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December 28, 2005 - Volume 1, No. 5

THE LAST INSTITUTION ON THE HILL:
THE DESPERADOES STEEL ORCHESTRA


“Laventille here we come….” Singing Sandra

As we celebrate the life and contributions of the steelband arranger extraordinaire, Clive Bradley, who passed away on November 26, 2005, it is important to understand the community and the steelband institution to which he gave most of his arranging talents. Clive, who was not born in Laventille and was certainly middle class and college educated, famously led the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra to six of its 10 Panorama championships from 1970 to 2000.  It is ironic that he chose to live in Laventille where he died. This once livable community in the Peoples’ National Movement (PNM) heartland (over 99% support PNM) is facing its most important life and death challenges since the country received its Independence from England in 1962. It has lost the tools for repairing the fabric to hold the community together. Its sons and daughters are under daily siege as they face death and unemployment while their lives are sucked from them.

Today, Laventille is a community in decline. Some would say it is dead. How did a community go from being a livable and productive place to becoming a killing field where its residents live in daily fear of facing death? How did a community become a place where no one dares to venture into because all semblance of civility seems to have broken down? How did a community that gave the world one of its most cherished musical institutions Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, become a place where the future seems to be non-existent? Finally, how did a nation of over one million citizens and so much oil wealth and natural resources to provide every citizen a comfortable life style, find it convenient to neglect its most vulnerable citizens? Let’s check the records.

Laventille, or as the residents affectionately call it Laventy to distinguish it from the other Laventille, is the birth place of the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra. From the inception of the steelband movement the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra played an important role in inspiring and motivating the people of Laventille to develop pride in their community. Desperadoes was formed from the old ‘Spike Jones” steelband and the “Dead End Kids” which the late Rudolph Charles led in the 1950s and the Serenaders Steelband. It was from there that several young African men, against all odds, developed and created a steelband institution that is a model of steelbandship in Trinbago. Ancil Anthony Neil in his short book (the only one so far to write about Laventille) on Laventille stated: “The steelband was born out of the pent up energies of the Laventille youth, crying for a place in the sun, in a community teeming with talent. The people, the sons and daughters of former slaves, said to be free, yet caught up in a vicious fight for freedom and survival. A people living in poverty, frustration and oppression.” “Voices from the Hills” (1987) by sociologist Ancil Anthony Neil.

The sounds of the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra has dominated the national steelband competition Panorama since the competition began in 1963 winning their first Panorama championship in 1966 with the calypso “Melda” arranged by Beverly Griffith. Since 1963, they have entered every Panorama and hold the distinction of winning the nation’s Panorama championship in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000 namely, 1966 under arranger Beverly Griffith, 1970, 1976, 1977, 1983, 1999 and 2000 under arranger Clive Bradley and 1991 and 1994 under arranger Robert Greenidge. Also, they won the nation’s bi-annual classical music festival championship three times in a row and beat all contenders in the Pan in the 21st Century competition in 2005 with a Clive Bradley arrangement of John Legend’s ‘Ordinary People’. While the steelpan is the only instrument created in the 20th century many would consider the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra to be the greatest steel band of the 20th century. Others would say that Clive Bradley, the band’s now deceased arranger, is the greatest steelpan arranger of the 20th century as greatness has tied together these two musical stalwarts. And, as Desperadoes rose in the steelband world so too did the aims and aspirations of the people of Laventille. In their struggle to eliminate the poverty that permeated the community, the steel orchestra has played an intrinsic role in that struggle. As Neil noted correctly, “The steelband, without doubt, was the major catalyst for the social and economic changes that relieved most of the social ills of the people in the Laventille community.” “Voices

The pride of Laventille has always been its steelband, the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, who, with its late leader Rudolph Charles, gave the community its place in a society that has scorned and neglected its people, especially in a time of economic boom beginning in the 1980s. The dignity of a people can be seen in its institutions. The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra is the last and only institution that the Laventille community has retained that it can call its own. Today, in spite of the total breakdown of the community, it is the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra that still shines as a beacon of hope for the community. It is the last institution on the Hill. But the present Laventille betrays the old Laventille where there was little violence and not the sort of mayhem we see today. The community that gave birth to the nation’s greatest musical institution is locked down as the crime and murder rate soars to proportions that it never saw before. Its young men and women are dying and no one is coming to its aid as it cries out for security for its residents from the murder machine that takes away its young. It seems that every one has abandoned the Laventille community. The authorities responsible for its safety keep promising safety but instead it offers neglect and scorn as others shy away from the community. No one dares to enter its domain. Their government, the PNM, has forgotten them and the Prime Minister hopes that the murder rate will decrease if the gangs kill enough of themselves. Their political representative offers them prayers to solve the murder rate. Some even blame them for not assisting the police in their crime fighting efforts accusing them of supporting those who are against ‘us’. What’s to be done?

From 1956 through 1980, Laventille was a community of mixed classes. It was mainly middle class, working class and poor. And, the mix provided a safety net that protected its young members from the avenues of crime and banditry that exists today. The safety net was the role models that permitted choice to the young men and women who had ambition to seek higher heights in their lives. That was a time when older people protected younger people from whatever dangers abound in the community. It was also a time when the community was safe enough for the Catholic Church to hold its Fatima annual devotions at the Laventille church. For a few days every year Catholics would travel up the hill to Laventille to honor one of their most sacred icons, the Virgin Mary. Among the devotees who traveled there were young girls and boys who attended the nation’s prestigious schools, lived in what was considered ‘decent’ neighborhoods and came from the local Chinese, White and Arab ‘respectable’ families. Yet, they traveled to Laventille without fear for their safety. There were never any reports of assaults, harassment, murders or rapes committed against any of those Catholic patrons. Today, no one living outside Laventille would venture to travel there. In the 1960s, a Catholic social organization called Servol attempted to bring about social and economic changes in Laventille but could get sufficient and necessary help from the government and the business community. Indeed, reflecting on this nexus Neil commented: “The steelband and Servol have brought about social and economic changes in all areas of the Laventille community. However, these social and economic changes have not closed the “gap” between the establishment and the people.” “Voices

From the beginning the odds were against the Laventille community. Neil gives a historical point of origin for those odds when he stated: “In 1814, the Laventille area was made a ghetto by the ruling class and has remained one.” “Voices” Since that time the area has suffered from poverty, unemployment, poor housing, violence and social stigma. Again, Neil writes: “The people of Laventille inherited a culture of poverty, familiar to all people from lower class stratas in a rapidly changing society.” “Voices” They have been called hooligans and illiterate and were rejected by the ruling and elite classes in Trinbago who ostracized them from the Trinbagonian society. Set against those harsh conditions, the people of Laventille persevered by not giving in to the low expectations from others. The forces of discrimination, neglect and revenge led to the destruction of a community that refused to surrender. While other sections of Trinbago society benefited tremendously from the old PNM and the new one the people of Laventille received tokens and a dependency culture from a government that was supposed to look after its constituency. One of the many hallmarks of good government is the amount of safety it provides to all its citizens but particularly the safety it provides to its most vulnerable citizens. The PNM government failed Laventille in that respect. Neil writes: “The people in the Laventille community, in their efforts to satisfy their needs, found themselves oppressed and neglected by the political regime in power.” “Voices

In spite of those odds, the forces could not prevent Laventille from giving birth to the most formidable steelband institution in Trinbago and the world. This band called Desperadoes stemmed from the bowels of one of the poorest and neglected areas of Trinbago. Its rise is one of history’s miracles in the annals of the Trinbago steelband movement. Not for lack of assistance from the other parts of the country did Desperadoes persevere in their attempts to overcome the fatalism that was their lot from the beginning. When they chose the name “Desperadoes” for their steelband they were sending a message to the society that they would fight against the odds placed on them by the inequalities of Trinbago’s society. Event though today Trinbago is a nation with vast oil and natural gas wealth, nevertheless, Laventille remains one of its poorest neighborhoods.

Mr. Neil described it best when he said that “This new sound in music, originating from this underprivileged, poverty-stricken community, was the signal of hope for the unemployed, destitute and stigmatized population.” “Voices” Flashing his credentials as a Laventillian, Mr. Neil said:  “As a member of this community who had experienced the full impact of the changes that took place, I observed that the social ills in the community were completely ignored by the Government in power [PNM].” “Voices” To date, Mr. Neil’s book is the only writing that attempted to explain the Laventille community and Desperadoes Steel Orchestra and their relationship to the Trinbagonian society. Neil’s observations caused him to conclude: “The poverty that existed in Laventille resulted from the political and economic neglect of the government,” leading him to conclude that: “In the Laventille community poverty has remained a permanent feature.”  “Voices” The sign of progress in any society is how those at the bottom fare under massive wealthy conditions in the society. The fact that Trinbago inherited massive wealth from its oil reserves and natural gas did nothing to improve the conditions in Laventille. Instead, conditions worsened.

Laventille has always been a predominately African community. History tells us that it was peopled by slaves brought by the European slave holders from the Mandingo and Yoruba nations of Africa. From that African tradition they assembled a committee of Elders to handle the different problems that the residents faced on a daily basis. Most of the people who were born in Laventille usually lived and died there. Families were tight knit. The community, known as “The Hill” was able to provide skills like tailoring, carpentry, masonry, barbering, shoe-making, taxi driving and playing the steelpan to the many youths in the area. There was also a very good sports team called ‘Brazil’ in the community. From the artisans and local shops, the community was able to provide a few jobs for its young people. Laventille was known as a tightly closed community. Some of the residents from Laventille only came to Port of Spain to shop and play mas on carnival day because the area provided a sense of security and sufficiency. The shops and artisans provided the necessary glue that harnessed the community.

The early years of the steelband movement saw Laventlle significantly contributing to the cultural expressions of its young people. In spite of the murder, mayhem and nihilism that we see in Laventille today, the community has known a peaceful and productive past. In spite of the steelband riots that took place in the 1950s and 60s, Laventille did not produce the almost daily murders that occur there today during that infamous time. Yes, there was harm and some violence committed during those steelband rioting years but the harm and violence was limited mostly to the other steelband members that were involved in the riots. Seldom did the riot affect others in the community except when people had to remain inside while the rioting occurred. Rare was it when a community resident died as a result of the riots. If there was any dying it was among those involved in the rioting. The most infamous gang in Laventille was Thunderbirds which was a teenage gang that had an ongoing rivalry with the Lawbreakers gang from the Renegades Steelband. That rivalry often led to violence causing the community to become fearful at times. But, not in the manner we see today. Whatever violence there was it was seldom against the community but mostly against outsiders. (No excuse for the violence just stating the facts) The late Rudolph Charles and the other Elders had a tight grip on the young people’s behavior which allowed them to control whatever violence erupted in the community before it erupted into a killing spree.  

In 1956, when the PNM arrived on the political scene with their charismatic and popular leader Dr. Eric Williams, the Laventille community, although poor, was a vibrant and mixed community of different races, classes, laborers and professionals. Its political representative at the time was Mr. Herman Scott. Dr. Williams decided to run for that seat and won overwhelmingly and the PNM became the leading party in Parliament. The first five years of the PNM governance they promised to build housing and provide jobs to the people of Laventille. In 1957, Dr. Williams introduced a works project called The Project or Crash program. The program intended to assist the uneducated, particularly the gangs, to by enlisting the unemployed and unskilled to repair roads and drains in the community for a stipend. Most of the members of the Desperadoes became a part of that program. Women were also enrolled in the program to be water carriers for the thirsty male workers on the project. Although this program extended throughout other areas of the poor and uneducated, nevertheless, it was the people of Laventille who felt eternally grateful for that assistance because they gave their total political support to the PNM government. But, instead of giving Laventille an economic lift it created a dependency syndrome like the infamous welfare system in America where young men and women got paid for doing little or no work. Again Mr. Neil noted: “This program became the major source of economic mobility in the community and created a marked improvement in the standard of living among these people. However, it was nothing more than a political gimmick to enhance the positions of the political party in power.” “Voices” Soon, young people were getting paid for no work. There was no oversight to transfer job skills to them as that arrangement made good political sense. Later, there developed ghost gangs where people did not exist or even show up but monies were paid out in their names.

Since 1956, the people of Laventille have overwhelmingly supported and voted for the Peoples’ National Movement (PNM). PNM is the major political party which led Trinbago from 1956 to 1986 when it lost its first election to the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). But, throughout the thirty years of PNM reign, governmental benign neglect bred a community of joblessness, violence, drugs and crime. Over the years of PNM reign, the Laventille area suffered a state of nihilism where dreams disappeared and the community’s life was in constant decline leading to its demise today. I am not saying that the PNM government is totally responsible for the decline and demise of Laventille but among the elements that caused its decline, governmental benign neglect was a major participant in that decline. Also, there was high unemployment, social stigma, lack of proper housing, influx of drugs which led to its quick (and probably permanent) demise. Some would say that the government tried to help by providing social programs to the community. But, The Project was not a program with an end in sight leading to real jobs. The social programs became an albatross of dependency around the community’s neck and drained it of the human dignity that it had before it received the handouts from the government. Again, Mr. Neil stated in his book that “Another factor militating against placing young people in jobs was the existence of “The Prime Minister” special works program, better known as the “Crash program”. “In realty, it was a system of dole in which an individual was employed for ten days every two or three months.”  “Voices

During the 1960s, the Laventille community was a viable community comprising of teachers, dock workers, students, bakers, civil servants, nurses, tailors and small businessmen and businesswomen. Most of the teachers who taught in Laventille schools lived in the community and knew the students’ parents. That connection worked well to discipline the students. A parent could be contacted immediately if there was a problem. Often time the teacher would contact the parent on their way home. The teachers at school were seen as extensions of the parents at home and teachers were able to chastise the children at school without fear of parental interference or hostility. Laventille parents did not differ too much from other parents. Many of them had middle-class values. They had great aims and aspirations for their children and wanted to see them progress in spite of the odds. They raised their children with good habits and supported education as a means to move up the social ladder. They did not tolerate disrespect and rudeness. Many parents would arrange private lessons for their children to assist them in their path to learning. If a young student showed promise in the community a teacher would volunteer to give that child private lesson to help with difficult subjects. Also, some of the policemen who worked in the community lived in the community and were able to talk to parents when their child or children got into trouble with the law.

The Besson street police station that policed the area was known to employ residents from the area. If a child was seen doing something illegal the police would arrest the child and then send for their parents. At the police station the police and parent would scold the child. That scolding was sufficient most of the times to prevent that child from transgressing again. That was the benefit of community policing which existed in Laventille at that time. Another important fact was that young people were taught to be respectful of the police and they were afraid of the police. Most of the times, the police were seen as good citizens who were doing their job. The community was not at war with the police and the police was not at war with them. And, the police had control over the gangs because many times the police knew the gang members and were friends with some gang members. This does not mean that the community was perfect. Mr. Neil observed that “During the period 1955 to 1965, the people in the Laventille community by every standard were poor. They suffered all the hardships of poverty. It certainly did not require a deep investigation in order to reveal the fact that the area had not undergone the fundamental changes, necessary to provide a better type of existence.” “Voices

Early Laventille had the ingredients of community building. It was comprised of African, Indian and Chinese businesses. The sight of African businesses gave a young person hope that he/she could become a small businessperson someday. There were many role models from which to choose. Most importantly, the community dollar turned over more than once to sustain the community. You bought your bread from the neighborhood bakery and made your clothes at the neighborhood tailor or seamstress. You cut your hair at the community barber and bought your food at the neighborhood’s store. If you needed to add a room to your house or do repairs you hired the community builder, electrician, carpenter or mason and cook a pot of food and work began. There was a strong and trustworthy interaction among community residents. People borrowed from one another and repaid that debt or face being called names. Again, most of the residents knew one another and it was easy to cry shame against someone for bad conduct. The adults also protected the young children as their very own. Of course, there was suspicion of outsiders and the community was very exclusive. It was not that they hated outsiders but since the general society treated Laventille residents as pariahs it was easy to develop an inclusive mentality if only to protect your sense of self. If you were from Laventille it was assumed that you were bad. That resulted in the exclusionary nature of the community. So what caused the decline of Laventille?   

In 1962 Trinbago received its Independence from England and there were high hopes among the young people for advancements. But, beginning in the late 1960s, young African people who graduated from the University and colleges were finding it difficult to find jobs in the private sector due to racial discrimination. Most of the graduates had to seek employment in the civil services controlled by the government. As the international student revolt around the world Trinbago was soon to see its own student rebellion. In 1970, the Black Power movement from America came to Trinbago. It was adopted by NJAC group in its attempt to address the disparities in the society suffered by African men and women and some Indians. As a result, many African young men and women rebelled against the government demanding from the then PNM government more inclusion in the private businesses that discriminated against them in jobs and other social acceptances. They claimed that the Banks discriminated against Africans and Indians. At that time most of the local banks were foreign owned. There was only one local bank which was the Trinidad Cooperative Bank (known as the Penny Bank because it accepted deposits starting from a penny) founded by a group of Africans, among which was the late politician and labor organizer Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler. They also demanded a change in the nation’s school history curriculum to reflect a more Caribbean character that told the stories of locals and their places of origin. At that time, most of the nation’s schools taught European history even in its Caribbean studies. There was no history of Africa or India from which continents originated the two major groups in Trinbago. The only reference to Africa and India was its slave and indentured history. Africans were brought to the Caribbean as slaves and Indians as indentured servants.

1n 1970, a group of University students decided to challenge the inequalities that existed in the Caribbean and formed the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) to fight racism and discrimination that they believed denied Africans their rightful place in Trinbago. As a result of the racism and discrimination, Banks and other private companies refused to hire Africans and Indians even though many of them qualified for the jobs. The leader of NJAC was Makandal Daaga (formerly Geddess Granger) who was a resident of Laventille. Mr. Daaga was from middle class origins whose parents owned their home and a small shop in the community. His sister was a teacher at one of the neighborhood’s primary schools. While many members of the Laventille community joined NJAC there were others who, though not joining, but nevertheless sympathized with the call for change that sought to make Trinbago a more just and equitable society. The people of Laventille knew more than the rest of Trinbago that the PNM government did not live up to its social contract of providing jobs, safety, health and housing for the poor. But, what the people of Laventille did not know was that the dye was cast for they would be punished for rebelling against the horrible and deplorable conditions fostered on them. Whatever little handouts they received from the government would vanish in a few years. No housing or sewage schemes would be built or done. The question of jobs for the young Laventillians would be reduced to a question of enlarging the work subsidies on The Project. No industries were built in the community to employ local residents or provide them with marketable skills. 

As the 1970s rebellion developed, NJAC decided to call a march on the government (PNM) to address the racial problems and inequalities that Laventillians and other poor areas faced. They decided to march to Caroni, an East Indian community in the East of the country to show solidarity to the sugar cane workers. The cane workers were mainly East Indians who were struggling for better working conditions and their right to join a Union. The leaders of the march called for jobs and changes in the social structure of Trinbago. NJAC blamed the PNM government for failing to lift the standards of the poor who were mostly Africans and Indians. Later, they organized daily marches throughout Trinbago sometimes starting from Laventille. Soon, there were riots and chaos as the government released the police to quell the rebellion leading to the government calling a state of emergency and a curfew on April 24, 1970. The police were let loose in Laventille as they searched for the leaders of the rebellion who mostly from Laventille. At times, innocent bystanders were searched and beaten by the police as they attempted to round up the rebels.

From the beginning of the revolt many poor people from Laventille joined the rebellion. There were also people from as far as Caroni and some of the African and Indian middle class students and professionals who joined NJAC but Laventille played a major important roll in that rebellion against the government. It was their rebellion. Neil described it this way: “The powerlessness and exploitation that had become a part of their existence, combined with the taste of ‘liberation’ experienced by the steelband, imprinted the revolutionary struggle to share in the material products of the larger society.” “As the social unrest in Laventille  became more apparent, this collective form of  expression came to be feared as a call to action, a subversive force threatening  to sound the death knell of the Trinidad elite, and their political supremacy. As the masses in Laventille continued to reject their conditions of servitude and deprivation, they were also developing the steelband, a new musical art form.” “Voices” 

In the 1980s, as Laventille struggled to survive, the cocaine drug scene hit Trinbago and many of its young and old people became victims to its addiction. The affect of the drug trade impacted Laventille community the most due to the already high poverty and unemployment rate they faced. Many of its young people became not only became users but started distributing drugs as a means of economic survival. While the drug trade is not controlled by the Laventille community, nevertheless, many of their sons and daughters are used as sellers on every corner. Previously, the drug of choice was marijuana because it was cheap and used mainly for recreation. But with the oil boom dollars floating throughout the society cocaine became affordable for most young people. Soon, gangs developed their own drug turfs and violent wars ensued to protect those turfs. Other surrounding areas like Morvant, Gonzales and Belmont were among the communities that became killing fields, but Laventille suffered the most. The normalcy in Laventille would seize to exist as the murders became a growing epidemic in the community. As the drug scourge took hold of the community, a vacuum arose as people started to leave the community for safer and securer places. The community balance among young and old, male and female, professional and working class parents and children quickly disappeared as the only allegiance became survival.

History shows us that the glue that assists a community to develop is a mixture of employment, political power, local businesses and a middle class. As Laventille declined, there was a major flight of its middle-classes, businesses and the instituting of permanent social welfare programs which created an economic vacuum resulting in the malaise that we see today. It never had any political power to begin with and whatever political clout it had under the old PNM under Dr. Eric Williams withered away as the new leader Mr. George Chambers was swept away in the 1986 elections and the new political party NAR won 33 seats from a total of 36. Three PNM members retained their seats: Muriel Donnawa, Patrick Manning and Morris Marshall. But, Mr. Manning became the new PNM political leader and Prime Minister. Mr. Manning was from another constituency in the South part of the country and did not have the rapport with Laventille as the late Dr. Williams. But, Mr. Manning was a smart enough politician to know what works. So, he continued The Project among the steelbands. No offer of real jobs was at hand. The political rhetoric continued. Mr. Marshall who represented Laventille was without any power to affect any meaningful changes in Laventille due to the nature of the Parliamentary system that Trinbago adopted after receiving the political Independence from England in 1962. Under that system the Prime Minister controls the budget of the party and Ministers must submit requests for any financial ventures they may want to undertake. If the Minister is not in good stead with the Prime Minister then he/she gets nothing for their community. And, since Trinbagonians vote for party and not individual Ministers, the PNM could be assured support from Laventille in the next elections.

Mainly, the steelband class suffered because, in communities like Laventille where the poor depend on government largesse instead of business opportunities that provide jobs that can sustain their communities, they had to wait for the annual handouts from The Project and the prize money from the national panorama festival (which the government sponsors) which PNM increased causing a greater dependency to develop among the steelband communities thus cementing Laventille’s destruction. As the steelband’s presence at parties that used to generate a small income disappeared, the financial incentive derived from the steelbands gave way to a drug culture that was developing in the community. Soon, there was more money to be made from selling drugs than playing in a steelband and waiting to win the Panorama competition to receive any money. Many young panists became victims to the drug scourge as drugs became a way to earn monies. And, as the community got hooked on the drugs whatever sense of dignity that was left soon disappeared. The drug culture brought senseless violence as innocent bystanders were killed. The community was left open without any security. And the murder rate increased as Laventille cried out for help but only received promises from the different office holders. 

Next, The Project that was created by the old PNM became the main employer of a great many of the young people in the Laventille community. That became threatened as the Muslims were put in charge of running The Project. Soon, there was a demand for religious allegiance to get a job on The Project. This threatened the livelihood of those in the community whose remaining legal economic source of survival among the uneducated was The Project. As a result, there arose gang warfare between the young Laventillians and some of the Muslims, as Laventillians felt their very existence being threatened and fought back, resulting in violence and death. Now, there were two major elements that contributed to the further destruction of the community, namely the war over The Project work and the drug turfs. As the rich coffers of the society expanded and the gap between the haves and have-nots widened the fight to keep what little crumbs The Project delivered became a way of life. This triage of community violence: poverty, drugs, unemployment made the demise of Laventille inevitable. The Elders in Laventille lost their control of their young people as the instant financial gains from the drug trade and the constant murders taking place almost weekly further divided the community. Elders were now fearful for their safety because it became difficult to reason with someone under the influence of drugs. No longer could they make arguments about seeking an education and getting a good job. That became irrelevant to the young people in the drug trade. Now safety was demanding the Elders’ attention. No longer could the elders direct the young as they did before this scourge descended on the community.  

As Laventille declined, the response from the larger society was avoidance and denial. If you did not have to travel to Laventille you could ignore what was happening to the community and only wish that the carnage that captured Laventille would stay there. So non-Laventille residents built their safe havens and received police protection. The response from the government and its national security branch was worse. One attempt from the government was to provide the people of Laventille a homeless shelter to house the homeless. The other governmental response was to put Muslims in charge of the Works Project that for many years were controlled by Laventille as one of their major legal sources of revenue. That instigated a war between the Muslims and the non-Muslims who competed for the meaningless jobs that The Project provided. Rather than calling together all the parties and work out a rotation scheme to accommodate the workers, the government did nothing. Instead, the local Army joined with the Police and entered Laventille like invaders to a colony. A few houses were searched and the newspapers took pictures and in a few hours it was business as usual. The gang war was restored putting the community at risk and the decline continued.

But, the decline of Laventille was much more than the cost of the loss of a part of the society. It was a sign that the whole of Trinbago was rotting from the core, the Hill. It was the Hill that provided the PNM government with its almost fanatic allegiance of supporters where people put up signs saying: “LIVE OR DIE PNM.” and “PNM FOREVER!” You could not live on the Hill if you were against the PNM government and made it known to other members of the community. The community, after years of neglect and a failure to provide access to capital to them as the society’s oil wealth grew and businesses were booming with profits, the people of Laventille were left out as they struggled to understand their plight only to have to defend themselves with the gun if only to survive in their community because they had no place to go. The community became a wasteland leaving no child behind. The future was bleak but there was no one to help. The other sections of society, who though not too safe but always better than the people of Laventille, partied. Every weekend there are parties, shows and cultural activities with their high prices of admission. And the mothers who were losing their sons and daughters could only ban their belly and hope that the government would hear their cries for help. But that was not to be.   

Since the 1980s to the present Trinbago has had two oil booms which delivered tremendous wealth to the society. But, Laventille did not share in that wealth. Nevertheless it held on to its only institution, Desperadoes. No one can say how Bradley’s death will affect Desperadoes Steel Orchestra on their road to the Panorama championship in 2006 and beyond. But, this much I know. Desperadoes has lost four of the band’s stalwarts, namely three of its founders Wilfred ‘Speaker’ Harrison, George Yeates and Beah, its leader emeritus Rudolph Charles and recently the band’s arranger Clive Bradley. After each death Desperadoes found the strength to come back. I have no doubt that this time it will be no different. I wish them well. I don’t know how Laventille will restore itself to a sense of normalcy as the murder rate increases daily. The quality of life that once held Laventille together is torn apart. Leaving only the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra as the last institution on the hill. In some societies an important institution as the Desperadoes Steel Orchestra would be used as a catalyst to enroll the young people of Laventille to in job creation projects to effect social changes. This has not happened in Laventille. Maybe a new government with a strong vision and a sense of urgency can put the community back together. As the oil and natural gas prices skyrocket filling the nation’s coffers with billions of dollars that out proportion its 1.3 million population, the Laventille community is being emptied of its most valuable assets, the young people who cry out for help but are being promised that next year will be better. To date, the country’s murder rate is 375. Laventille bears a majority of that number. It cannot solve its problems by itself.

The people of Laventille are strong and have hope but that is not enough to turn back the criminal wave that has besieged their community. Laventille needs government, NGOs and business intervention to provide jobs and social organizations to provide training for its youth. The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra is the last institution on the hill. But, the band could be a starting point to enlist the young people in the area in job programs and the teaching of marketable skills. The government could build a few factories in the area to provide JOBS to many of the unemployed in the area. Perhaps, putting one of the government’s industries in the area could assist to employ the jobless. Also, the government could seek out organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to contact businesses to hire the trained personnel from the community. The government could provide tax write for businesses that open up in Laventille and hire residents from the community. The nation cannot afford a next generation to be born facing the same deplorable conditions. If the social contract that was created in 1956 between the PNM and Laventille, where the PNM promised jobs, proper housing, education, training, skills and most importantly security is not adhered to, then the drug trade, unemployment and high crime will become a way of life and forever keep Laventille in its present condition. If that occurs, then soon that life style will be a permanent stain on the nation’s moral conscience and Laventille will be lost forever. Time will tell. Laventille here we come!

Stay Blogged.

P.S. If readers don’t understand any of the carnival or steelband terms used here, please go to the Port of Pan ABC at pan-jumbie-com. Otherwise you may contact this writer. Thanks.

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