Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 17th 2015 Contents A20
Three weeks after a mam-
moth 7.8 earthquake in
Nepal, on April 25, left 8,000
people dead, the reeling nation
got hit hard again last week with
another powerful tremor of 7.3
magnitude that left dozens dead,
over 1,000 injured, destroyed
buildings and set off avalanches
leaving the buckling nation in
chaos. CNN reported that as the
second earthquake tremor hit, an
eerie silence was followed by
petrified screaming. This time the
people knew what was coming.
Many survivors are in desperate
need of food and water. People
are walking, foraging and sleeping
among the dead. Tempers are
flaring. Fights are breaking out
among those trying to board
vehicles and relief convoys out of
The BBC reported that "a man
named Rishi Khanal, 27, said he
had been surrounded by dead
bodies and drank his own urine
to survive. I had some hope but
by yesterday I d given up. I was
sure no one was coming for me."
He told AP news agency he was
certain he was going to die after
being trapped in the rubble for
over 80 hours. The reconstruc-
tion costs are estimated at one
billion US dollars.
Every now and then, we in
T&T feel a tremor here and
there. We are so used to living
with hope and without action,
with luck and without planning,
that we never think it s going to
happen to us.
But on the eve of an election,
when two leaders have agreed to
debate the issues, I wonder if we
can get past scandals and start
thinking about planning for our
We have seen what happened
next door, in Haiti. The 7.0 mag-
nitude earthquake was cata-
strophic, leaving some 200,000
dead and three million affected.
We all say we want to get past
the scandals. We want to be a
grown-up country and talk edu-
cation and health, housing and
crime, safety and national securi-
ty, foreign debt and savings,
employment and a safety net for
the most vulnerable amongst us.
Three years ago, I interviewed
Richard Robertson, head of the
Seismic Research unit at UWI,
who said alarmingly that T&T is
overdue for an earthquake. He
said, "T&T is more vulnerable to
earthquakes about now as we are
on similar plate setting as Haiti.
Larger earthquakes of 8.5 magni-
tude and above happen every
150-200 years or so. We are
overdue for one here."
Robertson said that in the last four
years, seismologists have seen a
"substantial increase in the number
of small earthquakes within the land
mass of Trinidad." He added that
"with some degree of accuracy that
the places at risk are the southeast
of Tobago, Gulf of Paria and Paria
Dr Richard Clarke, lecturer at
the Civil Engineering Department
of UWI, told me back in 2012 of
the impact if we are hit by a
magnitude eight earthquake in
Trinidad. Clarke said "at least
three-quarter of our buildings
will be destroyed and major
industrial areas of Pt Lisas,
Pointe-a-Pierre and Pt Fortin,
will experience huge explosions
and raging fires from leaks of the
many natural gas pipelines which
criss-cross Trinidad. He added
that, "clouds of poisonous gases
would be released. Fires would
rage unchecked since there would
be no water as pipelines would
be ruptured by the earthquake.
There would be no electricity to
pump the water."
He added chillingly, "We would
be looking at a minimum of
30,000 dead and 100,000
"During the course of this
investigation I discovered that
most people have no idea what
natural disaster like an earth-
quake of 7.0 and above, or cate-
gory 3 hurricane hits us."
The then acting police com-
missioner, James Philbert, said,
"If the earthquake hit in the day,
hundreds of thousands of terri-
fied people would be wandering
around trying to locate their
families, their kids at school,
attempting to get shelter, to get
water and food. If it happened at
night, these people would be try-
ing to dig out friends and rela-
tives by hand in darkness lit only
by hellish flames. There will be
looting and burning."
Three years back, Col George
Robinson, CEO of the Office of
Disaster Preparedness & Manage-
ment (ODPM), told me that "the
effects of even a magnitude 7.0
earthquake on the kind of built
environment that we have in
Trinidad and Tobago, we would
have a similar experience to
Haiti," adding, "We would need
external assistance to support us."
Events which experts have told
us to expect could leave thou-
sands "dead, injured, homeless."
That means thousands upon
thousands dead and homeless.
Look at those pictures of Haiti
again; look at the pictures of
Nepal. That could be us.
Is this a time to be talking
about scandals or issues?
Are we prepared? No. I would love
to be proven wrong. I would love to
see an ODPM plan for evacuation,
a medical plan for the injured and
disposal of bodies.
Once again, I urge the popula-
tion to turn away from scandals,
to form lobbies to insist on dis-
cussion on issues, (this is one of
many) to insist that we have a
government that works for us,
and not one that entertains and
humours us with scandals or
puts up smokescreens instead of
service to the people of this
Last Monday s election in
Guyana ended almost 23
years rule by the mainly Indo-
Guyanese People s Progressive
It was "the nearest-run thing
you ever saw in your life," as the
Duke of Wellington said after
beating Napoleon at Waterloo,
just 200 years ago next month.
In the last Guyanese election
in 2011, the PPP took 48.6 per
cent of the votes, and won. Last
week, they got 49.1 per cent,
and lost. More votes---less win?
Makes sense? Yes, if you ve read
Guyana s constitution.
The PPP was ousted by a
coalition of two opposition par-
ties---a Partnership for National
Unity (APNU) and the Alliance
for Change (AFC.)
In 2011, APNU and the AFC
fought the election separately.
They took 51.1 per cent of the
vote between them---enough for
a single-seat majority in Parlia-
But with opposition votes
split, the PPP was the largest
single party. Under Guyana s
constitution, it took the presi-
dency and formed the govern-
This time, the AFC and APNU
ran as a single list. They
squeaked ahead of the PPP, with
50.4 per cent of the votes---a
lower percentage than last time,
but enough for APNU s David
Granger to be the new president.
The result was close, but clear.
It was a long, nasty campaign.
It began last November, when
the former president, Donald
Ramotar, shut down the National
Assembly to forestall a no-confi-
dence vote. That s a step beyond
excluding the opposition leader.
In March---one week after the
election date was set---lone polit-
ical activist Courtney Crum-
Ewing was shot dead; three bul-
lets to the head and one to the
The president afterwards
described the dead man as a
"nuisance." And the murder cul-
prits? As they say: "Investiga-
tions are continuing."
Days before the poll, Indo-
Guyanese villagers at Enterprise,
to the east of Georgetown,
spray-painted two donkeys with
the opposition colours, then beat
them within an inch of their
lives. One of the donkeys was
On polling day, Afro-Guyanese
opposition supporters in the
Georgetown district of Sophia
stoned a pastor s house, suspect-
ing him (wrongly) of electoral
cheating. They set eight vehicles
on fire, and a stable. I don t
know if there were any horses
Both Guyanese leaders might
have echoed what Wellington
said about his own troops: "I
don t know what effect these
men will have on the enemy, but
by God, they terrify me."
Might have: if some of them
weren t busy stirring the pot.
Guyana has a long, long histo-
ry of racial hatred, going back
60 years and more. Riots in
1964 left perhaps 160 dead, with
thousands forced to flee their
From 1964 to 1992, the unla-
mented Forbes Burnham and his
successor Desmond Hoyte locked
the PPP out of power through a
series of blatantly rigged elec-
tions. The economy collapsed;
for years, basic imported goods
like cheese and wheat flour were
The core of APNU is the
rebranded descendant of Forbes
Burnham s People s National
Congress. In its election cam-
paign this year, the PPP played
repeatedly on ancestral fears
about the bad old days.
And did so with some success.
In its ethnic stronghold of
Region Six, the PPP increased its
share of the vote by more than
five per cent.
But observers from the Carter
Centre were "deeply concerned
about the provocative rhetoric."
They condemned "any attempt
to sow fear and distrust among
Guyana s ethnic groups."
The media monitoring unit of
the Elections Commission said
an editorial in the state-owned
Guyana Chronicle was "political-
ly extremist and telegraphed a
pernicious and sinister intent to
create unnecessary fear, tension
The PPP also did well in
Amerindian communities of the
remote interior, where the power
of patronage is strong.
But after a full generation in
power, the party looked increas-
ingly arrogant. Accusations of
malpractice abounded on all
On the list of proposed MPs
were the relatives of the ruling
elite---the sons of the current
president and three former min-
isters; the daughters of the home
affairs minister, the cabinet sec-
retary and the presidential advis-
er; the sports minister s wife;
and the works minister s sister.
Afro-Guyanese APNU sup-
porters saw this election as a
chance to end what they saw as
racial dominance by the PPP.
In this highly charged atmos-
phere, turnout was almost 20
per cent higher than in 2011.
So, what happened? Another
spin of the racial wheel? Or a
break with the past?
Hope lies with the Alliance for
Change, the junior partner in the
new coalition, formed ten years
ago, and multi-racial in leader-
ship and outlook.
The coalition agreement gives
the influential post of prime
minister to the AFC s Moses
Nagamootoo. The party will have
40 per cent of the cabinet posts,
and 12 of the 33 coalition seats
in the National Assembly.
That s the upside. On the
downside, the PPP is claiming it
lost through fraud. On Thursday
evening---three days after the
close of polls---Ramotar still
refused to concede defeat. Wait-
ing in the wings meanwhile are
Guyana s powerful drug lords.
David Granger has won a nar-
row victory. But he has plenty
more battles to fight.
EARTHQUAKES, SCANDALS AND SMOKESCREENS
GUYANA: WON BY A WHISKER
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt May 17, 2015
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