Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our Scorched Earth Police - the Peter O'Connor Commentary

In the early 1960’s when France was preparing to pull out of Algeria and return that country to its own people, the defiant French residents began a “scorched earth” programme. 

They set about destroying everything they could, mostly by bombings and burnings. This dog in the manger attitude was intended to leave nothing for the Algerians upon their return to Independence, and as the French returned to France.

So what are our reasons for our scorched earth policies? And where are we intending to go?

Driving out of the still lush upper reaches of the Arima Valley, over Calvary Hill in Arima, there should be a spectacular panoramic view of Trinidad, across the Caroni Plain, to the Central Range and Mount Tamana, and beyond, in the distance, the Southern Range—the Trinity Hills, for which our island was named. 

But this week, as you crested Calvary Hill, you looked out across a blackened and smoke-filled disaster almost too dreadful to describe.The noxious smoky haze drifted over the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary, and enveloped our Capital City in its deadly embrace. 
One of the many 'bush' fires that are common in T&T. Newsday Photo
As seen on the afternoon drive into Port of Spain, the sun hung like a fading orb in the smoke-blackened sky. The hills of the Northern Range were burning too, the lower ends of each once beautiful valley blackened and almost hidden in the smoke. 

And while this destruction is being wrought by us upon our land, the Caribbean Tourism Organization is holding its Annual Tourism Conference in Port of Spain. And the theme which is being promoted here is “Keeping the Right Balance:
Enhancing Destination Sustainability through Products, Partnerships, Profitability”. 

And we are trying to promote Trinidad and Tobago as an Eco-Tourism Destination! So what must they think of us, these delegates who have come here to discuss “Destination sustainability”? 

And as they choke and wheeze in the toxic haze, what will the visiting media suggest about coming to our country? Is there a niche called Disaster Tourism which we can exploit? Can we sell “Come to T&T and see ‘how to mash up the place’”? And what do we tell all these delegates—Come back in August, and see the flash flooding in the valleys? 

We really must hate this land, yes! The French scorched Algeria because they were being forced to give it back to the Algerians. Why are we burning our land? And when we have burned it all, what will we do, and where will we go?

Like noise, pollution, crime, the collapse of our infrastructure and historic buildings and the failure of our institutions, we have become accustomed to our land burning every year. 

A few people write about it, a few may complain, as they will do when the flash floods come, but no one will ever do anything to stop the degradation and desecration of our country, our history and our institutions. We simply do not care enough to ever do anything but complain and head for the next fete.

Do we understand that the best investment in flood and landslip mitigation is prevention, not clean up after the events. What is the cost of preventing the fires? What is the cost of putting them out when they start? 

Why do we pretend that prevention and extinguishing fires is impossible? Can the army not be sent to save our hills, and thus save our country? 

And make no mistake about it we are—literally-- talking about saving our country here. Can we not deploy the Bambi Buckets or other devices to fight the fires? Or is it that we simply refuse to understand the destruction we are allowing to be wrought on our children’s land?

I do not think we are angry at our land. I believe that we just hate it, without having a reason for this hatred. Most of us want to be somewhere else, like Miami, New York or Toronto, largely because we have been indoctrinated to believe that those places are better. 

But those places and the people there wish they could live in a land of warmth, and deep green forests, and sparkling streams and mysterious wetlands, all full of beautiful birds and flowers, with smiling people who care about each other and their country and institutions.

This is what we were, and we did not appreciate it, so we neglected every aspect of our heritage—natural, cultural, social, philosophical and spiritual—and have brought our country to this noxious, poisoned, littered and barren condition. But we all say we want to return to the life we once knew. So obviously it is time to lift ourselves to save our children’s heritage.

Put out the fires—on the hills and in your hearts, and embrace the opportunity we still have. Time is running out.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai