struggles for equality get good news. On August 10, 2016, the Belize Supreme Court struck down the country’s sodomy law as unconstitutional. This is an historic victory for our region and reflects home-grown leadership and strategizing to secure greater justice through our institutions.

The movement to take a case to the courts was started by UWI Faculty, of whom we should be proud. In 2007, Jamaican legal feminist scholar Tracy Robinson, then at Cave Hill’s Faculty of Law, opened a conversation about litigation as a strategy.

Later discussion with Joel Simpson, then of the Guyanese LBGT organisation SASOD, Douglas Mendes SC, and Godfrey Smith, former Attorney General of Belize, led to the formation of the Lawyers from the UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-Rap). However, U-Rap’s litigation possibilities were first outlined in an UWI LLB research paper by Conway Blake in 2004, and drew on Jamaican lawyer Philip Dayle’s legal assessment of laws criminalising same-sex sex in the Caribbean in 2006.

U-Rap member, Guyanese Arif Bulkan, now at the Law Faculty in St. Augustine, also worked with claimant, Caleb Orozco, a long-time LGBT activist, in this case against Section 53 of Belize’s Criminal Code. Counsel were Trinidadians Christopher Hamel-Smith and Westmin James, now Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law at Cave Hill.

We need such fearless regionality, which included the community-based strength of Belizean LBGT and HIV Advocacy groups such as UNIBAM (United Belize Advocacy Movement ) and PETAL (Promoting Empowerment Through Awareness for Lesbian and Bisexual women), as well as Caribbean scholars and activists.

Following Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin’s decision, Caleb Orozco is quoted as saying, “This is the first day of my life in which it is legal for me to be me.” I can’t think of a more over-due experience, one which we can imagine enslaved ancestors felt as far back as 1834 when they were first formally recognized as human. We wait to see how this momentous precedent will affect law across the region as the long struggle for full emancipation for all, and recognition of the equal humanity of all, is re-energised with hope.

In another U-Rap case, four transgender women challenged an 1893 law against cross-dressing in Guyana, arguing that it reproduced discrimination on the basis of gender. In 2013, in what LBGT advocates decried as a ‘dubious decision’, the judge ruled that cross-dressing is a criminal offense only if it’s done for an “improper purpose”, which could include prostitution. The law was considered to already allow cross-dressing to express or accentuate one’s sexual orientation. In essence, the law was reinterpreted and upheld instead of being struck down as unconstitutional.

The Belizean case also comes after decades of work by a range of groups, from feminists to scholars to HIV/AIDS activists to public health advocates, to create constitutional reform recommendations, policy positions and OAS resolutions committed to ending discrimination, inequity, stigma, vulnerability and human rights violations on the basis of sex, gender and sexuality.

Indeed, the Belize decision recognized that Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” and primarily targeted same-sex sexual activities, denied a right to dignity, privacy, equality and freedom.

Consenting adults of the same sex are now free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy and are due equal protection under the law, meaning simply what everyone else already expects and gets.

Key about the Chief Justice’s ruling was his view that the bill of right’s protection of sex from discrimination includes sexual orientation. This reflects part of a larger, nuanced critique of legislation that polices sexual orientation as fundamentally and unfairly policing how LBGT persons live their own conceptions of sexual rights and human rights as well as manhood and womanhood.

These legal challenges continue, pressing for discriminatory legislation to be taken off the books. Earlier this year, a CCJ ruling made clear that Caribbean homosexuals must be allowed the right of free movement within CARICOM, and that immigration laws banning their entry, for example to Trinidad and Tobago, should be repealed.

Every generation, resistance against unjust laws and policies ignites across the region. That spark burns bright, fed by last week’s decision.