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The murder of a famous Trini woman fighter for justice

Rickey SINGH

Sunday, May 11, 2014    

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TRINIDAD and Tobago's famous soca star, Machel Montano, sent tears flowing last Thursday as he paid tribute to the assassinated highly reputed and fearless woman attorney of that country's criminal justice system, Dana Seetahal.

For their part, the police remain under growing public pressure to find the two hired killers who shot the 58-year-old attorney five times two Saturdays ago as she was driving to her home in Woodbrooke, on the outskirts of Port-of-Spain.

Jamaicans, who would also be familiar with recurring execution crimes, may be aware that in going on the offensive to find Seetahall's killers, the Trinidad Government is also seeking the co-operation of Interpol, the FBI and member states of the Caribbean Community.

Just a few days ago, the Association of Commissioners of Police lamented in a press statement that the murder rates in this region "are far too high, with some countries recording over 50 homicides per 100,000 population". Further, that "corruption is now endemic at over 60 per cent" in the region — according to a Transparency International survey.

As a Caribbean nation whose vibrant, creative cosmopolitan citizens continue to positively impact on the cultural life of our region, it is becoming increasingly painful to also share Trinidad and Tobago's multiplying agonies, not the least being the wastage of life at the hands of brazen armed criminal networks.

If it is of any comfort to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago they should be aware, at this time of national mourning over the shocking execution a week ago of Seetahal, that their agony is widely shared across the Caribbean Community where citizens of all races and classes are uneasily coping with a mindless criminal epidemic.

The epidemic

This epidemic has methodically taken root over the years by an evolving mix of myopic opportunistic party politicking and complicity by varying sectors in drugs, arms and human trafficking that have seriously scarred the Caribbean landscape with depressing data from regional and international institutions and agencies.

Sadly, the spreading criminality has occasionally been aided by corrupt elements within the security forces and some State agencies — keepers of the gate against the criminal underworld.

This has resulted, within recent years, in murders being counted in the hundreds annually for countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago with Guyana following closely among the so-called 'worse trio'. But no Caricom partner state has escaped being affected by the criminal epidemic.

In comparative terms the criminal bloodletting, that's reputedly aided and abetted by extra-regional entities, could well give false comfort to some Caricom states — Barbados, for instance — when bracketed alongside the 'worse trio'.

The harsh reality is that those involved in the sickening sex crimes, spiralling cases of human and drug trafficking and gunrunning have no respect for territorial and legal boundaries or cultural norms.

Now — while the Caribbean Development Bank is also reflecting in reports, like the World Bank, the troubling statistics relating to crime and violence in the Caribbean — has come the horror of the execution of Seetahal.

On reflection, it was my good fortune to have had some encounters with her during visits to Trinidad and Tobago. In addition to being highly respected by her peers, the senior counsel, widely admired for her professional competence, across political lines, had sustained a keen interest in the media — beyond being a columnist, first for the Trinidad Guardian and up to the time of her assassination, the Trinidad Express.

Consistent with a habit of courageously facing up to the challenges of her legal profession and also revealing awareness of the social functions of the news media, her last Express column was to reflect those very qualities on the night she was ruthlessly shot to death.

Viewed as an ally of press freedom and eloquent defender of independence of the judiciary, Seetahal's last column was an open challenge to a recent controversial letter by resigned Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell to explain "what exactly" she wanted the attorney general (Anand Ramlogan) to "investigate" in relation to reported alleged questionable practices between lawyers acting for the State and prison officers.

It is of relevance to note that following a decision by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to forward the ex-solicitor general's letter to the attorney general, she also advised him to invite the Prison Officers Association (POA), among other stakeholders, to address the issue of the claimed questionable practices.

However, the POA surprisingly lost no time in announcing their refusal to meet with the AG on the issue. Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, on the other hand, thought it necessary to move with alacrity in hailing the POA's response, consistent with his own position in favour of an "independent" probe. This is now an ongoing issue.

Against the backdrop of the controversy involving correspondence between the ex-solicitor general and the prime minister and, relatedly, the Prison Officers Association and the attorney general, speculations have emerged about the agenda of the hired guns in the execution of Seetahal.

The speculations have extended to a current murder trial (the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman case) in which Seetahal was one of the lead prosecutors.

Award and plea

With the Trinidad Government adding TT$2.5 million to an earlier Crime Stoppers $1 million reward by the police (TT$1 = US16 cents) for any information leading to the arrest and trial of Seetahal's executioners, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams made a nationwide appeal for help.... "Let us work together as one country..." was his public plea.

Regrettably, the "one country" concept is being constantly eroded by narrow, divisive party politics — a curse afflicting not only Trinidad and Tobago, but a number of countries across this region, including Guyana and Jamaica.

Yet, the alternative to national co-operation is most grim for a multi-ethnic nation like Trinidad and Tobago which has survived some serious civil disturbances over the years and a botched Black Muslimeen coup with many unresolved questions.

Given the nature of the criminal networks, nationally, regionally and internationally, all governments of Caricom would be advised to have their respective security agencies/services work as closely as possible to help Trinidad and Tobago bring to justice the killers of Dana Seetahal. After all, most Caricom states would have varying experiences of execution-style killings by the criminal underworld.

For its part, Trinidad and Tobago, which has emerged as the shopping metropolis for many Caricom citizens, as well as a valued aid and trade partner within our 15-member Community, must be seen to be moving with unity and firm resolve to uproot the embedded criminal networks that continue to mock law enforcement agencies; make virtual prisoners of citizens in their homes; and, tragically, continue to waste lives like that of Dana Seetahal.

Soca star Montano, who had rushed to the scene of the crime on the Saturday night, wept with mourners while serenading Seetahal at her funeral on Thursday. "Donna, as a country we love you; as a family we love you...," he said,

Now for the police progress report in their hunt for Seetahal's killers. Sadly, their performance ratings in capturing killers and others of the criminal underworld are not encouraging. The same could well be said for other police services, including Jamaica and Guyana.

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