Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 19th 2016 Contents A24 commentary
guardian.co.tt Monday, December 19, 2016
The Dragon gas field deal
which would see T&T fi-
nance a gas pipeline from Vene-
zuela to supply T&T's struggling
energy sector is unethical, an-
ti-science, politically risky and
shows a lack of planning towards
the post-fossil fuel economy.
The deal trades gas for human
rights. It gives recognition to an
increasingly internationally iso-
lated, authoritarian leader whose
own democratically elected Na-
tional Assembly accuses him of
having staged a coup. There is the
likelihood that the National As-
sembly will not ratify the agree-
ment and that a post-Maduro
government will disown it.
Dragon disregards the climate
science that tells us that we must
keep all untapped fossil fuel re-
serves in the ground if we are to
avert cataclysmic climate change.
Far from being a solution for
economic problems, the Dragon
deal is a continuation of the single
commodity fossil fuel economy,
the end of which has already been
agreed to by world leaders who
want to combat climate change.
T&T is a Small Island Develop-
ing State, at increased risk of cli-
mate change. Among the threats
are sea level rise, drought and
extreme weather. These events
can lead to loss of property and
livelihoods, more poverty and
Extracting more fossil fuels,
while being aware of climate
science, is a denial of the human
rights of Trinidadians and To-
bagonians, whose lives will be
impaired by this agreement.
The lawsuits that the tobacco
industry has suffered as a result
of its unethical policies and dan-
gerous products should also be
directed at leaders who knowingly
put their citizens' lives and live-
lihoods at risk by what can now
be considered climate crimes.
Who knows, there may one day
be an International Climate Court
at which leaders will be asked:
"What did you know, and how did
To be on the right side of his-
tory, we must follow one of our
moral leaders, Archbishop Des-
mond Tutu. Tutu has called for
an anti-apartheid style boycott of
the fossil fuel industry. This in-
cludes all investments in fossil fu-
els, rejection of sponsorships paid
for by fossil fuel and even social
events. Dancing with a dictator to
celebrate more fossil fuels to kill
the earth, like Dr Rowley did with
President Maduro at the signing
of the Dragon deal in Caracas,
would not get the Archbishop's
nod of approval.
In recent climate news,
shrinking glaciers have caused a
state-of-emergency drought in
Bolivia; a 1,000 ft thick block of
ice the size of Trinidad is snapping
off of Antarctica; and Trinidad's
North East suffered a devastating
mini-storm that left rural com-
munities in Matelot and Madamas
cut off and caused millions of dol-
lars of infrastructural damage.
It is difficult to say what the
role of climate change was in that
storm but it was exactly the kind
of extreme weather event that
scientists warn will become more
The economy is spiralling out
of control, at the last count it had
nosedived---eight per cent GDP,
but who knows how much it is
today? Part of T&T's governance
crisis is that accurate data is hard
to come by. Fact is that few coun-
tries enter an eight per cent crash
and come out of it without some-
thing breaking. It is understood
that the PM and his cabinet are
panicked about a moment that we
have known would come for dec-
ades, but to get out of this hole, it
is time to stop digging.
The Dragon deal is an act of
economic desperation. Econom-
ics and the environment often
go hand in hand, and in this case
science, ethics and respect for
democracy as well. Let's be clear:
T&T needs economic reforms.
Just like Eastern Europe needed
reforms after communism, so do
we need them too.
The term diversification is al-
ways used but diversification will
fail without reform. The State
dominates the economy, with
bloated ministries and a multi-
tude of state companies run by
4,000 or so politically appointed
"state board members," often with
no qualification other than a party
Government uses its resourc-
es to compete directly with the
private sector for employees and
resources. It wastes tax payers
money on subsidies that have
negative returns. T&T's economy
is strangled by government while
benefiting little from governance.
Climate change is the biggest
threat on the horizon. T&T must
prosper to have the resources to
adapt and mitigate the climate
events we know will happen.
Prosperity does not depend on
science-defying gas deals with
It depends on unleashing our
people's innovativeness in a liber-
alised economy, with safeguards
for the environment, and a capa-
ble public service that serves the
needs of the people, rather than
act as a voter bank.
Who represented me last
Our Prime Minister thinks
he got a mandate from local
government elections to bring
government closer to the people.
That memo hasn't reached staff
in his own office. Charged with
assembling representation from
affected communities for a re-
constituted National Aids Co-or-
dinating Committee (NACC),
they received strident criticism
from some community advocates.
I was one.
Instead of listening, they dug
in their heels, responding to the
"jook" by using the power of the
Office in which they serve to have
two advocates raising those con-
cerns dragged out of Tuesday's
NACC launch. Just before every-
one stood up, in ties and smart
red dresses and red-ribbon pins,
and sang "Here every creed and
race find an equal place."
They didn't bother to tell the
Minister of State.
"Government wants us eating
hors d'œuvres, not making pol-
icy" said the leaflet we politely
handed out before the event, ask-
ing attendees to help us strength-
en communities' voices on the
I'd just laughed and greeted UN
Special Envoy Eddie Greene and
Health Minister Terrence Dey-
alsingh, handing each the paper.
Next thing, I was being hauled
from the room. It wasn't a trigger
response. Hotel workers made
clear they had prior directives
from event organisers to do so.
One snatched the leaflets out my
colleague's hand. Men shoved her
and me through the building's
corridors and lobby and out the
entrance, threatening to call po-
Did I say I'd received an invita-
tion to the event? Coat-of-arms
and all. And a reminder call.
Government got very close to
Who knows what banning and
blacklisting will now follow?
I'm unwounded. But what has
been the damage to the National
Aids Co-ordinating Committee?
Along with their instruments
of appointment, NACC members
were delivered a powerful visual
lesson by the Prime Minister's
office---that it has the power
to throw out people who speak
up. That's the reason slaves are
whipped in public.
Most painful was my NACC
colleagues' silence. Everyone
stood by as I was being thrown
Not one called to see how I was.
Was that the representation I
was assured I and others in vul-
nerable communities already
have on the body? Some members
have spoken out for us in the past.
But can we rely they'll have our
backs and stand up to Govern-
ment when it matters. On Tues-
day, they either didn't have the
will, or the power, to protect me.
Pastor Niemöller's terse poem
recalls people's repeated silence
in Nazi Germany, until their
group was the one they came
for---and there was no one left to
speak out. Though they came for
me last week, it wasn't for the gas
But the incident illustrates a
huge problem in this tiny, barely
postcolonial country: our inse-
cure obsession with authority. It
drives communities away from
We forget it is what authorised
colonialism's violations. And
authority exists nowhere where it
matters. Alongside breathtaking
violence and corruption, so much
of our lives is spent navigating
pointless rules, following archaic
protocols, and showing defer-
We need sharper tools for gov-
ernance than authority.
One person did reach out. The
Minister of State assured me she
hadn't had me ejected.
I'm encouraged I could still
get close to government. People
get HIV in the first place because
we've been thrown out and dis-
regarded. Often with authority.
Government workers' authoritar-
ian response to activism Tuesday
has profoundly undone what they
were charged to do in constitut-
ing a NACC.
I want to fix the mess they've
Four simple steps: First, assur-
ances that expression of opinion
and advocacy are encouraged
from civil society NACC mem-
I'm not trying to jeopardise an-
ybody's Cabinet-committee sti-
pend. But we have to expand the
NACC. Modestly. Five advocacy
seats for specific key populations.
Not their service providers.
Folks I've asked suggest eight:
Trans women. Men who have sex
with men. Young people born
or living with HIV. Sex workers.
People who've used drugs. People
with disabilities. And two Min-
ister Deyalsingh acknowledged:
young women and heterosexual
men over 50.
Finally, the NACC staff director
has to be a technical expert, not a
lifelong government bureaucrat.
And government and civil society
must co-chair it.
HIV is not a ribbon thing for
me. Half my generation is dead; I
live with an anger and loneliness.
And 35 years into this epidemic,
I'm simply exhausted that au-
thorities' thinking is so far behind
the curve, and so many other
The day before the NACC,
PEPFAR (the US's $5.2b global
HIV programme) launched its
local Linkages initiative. They're
enrolling and training sex work-
ers, trans women and gay men
as service providers to ourselves.
So much of what the red-dress-
es-and-ribbons folks are doing
just isn't making a dent. We test
mainly HIV-negative people.
Those with HIV aren't getting
into treatment. They remain in-
fectious---why new people can
The day following the launch,
PAHO's new director---from
role in preventing LGBT health-
You simply can't end Aids
without jamettes. If Government
can't trust noisy people to be part
of nation-building, and can only
invite respectability to the table,
the NACC will produce minutes,
draft plans, collect stipends and
never put itself out of business.
DRAGON GAS DEAL IS UNETHICAL, ANTI-SCIENCE
One nation many bodies
THEY CAME FOR ME LAST WEEK
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