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Gun manufacturers’ interest over right to life

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The classic international case study for all countries, large or small, rich or poor, to learn of the pernicious effects of “big money” invested in electoral campaigns of candidates, and how that dollar takes precedence over even the sanctity of life is at present playing itself out in the United States of America.

The heartbreaking story of the “slaughter of the innocents” at Parkland, Florida, gives me the opportunity to return to my stated intention to have the electorate determine that not another election should be held in T&T without the rules of funding party campaigns being radically transformed.

It cannot be that financiers who fund party campaigns here will continue to be allowed to wait until their party gets into government to have that investment paid back with government contracts.

President Trump, whose campaign for office benefitted from a US$21 million contribution from the National Rifle Association, the makers and sellers of weaponry, reacted to the Parkland shooting, attributing mental illness and seeming quite prepared to once again ring up the chorus: “now is not the time to talk about it; people are grieving.”

However, in the face of loud and insistent student voices intent on not allowing another slaughter, nor on accepting nice, platitudinous statements, President Trump was forced to hold a session with representatives of the young students and their parents. After an hour of heart-wrenching cries about their experiences and deep sadness for their school mates, and with a few very direct calls for gun control, which pre-session vetting did not prevent, President Trump latched on to a proposed solution which calls for even more guns to be scattered abroad, even among teachers in schools.

The NRA would be happy with their investment in Trump; instead of fewer, the President advocated for even more guns to be put into a system which is said to have over 300 million guns in circulation. So in the end, the President identified with the interests of the financiers. That is the power of the gun lobby in the United States: a clear position taken that capital is of a higher value than human life; that is especially for human life seemingly insulated from mass shootings.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the lobbies are not around weaponry; we don’t manufacture it, it is about the construction worth hundreds of millions in highways, along which there are no planned or obvious economic projects that will justify such expenditure. It is about spending billions on car parks, multi-storey government offices, or renting buildings which are not used, while investment in agriculture and agro-industry do not attract attention; there are no financiers in that sector able to invest in the election campaigns of parties.

One effect of campaign financing is the distortion in the selection of projects to be funded by the Government. Further along that road are criminality, nepotism, the skewed application of the law to favour financiers, and the notion that is spread abroad, that elements of the law apply differently to certain social groups.

The greatest lesson to have come out of the Parkland shootings, and the one we in Trinidad and Tobago need to pay attention to is the taking of the responsibility for their future from the terror of the gun by the students. Yes, talk to the President and place their case before him, but do not leave it in the hands of Congressional representatives who got elected through the contributions made to their campaigns by the manufacturers and sellers of assault weapons.

Two and half years out of the five-year period have gone, and notwithstanding all of the allegations made against the United National Congress government and its financiers by the campaigning People’s National Movement, there has been no discernible move by Prime Minister Rowley and his team to reform the way parties are funded. The population must take hold of its interests.


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