Friday, April 12, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: T&T’s execution horror


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IF IT is of any comfort to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, they should be aware at this time of national mourning over the shocking execution early Sunday morning of an outstanding and fearless lawyer, Dana Seetahal, that their agony is widely shared across the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) where citizens of all races and class are coping uneasily with a mindless criminal epidemic.
This epidemic has methodically taken root over the years by an evolving mix of myopic opportunistic party politicking and complicity by varying sectors – local and foreign – in drugs, arms and human trafficking which have seriously scarred the Caribbean landscape with depressing data from regional and international institutions and agencies.   
Sadly, the spreading criminality has occasionally been aided and abetted by corrupt elements within the security forces and some state agencies – keepers of the gate against the criminal underworld. This has resulted, over recent years, in murders being counted in the hundreds annually for countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, with Guyana following closely among the “worse trio”. But no Caricom partner state has escaped being affected by the criminal epidemic.
In comparative terms, the criminal blood-letting that’s reputedly aided and abetted by extra-regional corporate entities, could well give false comfort to some CARICOM states – Barbados, for instance – when bracketed alongside the “worse trio”.
The harsh reality is that those involved in the sickening sex crimes, spiralling cases in human and drug trafficking, and gun-running have no respect for territorial and legal boundaries or cultural norms.  
Now, while the Caribbean Development Bank is also reflecting on reports, like the World Bank, on the troubling statistics relating to crime and violence in the region, has come the horrors of the execution of Seetahal – the 58-year-old iconic attorney of Trinidad and Tobago’s criminal justice system.
On reflection, it was my good fortune to have had some media-related encounters/socialising with her during visits there. In addition to being highly respected by her peers, the senior counsel, widely admired for her profesional competence, across political parties, had sustained a keen interest in the media – beyond being a columnist first for the Trinidad Guardian and up to the time of her assassination, the Trinidad Express.
Consistent with a habit of courageously facing up to the challenges of her legal profession and also revealing awareness of the social functions of the news media, her last Express column was to reflect those very qualities on the night she was ruthlessly shot to death by two gunmen with five bullets, two to her head and one to the chest, while driving to her home in Woodbrooke.
Viewed as an ally of Press freedom and an eloquent defender of the independence of the judicial system, Seetahal’s last column was an open challenge to a recent controversial letter by resigned Solicitor General, Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, to explain “what exactly” she wanted the Attorney General (Anand Ramlogan) to “investigate” in relation to reported alleged questionable practices between lawyers acting for the state and prison officers.
It is of relevance to note that following a decision by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to forward the ex-Solicitor General’s letter to the attorney general, she also advised him to invite the Prison Officers Association (POA), among other stakeholders, to address the issue of the claimed questionable practices.
However, the POA, surprisingly, lost no time in announcing its refusal to meet with the attorney general on the issue. Opposition leader of the People’s National Movement, Keith Rowley, thought it necessary to move with alacrity in hailing their response, consistent with his own position in favour of an independent probe.
Against the backdrop of the controversy involving correspondence between the ex-Solicitor General and the prime minister and, relatedly, the POA and the attorney general, speculation has emerged about the hired guns in the execution of Seetahal. It has also extended to a current murder trial (the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman case) in which the slain senior counsel was one of the lead prosecutors.
With the government adding TT$2.5 million to an earlier Crime Stoppers $1 million award for any information leading to the arrest, trial and conviction of Seetahal’s executioners, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams has made an appeal for help: “Let us work together as one country . . . .”
Given the nature of the criminal networks, nationally, regionally and internationally, all governments of CARICOM would be advised to have their respective security services work as closely as possible to help Trinidad and Tobago bring to justice the killers of Dana Seetahal.   
• Rickey Singh is a noted Carribean journalist.


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