Race comes to the fore again in Trinidad
BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 11/23/2011, 11:23 a.m.
Authorities in multiracial Trinidad are investigating allegations by several parents and teachers that a school in the south Caribbean island is refusing to enroll children of African origin because it exists mainly for the offspring of Hindus.
At heart of the issue is a boiling feud between some teachers, an umbrella Hindu representative organization that has been accused of racist behavior in the past and the PTA with teachers being told that they are not upholding proper Hindu principles by enrolling children from outside the faith. Those not complying have allegedly been urged to resign.
Anxious to contain a row in an island where authorities have imposed a state of emergency to allegedly contain runaway gangster crime and drug trafficking, among other ills, Hindu Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said in the past week that authorities will probe the issue to determine if true and if so, it is "totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
The row has been raised in the island's 41-seat parliament after Afro legislator Patricia McIntosh produced a document from the head of the island's teaching service commission with instructions from the umbrella Maha Sabha organization telling them not to accept and enroll Black children.
Race is always near to the surface of life in Trinidad, the most southerly of the Caribbean island chain, and in neighboring Guyana, where Indians were brought in by the British trans-Atlantic system to replace freed Black slaves from sugar and other plantations. Academics say that better treatment meted out by the British to the Indians after emancipation led to the start of low-level hostility between the two main groups that continues to this day and is exacerbated by which political party runs the country at any particular time and how it manages such relations during its term in office.
The governing multiparty People's Partnership is led by the Indo-dominated United National Congress (UNC) of Persad-Bissessar.
Several cabinet ministers and opposition figures have jumped on the issue in recent days. Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar has urged for flaring tempers to be lowered in the interest of the nation, saying the island of 1.3 million can hardly afford to destroy itself via this route.
"We believe that this nation is far too small to be divided along any lines, whether geographical, whether economic, social and certainly along racial lines. But there are agents of mischief in our society who will take things out of context, who will use race to divide our people to gain some mileage or some advantage without appreciating that in a very small nation like ours that race, when that is used as a weapon, that no one wins," he said.
Trinidad along with sister island Tobago supplies much of the natural gas needs of Eastern American seaboard states and has very close relations with the US. It is just seven miles from South America's coastline with Venezuela and is forced to spend millions to secure its borders from drug traffickers and drug smugglers.
The findings of the investigation are expected to be made known in the coming days.