Confusion. This means “the result of confusing; a confused state; embarrassment; disorder.” (Concise Oxford). From what the country has seen and heard so far, the situation with the increasing numbers of Venezuelan refugees coming here is more than just confusion. It has become a human tragedy, far from what Minister Fitzgerald Hinds hopefully described as “running smoothly.” Men, women and children – hungry-looking, tired and sad; hundreds lining up hours for a registration process that has obviously overwhelmed immigration and security authorities. These dehumanising conditions come nowhere near Sharlene Flores’ joy-filled parang song Spanish Confusion:
“So everything was happy and in order,
Everybody enjoying themselves,
You could see they put their worries on the shelf,
Gimme rum, gimme whiskey, gimme something to eat.
Then sing a parang song, let me move my feet.”
The refugee situation was confusion all around, especially with Venezuelan-filled boats still streaming to the southwest and eastern coastlines. "Where is the Defence Force?" asked Synergy’s Stephan Reis. "How much more can we now take? Fire the Coast Guard head," he declared in his morning show.
Scrambling for sandwiches, bottled water and sitting space, these distressed people make you wonder whether Venezuela is so bad for them to come and suffer so in TT.
The Catholic compassion for the refugees is mercifully noted. So too is the humanitarian regard for treating them with dignity. But from what is seen so far, local institutional and manpower challenges have unfortunately exposed these refugees to beggarly status, notwithstanding pleadings from UN agencies. When will this tragedy end?
The confusion is not only about who is “legal” or not. And what may happen after the registration closes as National Security Minister Stuart Young warned?
Arithmetic confusion too. Confusion began with the Central Bank claiming “50,000 refugees costing $260,000 yearly.”
“What? Not so at all, very unfortunate statement, not scientific,” challenged the indomitable Finance Minister Colm Imbert. Last month, Imbert claimed figures from the Immigration Division indicated, “4,842 arriving so far this year.”
Later, Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews explained the figure is nowhere close to “40,000 as estimated by the UN Refugees Agency.” Our estimate is closer to 20,000, she added. Cedros councillor Shankar Teelucksingh estimated the number of Venezuelan refugees “as close to 100,000.” Even Synergy’s talk show rebel Saieed Ali claimed, “100,000 to 200,000 here already, with more coming in.” Inshan Ishmael (IBN TV) joined in too. CNC3 TV showed how chaotic the line-ups were at 5 am. Spanish confusion. Who will help provide a reasonable number?
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi claimed the refugees have contributed to “a spike” in the crime rate. Not so, said Mr Young. But compassion and human dignity notwithstanding, any experienced urban or population planner would be concerned. Several commentators and talk show voices say if this sudden influx of asset-starved refugees is not properly managed, several problems will arise, aggravating those already locally existing – housing, crime and drugs, schooling, health care – with drifts into casinos and night clubs. Domestic break-ups too.
However, some say the jury is still out. So will this become a socio-economic disaster or an opportunity for increased productivity and service industry growth accompanied by Sharlene Flores’ happier Spanish Confusion?
During the past two weeks, ground-level talk in social media particularly was alert and alive. I provide seven:
1.When queried by an American if Trinidad is in Venezuela, the Trini said, no, Venezuela is now in Trinidad.
2. Referring to behaviour in Parliament, letter-writer Brian Ellis Plummer said political power is like sex, intoxicating, never enough, always wanting more.
3. Yes, Mr Al-Rawi, tell the country which UNC member went to you for more pension, since this pension increase is likely to be a hot campaign issue.
4. Woman with eight young children and pregnant begging for house. Okay, but where is the father or fathers to help?
5. Several new laws shift the burden of proof from police to citizens but as Senator Anthony Vieira and some judges warn, beware of police who frame, set up innocent citizens.
6. The Debbie Jacob-driven debate between inmates and prison officers is a commendable initiative.
7. Why is Education Minister Garcia taking so long to complete the Ramai Trace Hindu School? Doubt he is spiting Sat and Roodal.