Soldiers patrol in downtown Port of Spain

A few weeks ago Caribbean nation exercised a very rare executive order, a state of emergency.

Wikipedia tells us that a state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some normal functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, alert citizens to change their normal behaviours, or order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans.

It can also be used as a rationale for suspending rights and freedoms, even if guaranteed under the constitution. Such declarations usually come during a time of natural or man-made disaster, during periods of civil unrest, or following a declaration of war or situation of international or internal armed conflict.

The country in question was Trinidad and Tobago a beautiful twin island to the south of the Caribbean inhabited by over 1.4 million people and known for its Pitch Lake and the creation of the steel band and calypso music.

Regarded as one of the richest territories in the Caribbean due to its heavy petroleum production and export, the disparity between the haves and have nots has long been a contributing factor to the spate of criminal activity.

Police van keeping the peace

On August 22nd 2011 the government of Trinidad and Tobago took the unpopular decision to critically address the seemingly uncontrollable crime situation by declaring a state of emergency. This was met by widespread anger with some people claiming the government used this for political reasons. One person contributed to a blog by saying, ‘Law-abiding citizens and criminals are equal suspects in the eyes of authorities under the state of emergency’. While another said,’ ….it is complete rubbish that we who work hard must live like prisoners in our own homes…..caged in with burglar proof bars like captive animals while the jaggernaughts run amuck’.

‘In some countries, the state of emergency and its effects on human rights and freedoms and governmental procedure are regulated by the constitution and/or a law that limits the powers that may be invoked. Rights and freedoms may be suspended during an emergency, for instance, freedom of movement…In many countries it is illegal to modify the emergency law or the constitution during the emergency.’

What do you think was the actual situation in Trinidad and Tobago ? Do you believe the government did the right thing in the interest of national security or that of the citizenry? Do you think they could have exercised other discretionary measures that may have yielded the same results…What do you think?