Recently I had a Skype conversation with my father. I wanted to know his feelings on the Jack Warner fiasco - the circus that is now making Trinidad and Tobago the center of international news and the butt of some rather uncomfortable jokes. As someone born and raised on the island it’s a weird feeling when you’re caught between a giggle and a tear - whether to laugh at a genuinely funny joke about Warner and his exploits or to cry for the plunging reputation of your beloved homeland. So my father and I spoke...and we spoke. We spoke at length that day. To my utmost surprise, he was in defense of Jack Warner!
Now, time away from home could really change one’s perspective and approach, and personally up to recently, I was of the position that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago should extradite Jack Warner as soon as possible, save what’s left of our reputation and move on to more important national issues. My father disagreed, strongly.
Now to put this in context, politics is a frequently discussed topic in our household, and as long as I could remember it was generally accepted as fact that Jack Warner was corrupt. From my teenage years I could remember people listing Warner’s long list of infringements, from coaches’ jobs being put at risk for not putting Warner’s sons on football teams, to grander accusations of him even selling T&T’s spot in the 1990 World Cup to the USA - by ‘buying’ the goalkeeper and convincing him to ‘throw’ the game. Regardless of whether these accusations are true or false, there has been a bull’s-eye on Warner’s back for decades. I highlighted all of this to my father, but he didn’t budge, so I kept going. Warner was caught on tape offering money for votes to CONCACAF delegates, and the classless way in which he dealt with reporters surely didn’t help. His comment to reporter Andrew Jennings - “If I could have spit on you I would spat on you” was not only grammatically shady but surely reduced his likability points – if he had any to begin with.
Dad listened. His rebuttal was simple. The supporters of Warner or those advocating on his behalf (at least in Trinidad and Tobago) fall into two camps. Camp one: They’re foolishly blind followers who have convinced themselves to see beyond Warner’s obvious corrupt dealings for various reasons. Camp two: They affirm that Warner is very much guilty of corrupt dealings, but he’s part of a system that stretched beyond FIFA, through the halls of national Football Associations the world over and even the governments of sovereign states, in which a culture of corruption was developed over decades. In fact, corruption was the status quo.
Many of us Trinidadians remember very well David Beckham's’ visit to Trinidad and the empty commitments he made to helping develop Trinidad football. We all knew that in his position as Vice President for the English World Cup Bid he had to play the game of ‘give and take’. Back then Warner held the upper hand because he was in possession of a quite valuable vote on the FIFA Executive Committee. They were all willing to shake his ‘corrupt’ hands back then, from the halls of Westminster to Washington, even to the Kremlin.
As a young Trinidadian man, I am justifiably conflicted. For my father on the other hand, born in a time when Trinidad was a colony of the British, he has no second guesses. As far as he is concerned, “the black man always gets the shorter end of the stick”. Nearing the end of our conversation, in typical Trini style, dad had one more punch line: “so wat will dey do to him in jail, dey aint goh feed him, won’t give him no clothes...nothing! Dem people don’t care...” and on and on. By then my mind was on to another question, what does this mean for us, young Trinidadians and Tobagonians? The international media would eventually leave Trinidad, John Oliver would move on to another topic, and life would go on. But how does this affect us? The fact is that many of us wanted to be like Jack Warner - become a success on the international level and return home to help – obviously such aspirations may need adjustment.
Hopefully this may lend some understanding to the outsider who is perplexed as to why, given all the mounting evidence as to Warner’s guilt, he is so strongly protected and defended by so many Trinidadians and Tobagonians. He’s not our ‘Dudus’ Coke, or Pablo Escobar. He hasn’t been accused of bringing physical harm to anyone, yet he’s on INTERPOL’s Red Notice and undergoing extradition proceedings in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. He played a game, which by all accounts, the same ones who wish to try him engaged in (the British, the Americans and others). A political commentator made a unique observation that my father relayed to me recently, he noted that it was the first time he has seen genuine fear in Mr. Warner’s face, and Warner is desperate. For a man who has been seen as almost untouchable in the eyes of many of his countrymen, his time as a free man may come to an end sooner than we think.
Mikhail E.D. Byng