Is prayer the answer to crime? In the Caribbean nation of Trinidad, they have a serious crime problem, and their Prime Minister and an Inter Religious Organisation are giving prayer  a try. (Last year’s gimmick was to bring down an American anti-crime consultant, cost 1.5 million TT $, result: crime went up.)

Let’s first look at the crime situation.
The murder rate is very high – in the top ten of the world; higher even than Mexico’s. The main group of those murdered is young males said to be involved in gang turf wars. The second biggest group is victims of family killings, e.g. husbands killing their wives.

The island is one of several in the area through which Colombian cocaine passes on the way to Europe and the US.  Academic ‘experts’ in the field say the Mexican Families are at present replacing the Colombian cartels here, and that female assassins are coming ashore by boat to behead the Trinidadian gangleaders. They, though, have allegedly been appointed ‘community leaders’ by the country’s politicians and are in cahoots with the police. So that might afford them some protection!

First reaction as a visitor to San Fernando
Trinidad’s second biggest city is a dump. In all my travels in Asia and Latin America I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere so run down and full of litter, and where the people look so lumpy and pasty and just generally unhealthy. And this depressing ramshackle town is where my inlaws live – I spend weeks here every year! There’s not even a decent Caribbean beach anywhere nearby! Nor a single place where I can buy a ground coffee. (Since Rituals closed down its branch in the High St furniture store.) Wi-Fi? You must be joking! Concrete walls and razor wire are everywhere. I’ll mention a couple of incidents that I noticed this week:

  • In the queue for the ATM a man pushed in front of me. “Excuse me, I was here first ” I protested. “So, what you go do about it?” said he. This would never have happened in Thailand, where I was last week!
  • I went to Burger King to use the wash room, and noticed a stove at the back had red flames and black smoke coming off it – none of the staff did a thing!
  • I met a former drug dealer who ‘found Jesus’ during his time in gaol. He’s now a devout fundamentalist and he has invested his ill-gotten gains (why weren’t they confiscated?) in land and in building churches where he entertains visiting the American evangelists who come to preach to the flock.
  • A certain lady, on being requested by the water board to conserve water so the rest of her neighbours further down the pipeline could be guaranteed a supply, retorted “Who do you think you are? You can’t tell me what to do!” and she turned on her outside tap deliberately and let it run not just one night but every night!
  • I knocked on a neighbour’s door and said “Next door’s dogs have broken through your fence and are eating the chickens in your back yard. ” “They’re not my chickens, so I’m not doing anything about it .” was his reply.

Amazing news stories in Port-of-Smog
Officials called for the evacuation of Trinidad’s capital, Port- of- Spain this week as dense clouds of toxic carcinogenic smoke blew across from the nation’s waste dump, a mile away. Twelve fires had been started deliberately, it is alleged, by ‘scavengers’ from the local slum estate in retaliation for an incident the previous day when police had shot at them and wounded one resident in the leg. Their revenge was sweet: mass abandonment of the capital’s office buildings, schools closed, and a government debate on the country’s rubbish disposal. (There is no recycling here!!) This dump is not a properly lined landfill: it has been leaking toxins into the mangroves and the ocean for 50 years, and still people eat the locally-caught fish.

More sabotage is alleged from the oilfield workers who, in protest against unfair dismissal claims, leaked 7500 barrels of crude into the sea at 12 different sites in the south of the island. The beaches reek, the local fishermen are out of work, people are getting respiratory ailments and possibly long-term damage to their bodies. The half-hearted clean-up has cost over $30 millions so far. One fisherman who reported thick oil in his nets was rewarded by having his nets confiscated – a real incentive to cooperate with the authorities! Fish sales have dropped.

In the middle of all this ‘baccanal’ (oh, and a US drugs haul worth millions in a container of fruit juice exported from Trinidad!) comes the WEEK OF PRAYER. Just what a beleagured nation needs! Perhaps with some fasting included, as a report also out this weeks says obesity in Trini kids is worse than in America! But with a per capita GDP of US$18000, everyone here can afford to eat American-style fast food – it’s one of the most prosperous countries in the western hemisphere. Not surprisingly the diabetes rate is 5 times higher than in the UK.

What the island’s PM (a Hindu) said about prayer and society
Regular readers will know my atheist anti-prayer stand, but I want to be objective here and report this as a case history .

“PM calls on Almighty in crime fight” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday front page headline 27.01.14

“The decline in values in sections of society has been noted, which is why a week of prayer was organised. The country is going through a difficult time because of the focus on wrong things. Pray in whatever way you know. When you pray from the heart God listens. Let’s join hands and work together to build a society free from crime and ills.” At a meeting with religious leaders she hosted in December, she payed especial attention to Rev Dr Winston Cuffie, founder and CEO of Miracle Ministries International.( Perhaps she will ask him to miraculously put Trinidad’s appalling health system to rights next!). She gave monetary grants to various churches and lauded their “noble work” . She said she would maintain a close working partnership with the churches in “holistic nation building”. She wants “Values Education” brought back into schools. Cuffie scratched her back too. (He already has the country’s second highest medal – he’s evidently her golden boy!)

Fundy govt Minister
Government Minister for National Diversity and Social Integration, fundamentalist Protestant preacher, “Dr” Rodger Samuels had the following to say:
“It is through prayer persons can find God’s supreme guidance and counsel. The week of prayer will be guided by the tenets of embracing our diversity and bringing the nation together. There have been numerous social issues tearing apart at the very fabric of our society. These include a surge in criminal activities, family dysfunction, individualism and disrespect for the basic rubrics of humanity.” He called on all religions to keep their places of worship open during the week, and for people to pray for different topics every day, eg family on Monday.
Previously this year, speaking at a Full Gospel prayer meeting, he identified “sexual sins” as the main cause of T&T’s socioeconomic problems. He was particularly incensed at persons who “engage in abnormal, inordinate and rebellious sexual acts.”(i.e. gays are to blame for all the crime!) He also complained that “Lord, we have been guilty of shedding innocent blood both inside the womb and outside.” (So he’s against a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy for her own well-being.)

“We can’t go on like this. When sin goes unpunished blood covers the land and we cannot use human reason to deal with spiritual issues. Capital punishment is the law and also it is a biblical law. God said that if a man sheds man blood then by man should his blood be shed. And when the law sheds your blood, that’s not murder. That’s obeying god’s command.” He said he would support the resumption of hanging in Parliament.

Reaction from the public
Letters to the press fell into 3 categories (a) pro-prayer (b) anti-prayer (c) just plain nutty

  • Advocates of prayer called for return of the death penalty on the grounds that such is God’s will; and for prayers to be introduced into schools.
  • Opponents included the Humanist Association and Express writer Kevin Baldeosingh, who sarcastically pointed out that “On Monday the IRO along with Government believers prayed for the family; on that day a 34-year old woman pregnant with twins died. On Tuesday  they prayed for the environment; on that day Port of Spain was smoked out by fires from the Beetham landfill; and on Wednesday they prayed for children ‘as part of the environment’ and on that day, school children in Port of Spain had to be sent home because of the landfill fumes. God couldn’t have sent clearer signs than these, if you believe in signs and Gods.”
  • Letter writer Angel Hart in the Express pointed out that after  2004’s massive Christian prayer-against-crime event, the country had its highest murder rate in recent history. which left her to assume that either prayer does not work or God is a joker. “We all know what the root causes of crime are (poverty, unemployment, etc etc). This is why we elect governments. It is government’s job to effectively alleviate the the problems that a country is experiencing, not to engage in ad hoc, quick fix ‘solutions’, especially ones that accomplish absolutely nothing. Like a ‘Week of Prayer.'”

Vox Pop
The following are extracts from The Trinidad Express’s “Today’s big question” and “Web Views” for 29/1/14.

  • “I pray that Kamla (the PM) will call the election so that I can send Samuel back to the pulpit.”
  • “Samuel prayed for a week to get a Minister’s job and he got it. He now thinks if the nation prays for a week crime will be eradicated.”
  • “Look how many people pray on a daily basis and all the killing and other crimes continue.”
  • “We have been praying for more than five years and nothing has changed. One week of prayer would not change anything.”
  • “Let’s get rid of the police, army and coast guard and replace them with pastors. this according to the government will alleviate crime. We must be living in the Middle Ages with sorcerers, wizards and witches, Lord of the Rings style. Our crime plan is based now on Obeah. (Witchcraft).”
  • “The evidence of the uselessness of prayer is there for all to see. They have been dropping on their knees and bawling out to ‘Almighty God’ for decades now and it seems to be getting worse and worse. Either almighty God is not listening or just isn’t almighty enough. To think that this is all a government minister could come up with in the face of such a serious situation only highlights the unsuitability of those people for the jobs they hold and the high salaries they command. People like that should only be allowed to operate on a volunteer basis. Then they could blather their nonsense without using up valuable funds. Stop wasting time with those foolish ideas and act logically.”
  • “People who pray and do nothing about achieving their desires and goals will hardly get the prayers answered. People who wished, worked hard and sacrificed will most times achieve goals. Even when they did not pray.”


Related Zingcreed Posts
Caribbean televangelists
711: Trinidad fails to stop crime with prayer (again!)

The Trinidad Guardian
The Trinidad Express
Trinidad and Tobago Newsday
(all from late January to early February, 2014)

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