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posted 18 Feb 2011, 23:27 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 18 Feb 2011, 23:58 ]


By Cecil Paul

 No one, absolutely no one can argue that Comrade Norris Deonarine was not a great patriot and revolutionary.  His untimely death at a relatively young age has left a wide void in the progressive movement. Just back from engaging in a struggle on the hills of Lopinot - defending the rights of small farmers from the violence of thugs and criminals hired by powerful big shot interests - Norris succumbed to what appears to be a massive heart attack. 

The violence as captured on the television screen was brutal and disturbing to me and I am sure others who saw it on the night of Thursday, February 17, 2011. As one who cared deeply for the plight of the poor and the powerless, I am sure that Norris was affected by the raw violence and brutality meted out to the people he chose to protect, defend and uplift, since his teenage years. Norris died the very night after returning from Lopinot.

But as he always does, he informed the people of our country of what was happening to these small farmers. He also called on the government to acquire the land and distribute it to the farmers to grow food for the country. His last revolutionary act was standing up for the rights of poor farmers against big and powerful land grabbing interests. This morning it was ironical that one part of the news was reporting on his
statement to the media on the Lopinot violence while another part of the news was reporting that he was dead. 

On my visit to his home today, Friday, February 18, 2011, I saw those of the Left, trade union activists, environmentalists, progressive creative people, farmers and people from his community. Everyone's eyes were dazed and gloomy, as if we all hoped we were having some bad dream. Bur "Custer" as some of his left comrades called him was really dead.

This morning the phones of all progressives were ringing from North to South and East to West. A comrade had fallen in the battle for change. The progressive movement was in shock and disbelief at this unexpected death of a comrade who rose from the ranks of progressive activism to national leadership of a movement; a comrade who some of us saw as the eventual leader of the progressive movement.

He, having been steeled in all areas of struggle and possessing the charisma, articulation and integrity to restore the glory, purpose and respect to the progressive left: a movement that was and is hurting from betrayals, opportunism and acts of self seeking.

My last long conversation with Norris was a week after the presentation of the last PP Government Budget. We had both appeared on a Budget discussion with interest groups hosted by CNMG. He spoke on Agriculture and I on Pensions among other groups.

After the discussion, we travelled in my car to the East. He was disturbed that the PP Budget was like the PNM paying token attention to agriculture and had not taken any meaningful action to progressively reduce the high food import bill. He complained that there was no real assistance to farmers to grow more food. He spoke about home garden farming to reduce families’ food bill and how farmers could partner with families and the Agriculture Ministry to promote such a programme.

He said that Guyana can produce rice for Caricom. He was distressed by the importation of potatoes and channa and the large amounts of non essential imported luxury foods that we are tempted and forced to buy at the supermarkets.

He was concerned also about imported meats and foreign fishing on our shores. We spoke only about Agriculture on our way to the East. He ended by saying that food shortages and high food prices are the most dangerous issues facing our country and other small developing nations. Norris' knowledge about agricultural issues was profound and patriotic. Yet the powers that be hardly listened to him.

Norris had a wide circle of interests. He was an environmentalist, a farmer's leader, a trade unionist and a community activist and organizer. He also hung out with progressive artistes at their regular liming spot at "Trevor's" on St. Johns Road St. Augustine. He could be seen regularly with the poets, singers, musicians, writers and others. He recognised the importance of the universality of the struggle for change and the need to draw upon the talents and ideas of all those who in their own way sought to take our society forward. He once told me that Barack Obama's slogan of “Yes We Can" was borrowed from the US Farmers' leader Caesar Chavez who had the chant “Si se puede" or something sounding like that.

I first met Norris in 1976 in the ULF of Weekes, Panday, Shah and Young. He was a late teenager and I a young man of thirty two. We were also members of NAMOTI until it committed political suicide due to infantile extremism, opportunism and undemocratic relations among its members. But our strong relationship developed in the Council of Progressive Trade Unions (CPTU) formed in 1972 after the break-up of the Trinidad and Tobago Labour Congress (TTLC).

CPTU's motto was “Unity of Workers and Farmers". It was in the CPTU that his leadership skills were seen at its highest. Together with Glen Ramjag, Selwyn Sukku, Ragoonath Khemraj and Terrence Harewood, Norris took labour leaders to farmers’ areas we had never gone before or knew existed. He taught us a lesson on the difficulties of providing food in a country that disrespects farmers.

It was in the Labour Federation he established new relationships with farmers and spread the base of the National Food Crop Farmers Association outside its traditional base of Aranguez, Curepe and Near East and Central Trinidad. He forged links with farmers in Lopinot, Valencia Arouca, the hills of Santa Cruz and Maraval, South and Central Trinidad.

He brought in other categories of farmers and forged a Federation of Farmers Organizations (FOFA} with Malcolm Campbell. He was relentless and untiring in his goal to not only improve the lot of farmers but to have these farmers develop a level of food security that the Governments were constantly ignoring.

I remember he always researched (through the elder farmers} the history of the farming community he organized. He had a keen interest in the history of Africans and Indians in T&T. He was present in the last observation of the Hosay Riots. In one case in history, he told me of the "French Negres" of Maraval, SantaCruz, Las Cuevas and other North Coast Areas- these were the ancestors of the area's farmers.

He said he was told that the French Royalists counter revolution in England and Spain was being financed by Trinidad's French slave estates. A battalion of French Republican soldiers invaded Port of Spain and after defeating the British forces, headed to the estates on the Northern Valleys, sacked them and freed the slaves to stop the flow of money to the French Royalists.

The French soldiers were marooned by the British and so set up these difficult to access areas such as Paramin. I was amazed by this oral history. With the dissolution of the CPTU on the formation of NATUC, some short sighted union leaders objected to farmers’ unions being members of a workers’ federation and a major alliance was broken despite the protestations of a few progressive comrades. But the NFFA continued its struggle for farmers without the support of the trade unions.

One of the issues that bothered Norris was the use of Agricultural lands for housing and industrial plants, He would mention that Valsayn was prime Agro lands and was abused for housing. He struggled against the extension of housing south of the government farm in Curepe/St.Joseph. He protested the housing estates on agricultural lands in Arouca, Valencia Tacarigua parts of Caroni and any area where agricultural lands were used for housing. He lamented the lack of and implementation of a land use policy.

Norris’ work was such that he could not be a regular worker at a company. His time was devoted to the plight of defending and promoting the interests of small farmers, organizing in his community, protecting the environment and supporting workers and poor people’s struggle.

So he set up a small fresh produce mini-mart in Curepe, got his family to run it so that he had the time to devote to progressive struggle. This is a comrade we could not afford to lose at such a time, But fate has played us a bad hand. It is for the progressive movement now to build on Norris's work and for capable comrades to fill this void that is awfully hard to fill. But Norris would say to us "a luta continua" - The Struggle Continues.

The Revolutionary's Lament 

(In Memory of the Friendship of CLR James and Norris Deonarine) 

Do I have to change the World?

Must I know my Land?

Or must I Change my Land?

Then the Old Wise Revolutionary said,

It is not enough to know the World,

We, Revolutionaries must Change the World

For This we are born,

So the hungry will feed themselves,

And the landless will have land,

And the Farmers and Workers will educate their children,

And the weak will not be exploited,

So, all true revolutionary man and woman,

For This we are born,

To end exploitation of the weak by the strong,

As the Old Wise revolutionary said to me

We Revolutionaries - CHANGE THE LAND,