The idea that we should cancel Carnival is one that crops up every year but is routinely dismissed. The soca group Ultimate Rejects in their hit number last year insisted: the economy could fall down, we jamming still. However, with what has been happening to the economy this year, have we finally come to a point where the cancellation of the jammin’ is a possibility we must admit?
There are strong arguments that we should be open to cancellation. Firstly, the State’s revenue streams are such that it cannot afford to provide subventions at the level to which stakeholders have become accustomed. Disbursals have been slashed by a third. Simply put, we cannot afford the festival.
Secondly, it is not only the State that cannot afford it, but also the revellers. The calypso tents are reporting bad turnouts, and some fete promoters report declines in gate receipts. Mas men have reported difficulties in making ends meet. Some have resorted to lines of credit from understanding suppliers and service providers.
Thirdly, the continued high levels of crime — including a daylight shooting in the heart of Port of Spain last week — also provides yet another reason to consider whether Carnival should be held. Has the time come for us as a society to focus all of our State resources and attention to controlling the crime problem? While we fete, our neighbour Jamaica has taken the decision to have a limited state of emergency after a series of murders near its international airport. We have already been down that road before with little to show for it. But at a time when the threat to the public posed by crime continues, the cultural and cathartic benefits of the season may no longer outweigh the need for focus.
Fourthly, there are signs that the annual cycle of Carnival is simply not working. While Carnival dates are known years in advance, year after year there are complaints about the length of the season. Each year we seem to start from scratch. And in the case of the new board of the National Carnival Bands Association, we do so months shy of the festival. Perhaps we need to have Carnival every two years?
The last time Carnival was cancelled was World War II. The festival was postponed once in 1972 due to polio, and the lengthy state of emergency in 1970 placed a question mark over the event. The festival was almost cancelled in 2014 because of the risk posed by Ebola.
The horse may have already bolted the stable door for this year. But it is time we open our minds to the possibility that there will come a future moment when the festival will have to be cancelled.