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Asami Nagakiya’s legacy —Government’s challenge

Saturday, February 13, 2016

While her colleagues fondly recall that Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya loved T&T so much that she routinely worked and saved all year just to come here to play pan for Carnival, the sad ending to her story is that in a sense she never went home and remains here, following the discovery of her body at the Queen’s Park Savannah on Ash Wednesday.

With that, Nagakiya’s legacy (apart from her music) will be T&T’s challenge to do the necessary regarding its increasingly splintered image concerning crime. 

The picture of the petite pannist which emerged from colleagues’ recollections is one of a person who—as Silver Stars member Larry Lai said—loved T&T dearly enough to tell colleagues she might have considered moving here in “two or three years.” 

Silver Stars mates were awed by her discipline, practising from 5 am, all day and again at night. However, the warmth and protectiveness of colleagues may have shielded her to the reality of T&T’s underbelly where cutthroat culture lurks. That is, until the last hours of Carnival 2016. 

“This was her first Carnival,” says Silver Stars colleague Marcus Ash, “she was always modestly dressed, she didn’t even really know how to wine.”

The Public Relations nightmare presented by Nagakiya’s murder on T&T soil compounds government’s already embattled position on rising crime. The five-month-old PNM government is still dealing with the fall-out from double murders in Tobago to the extent that Caribbean resort “king” Butch Stewart is being wooed to bolster Tobago’s tourism thrust—part of Government’s bid to diversify away from the energy sector. How much of a part that will be, may now have to be tweaked after being burdened with the albatross of Nagakiya’s murder.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley was up front enough on the situation to immediately admit Nagakiya’s death presented a major problem for T&T’s image. While there have been murders during Carnival, the elements of Nagakiya’s poignant story were absent, and therefore the consequent headlines also. 

This incident is fully connected to and has landed a direct hit on T&T’s main tourism feature—its legendary Carnival, prided on being safe—since Nagakiya was still in Carnival costume; was found mere hours after the Big Fete; in Carnival heartland of the Savannah. And worse, involved a young female foreigner from half way around the world who mastered T&T’s famous art form well enough to teach it in her homeland, plus develop a loyal T&T following. 

Not only has the issue been blown up by the furore surrounding reported controversial remarks by Port-of Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee, it has clouded the advent of the new three-member National Security hierarchy which met with the National Security Council yesterday.

Also, it will shadow Rowley’s Caricom debut at the Belize Intersessional beginning Tuesday where he’ll speak as chairman of Caricom’s regional crime/security committee. T&T is now in the (unenviable) position of being able to compare notes with Grenada where a Grenadian was recently charged with the January 26 murder of a young female American tourist who died of a skull fracture and asphyxia. 

A December 2015 report on crime levels in Caribbean islands stated the US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council rates T&T’s crime situation as “critical” and police as “very reliable.” The overall scenario therefore makes for a hectic tenure of Foreign Affairs Minister Denis Moses—now also in National Security—who accompanies Rowley to the Caricom meeting where regional crime will be spotlighted.

Rowley’s appointment of former (defeated) PNM leadership challenger Penny Beckles-Robinson to the UN may have provided temporary relief—consolidating PNM ranks which took a hit after Tim Kee’s issue—though this will hardly distract from the crime situation at hand. 

With T&T’s international image at stake, it should not take Nagakiya’s death in the country she fell in love with to be the marker by which T&T begins the long, hard journey away from crime. But if it has to be, it would at the very least, be the most appropriate tribute to the petite Japanese woman who loved pan.


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