OUTRIGHT PROHIBITION of American personnel from travelling to certain areas of Port of Spain represents a considerable escalation of measures relating to the state of affairs here. Terrorism is no longer merely a buzzword. It is real and it is here.
Whereas previous guidance issued by the US Embassy advised travellers to exercise discretion in the wake of a Carnival operation by Trinidad and Tobago law enforcement, Thursday’s updated travel advisory was unequivocal in its language. Not only is downtown Port of Spain off limits after dark for US personnel, but so too are beaches. The advisory also delineated an extremely wide range of locations for which people should be vigilant about terrorist activity.
Our alarum is not to alarm, but all of this amounts to a stark warning indicating what this country has become in the eyes of the world. It comes after reported collaboration between officials of the US, UK, Canada and Australia. And it demands action on the part of Government to sensitise our population to this reality and to devise protocols which can school them on what to do in the event of an attack, and even their role in forestalling any such attack.
A major public education programme should now be considered, taking cues from countries whose norms terrorism has already disrupted, reshaping their planning on how to keep their citizens safe and how to engage them in the process. It is useless at this point to quibble over the nature of the reported threat to Carnival activities a couple weeks ago. Whatever one’s views on that matter, the national security apparatus has sent a clear message of real risk. And diplomatic officials are now issuing dire warnings which must be taken seriously. The missing link remains how to bring our population on board.
At the same time, TT has a long history of peace and stability. Our nation’s beauty and the warmth of its people were once hallmarks of our society. Many waking up today to these advisories will not recognise the depiction of our nation being presented.
In this regard, there is a clear disconnect between the various pockets of our complex and multi-cultural society. Alien-sounding notions of terrorism and violence are clearly concepts not unfamiliar to a small minority of people who would seek to spoil things for all of us. The time for believing that God is a Trini and he will ensure it can’t happen here is long past. Once again, law enforcement has a lot of work to do if we are to rid ourselves of this large scar on our reputation. But all of this is being played out when we are still struggling to appoint a Police Commissioner. When will we get this right? When will we get a handle on putting things that are required to return us to safety?
In a way, these advisories, which will damage our international reputation considerably, provide opportunities for us as a society to take stock. Government must not be afraid to expose whatever is happening here. And civil society must be prepared to address it.