Stranded abroad: a national shame

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

BY NOW many of you will have read harrowing accounts of Trinis stranded abroad. This column previously wrote on their struggles several months ago. One couldn’t have imagined back then that circumstances for many of them would remain unchanged by year’s end.

Three factors underpin this ongoing gyre of tragedy: 1. Government’s egregious mishandling of the exemption process and continued character assassination of stranded nationals. 2. Institutional incompetence and apathy leading to the scandalously botched management of the crisis. 3. Campaigns of hate waged by Trinis at home against Trinis abroad, fomented by misguided political allegiances.

The Government, at the outset, feverishly characterised those caught outside as irresponsible and stubborn. In early news conferences the Minister of Health looped references to Trini cruise ship passengers and their contribution to covid19 statistics. This pattern of vilification became more pronounced in time even as the plight of stranded citizens intensified.

Many speak of being emotionally broken by the experience. Less understood is the financial toll further compounding the psychological savagery of their ordeal. Several citizens exhausted their savings feeding and accommodating themselves long-term in a foreign country.

Worse still, every stage of the arduous mission to get home is financially draining – staggering phone bills, transportation costs, testing then retesting; it all adds up and you haven’t even booked your flight yet. National Security Minister Stuart Young referenced a CAL flight “repatriating” farmworkers from Canada. The State isn’t repatriating anyone. Returning nationals are finding themselves having to pay higher than average costs for tickets. When these citizens finally get home, many may be greeted by financial ruin. But so what, right? It’s their own fault.

Prime Minister Rowley, in one of those interminable televised sermons, spoke of “people coming and crying on de TV...,” a veiled reference to a woman stranded outside who posted a tear-filled video online chronicling her suffering. The Government deliberately demonised nationals abroad as cover-fire for tits incompetence, poor decision-making, and marked inaction. There is another looming consequence of this strategy – but more on that in a bit.

Ironically, the exemption granted to the Prime Minister’s daughter Sonel Rowley was a godsend for the stranded and branded. Up until that point, the media had long since moved on from their stories. The forgotten were left to chatter among themselves in Facebook groups and Whatsapp chats, largely ignored by the rest of the country.

Quite rightly, there were questions over the propriety of Sonel Rowley, who lives and works in New York, being granted an exemption ahead of those resident in Trinidad and short on resources to finance an extended stay abroad.

There were some disturbing reactions surrounding Sonel Rowley’s exemption – many Trinis posted online that if she did, in fact, benefit from special considerations, nothing is wrong with that. Really? What other special considerations are citizens willing to gift to politicians? Unexplained wealth? Rampant nepotism? Back-scratching kickbacks? How is it people don’t see the bestowal of privilege upon the leadership class as the road to perdition that it is?

Back to the Government’s gospel of disparagement against our own people – this was no fluke. In the classic vein of dog-whistle politics, the Government activated its orcs and sent them to attack anyone questioning the actions, omissions, and decisions of the State. In so doing, the Government is an active participant in the pitting of citizens against each other.

Party loyalists have in their ranks those practised in the dark art of sophistry, using online platforms to further divisions with pseudo-intellectual rationalisations for keeping citizens locked out. The Government has contributed, in no small measure, to widening pre-existing chasms, further fraying the social fabric and cementing animosities among our people that will endure long after the pandemic has waned.

Furthermore, in a society riven by a perpetual war of words among its people, there will be no intellectual energy left for the real challenges confronting our futures. How can we muster the brainpower needed to come up with solutions for economic stagnation, sputtering diversification, and foreign exchange drought if all our efforts are poured into political enmity – enmity which serves only one goal: diverting power to parasitic politicians.

When every last Trini has returned, society will wrestle with the consequences of a government having spared no effort salting the battlefield, creating a wasteland of resentment, trauma, and hurt. This is a national shame all of us must bear.


"Stranded abroad: a national shame"

More in this section