“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals.” When Mahatma Gandhi said those words many, many years ago I am certain he must have taken for granted that human beings and citizens would be treated better than the animals of a nation. It has been a shame, a disgrace, and an embarrassment, both locally and internationally, the manner in which our citizens have been treated. For those who wished to have returned home and have been blocked from doing so by the refusal to be granted permission as an exemption to return to their homes.
Many are now asking, what are the criteria that have been used to allow some to enter and to deny others? I think it is about time that we have greater clarity as to the process and the factors which allow our minister of national security to determine who shall be allowed into their homes and who shall be abandoned and forgotten outside of our shores.
As I try to forget the boasts of 1000 available beds, now diminished dramatically, and whilst we appreciate that you cannot undo the incompetence and uncaring of the past when those beds were not used, what do we do into the future?
As I now try very hard to forget the emptiness of those places that were made available that we, the citizens, paid for that were kept empty; I cannot forget Takeisha in the BVI who lost her three-month-old fetus. Aborted in a foreign land without family or friends because of the stress that was put upon her. Indeed, to have heard that she had to be pulled away from the ocean as she attempted in her desperation and in the moment of anguish to walk to Trinidad.
I cannot forget Krishna in India who would have seen friends and colleagues being permitted to leave but she was not granted that opportunity.
I cannot get out of my mind Roshan and his elderly and ailing mother, he too in England having been struck with cancer and refused entry into our nation.
I cannot forget Rasheeda in California USA, who faced not just the problems of no resources but her visa being expired.
I cannot forget all those citizens who have reached out to me from all corners of the globe and who made efforts to reach out to our ministry, our high commissions and embassies and were met either with no response or totally helpless responses.
We are hearing now, not the 200,000 or 300,000 who would have ‘bombarded’ our shores, but many thousands less, an estimate of maybe 7,000; we have never heard the actual number or how they came about those numbers. But assuming there are 7000, it pains me as a citizen today to hear now that we do not have the capacity.
I am reminded that not long ago $50 million was put to the well-needed help to Tobago to upgrade hotel facilities. Can we not as part of that arrangement ensure that the proper protocols are put in place and the proper facilities are created so that our citizens can return and use those hotel rooms that are now empty as quarantine areas? Is that too difficult? Is that beyond our comprehension to do?
There are so many other places in Trinidad and Tobago empty. We have Cascadia, of course, that has been qualified to be used and persons pay for that privately to be quarantined there. But what about those who cannot afford, first of all, to obtain flights to come home? What about those who had the awful knowing pain of countries providing free flights to their citizens to return and expatriate their citizens back to their homes; when flights were offered free of charge to our citizens to Trinidad or the Caribbean but the exemptions were refused? What do we make of all of this? There will be an inquiry in the future where the truth shall be made known.
Our minister has taken a position that our citizens are the enemy of the State. I could not disagree more; they are our brothers and sisters. For all our citizens who believe that locking them out will prevent a surge of COVID-19 cases in Trinidad and Tobago, I want to remind you, that but for by the grace of God go I, what if it was your family; your brother, sister, father or mother?
What of those cases where parents are old and dying and their children are not permitted to come and see them before their last breath. Is that humanity? Is that the Trinidad and Tobago that we know and grew up in and love and want to bequeath to our children? Is that what we are? Is this what we have become? Heartless and soulless people, without compassion even when there are methods and capacities to resolve these awful circumstances?
What about those mothers who have given birth to children outside Trinidad and Tobago and I know of two particular cases where postpartum depression has set in. They are suicidal. There is potential for murder and suicide in those persons. These are not games. These are serious mental illnesses brought on by the stress and trauma of not being able to come to their homes to become connected with their children, their families.
What of the Azars’ who finally, thank God, were given the exemptions to have returned and who had prepared their hotel location to facilitate themselves and other colleagues free of charge but were refused, even though to my understanding, the Tobago House of Assembly had approved their facilities. Why all of this?
How do we approach it? Throw our hands up in the air and say, “Oh, we do not have the capacity” when we see on a daily basis the millions of dollars that are squandered in all sorts of ways? No, Trinidad and Tobago it is either we are a people of love and compassion or we have become robotic, uncaring, and unkind and therefore our future is of rigid coldness and heartlessness. We can fix this if there is the will to do it. We have the capacity to do it.
I look to Barbados once again who has opened their borders because their economy is certainly dependent upon the flow of visitors. If it is, as the minister of national security indicated, “do not come to the islands as a launching pad to come here”, as a threat then what in the world are we talking about? If it is that you do not wish our citizens to come into our shores because you are so mortally frozen in fear, then what do you do? Do you leave them to perish where they are or do we help?
Prime minister, I know that you must deal with the situation. Could I suggest then, two things? One, that as I referenced before, the hotel rooms that we, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, are paying for to help upgrade those hotels, to make them available as quarantine locations for our citizens. That in Trinidad we locate more such facilities and it is always open and has always been open to us to allow persons to home quarantine. They can come in, do their checks, and if there are no symptoms, they are allowed to home quarantine with the necessary security protocols. But I know many are afraid of that, so as an alternative, I say State-quarantine, yes. But expand the capacity to do so.
Two, if you are to believe that our citizens should not return to our shores, why then could we not make an arrangement for those who can get their way to Barbados, as one example, let them go there. Could we not have a government to government arrangement where we can have subsidized hotel facilities there to allow them to quarantine with a proper protocol so that when their quarantine is finished then there is no reason or excuse for not allowing them to come to Trinidad and Tobago which is a 45-minute flight away?
Could we not have a more humane approach and find solutions rather than to create obstacles?
For all of the fear-mongering, this government stumbled when the most significant thing and the simplest of issues of making the wearing masks in public mandatory, they refused to do that. The science is showing now that this is the single most important factor to prevent or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 apart from washing hands and social-distancing.
I am reminded of the words of a masked superhero the Batman that, “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain”.
Member of Parliament, St Augustine
Former Minister for Legal Affairs