Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Part 2 : Randolph Burroughs: Exposes foreign currency racket, informs US on Chadee

Randolph Burroughs  displays seized firearms


This is just the second in the four-part series, the voice of Randolph Burroughs, the legendary Police Commissioner (1978-1984), explains, in his words, how the Ministry of Finance (perhaps unwittingly) the  banks along with  parts of the local business sector profited from the drug trade and crippled  his  effectiveness  and by extension, the TT Police Service.

The excerpt is from his unpublished biography which chronicles, in detail, how he was framed to be removed from office and which also, through the cases he worked and solved as a detective, chronicles TT’s crime history.



Blows the whistle on Foreign Currency Racket:

     ...  Money Laundering Takes Root in T&T


"In May 1983, I headed a party of police officers which raided the home of Dole Chadee (NanKissoon Boodram) and we found a quantity of illicit drugs.
More importantly, we came across a letter sent to him by a Colombian national who was then known as a top man involved in cocaine trafficking into the USA.
Drug Kingpin Dole Chadee
He was asking Chadee, (who was convicted for murder and executed by hanging in June 1999) to join forces with his operation.
I had that letter and other information sent to the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Port of Spain, Mr A. Don Bramante.
The Embassy subsequently contacted us and informed that the Colombian national was arrested on board a vessel off the Florida Coast in May 1978.
The vessel was found to be transporting some 112 tons of marijuana.
The Embassy also disclosed that the man was charged with the offence but jumped bail and returned to Colombia.
It was around that time that the foreign currency racket took root in the country.
I had always asserted that since we did not plant crops and our currency is not accepted in the producing countries, that local financial institutions were involved in the best money making rackets in town.
And I had also predicted that public officials—including politicians, judicial officers and other influential persons in society- would become tarnished.
To me, it was crystal clear that some of them were already involved.
By the late 1970’s I had become painfully aware that a number of top local businessmen, who had been denied licences to carry firearms, had taken to buying illegal weapons for their protection.
So it seemed only natural that several raids were carried out on such persons residing in the posh Goodwood Park area..an activity that was tantamount to digging my own grave as it turned out.
Since my retirement, I had time to reflect on how these VIPs could have helped to create my downfall.
Some of them had previously been involved in smuggling activities.
I am satisfied —  and I will go down saying so — that some of these people became involved in cocaine trafficking because of the huge profit margins it offered.
They already had contacts established in high places through which they could easily secure foreign exchange.
Theirs was a white-collar crime that capitalized on obtaining foreign currency from financial institutions, ostensibly to make legal purchases, which was used instead of buy cocaine.
The whole system was legalized in the 1981 National Budget  when a new method of obtaining currency from the Central Bank, instead created loopholes for fraudulently getting it,
This one is still referred to as the EC-O Racket.
Importers were required to obtain prior approval of EC-O Forms seeking the release of foreign exchange to purchase imported merchandise.
They would apply for the money after orders had been placed and the goods were shipped from the country of origin.
A new dimension was brought into the picture, however.
It was made mandatory for the Ministry of  Industry, Trade and Commerce to approve the forms before they reached the Central Bank.
After this measure was introduced the cocaine trade really thrived.
Many businessmen who had easy access to foreign exchange would sell it back to drug dealers at twice the rate they would pay for it.
Many such traders ended up with hefty profits, and so they started setting up dummy companies to hide their tracks.
The tentacles of money laundering were only just starting to get hold of the financial system.
Inflated invoices were able to pass easily.
Once you had the approval of the Trade Ministry, “business fix” as Trinidadians like to say.
Even in instances where huge amounts were deposited into bank accounts, bank managers did not ask questions.
Once they got the business, they were happy.
Some racketeers possessed copies of official Central Bank stamps from the Trade Ministry, and this gave them even easier access to the US dollars that the cocaine suppliers craved.
 But it is not to say that the politicians were blissfully unaware of the networking that was creeping into the legitimate financial system.
And, strangely, I was to learn the extent of the currency racket during an afternoon meeting called at the office of the then Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams and attended by Melvyn De Souza (then Minister of Finance) and  Victor Bruce., the Central Bank Governor from 1969-1984.
The Late Victor Bruce
The meeting was called by Dr Williams following the discovery that a local businessman, in the Syrian Community, had obtained large sums of US dollars on the pretext that it was to pay for a shipment of horse medicine.
The amount of money requested did not correspond with the needs of the local horse racing industry, however, and the government was suspicious that fraud was used.
As a result of the meeting, I detailed Superintendent Hugh Roach of the Fraud Squad to serve as Special Investigator in this and other cases with respect to major transactions involving financial institutions.
He was to report directly to me, as Commissioner and to Bruce, the Central Bank Governor.
In a bid to get to the bottom of what turned out to be an even bigger racket than we had estimated, a number of top businessmen, including the late motorcar magnate, Bolan Amar, were charged under the Exchange Control Act for taking money out of the country.
For, in addition to supplying Roach with a team of detectives to systematically investigate the case of fraud, the Customs Department was also assigned to cover the Piarco International Airport exit.
They intercepted and searched a lot of passengers during that time, and many citizens arrested for such transgressions were forced to answer to the courts.
But it was not all plain sailing for the investigators..especially Roach.
He and his family fell victim to a spate of terrorist tactics and telephone threats that were clearly intended to scare him off.
First, his guard dogs at the government quarters he occupied near the Police Mounted Branch Headquarters on Long Circular Road, St James, was poisoned by persons unknown.
And later, a portion of the home was firebombed. However, this did not dissuade him from pressing on relentlessly.
In fact, he was still on the case when I proceeded on accumulated vacation leave in 1983..more than two years after the investigation had been initiated by Dr Williams, shortly before he died.
Up until then cocaine users and importers had remained a select group.
Many of those who became involved did so because of the easy access to foreign exchange which the EC-O system provided, and the big profits that beckoned.
It seemed to me at the time that Central Bank Governor Victor Bruce was turning a blind eye to this.
In fact, on one occasion, I remember him ordering us to return some foreign exchange we had seized from the Woodbrook home of a well known Syrian businesswoman.
So, by the time he died, years later, under strange circumstances in far-off Sierra Leone, it was being alleged in many quarters that he had protected many Syrian and French Creole businessmen who were involved in the racketeering and drug trafficking—some of them were reported to be “Lodge” members like himself.
Although the police tried to crack the high society network of white collar crime we were dealing with, those involved continued to flourish because of the protection they got from the political, judicial and financial authorities. Although the initial investigation was botched I was somewhat surprised when, shortly after I left for Miami in late 1983, taking my wife, Sheila, for Medical treatment, the new police administration suddenly transferred Roach out of the CID and into the uniformed section of the Police Service.
He subsequently made several complaints about the way he was treated, believing it to be a clear case of victimization.
As a result, he became very disenchanted with the Police Service and later retired.

Regrettably, the career of a first-class police officer had ended on a sour note so that corruption could continue."
The end.

Coming Up Part 3: Politicians press the panic button


The above was first published on December 5th 2005, in a special edition of the TT Mirror, with permission from his son Edison Burroughs,.
 This is being republished against the backdrop of Gary Griffith’s appointment as top cop and his threats to become what can only be the 21st-century version of the late Randolph Burroughs TC.

 At the age of 66 years, Burroughs died in October 1996, after the entire biography, (which I worked on with the late Mirror Editor Keith Shepherd) was completed before he passed on.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Randolph Burroughs Speaks: Predicting T&T Crime Chaos



This is the voice of Randolph Burroughs, the legendary Police Commissioner (1978-1984) as recorded in an unpublished biography which not only chronicles, in detail, how he was framed to be removed from office but gives an unprecedented insight into Trinidad and Tobago’s crime history. On December 5th 2005, in a special edition of the T&T Mirror, with permission from his son Edison Burroughs, we published excerpts which I will reproduce here in a four-part series. It is timely because it gives a perspective on crime in Trinidad and Tobago, explains how drug trafficking and money laundering and the foreign currency racket took root and most importantly details how the politicians -who ignored his calls for help to deal with the growing drug trade- eventually engineered his removal from office.
The Chief, as he was fondly referred to, often told anyone who visited his home at Pinewood Gardens, Petit Valley that the Office of Commissioner of Police would never be the same again.

This is being republished against the backdrop of Gary Griffith’s appointment as top cop and his threats to become what can only be the 21st-century version of the late Randolph Burroughs TC.
At the age of 66 years, Burroughs died in October 1996, after the entire biography, (which I worked on with the late Mirror Editor Keith Shepherd) was completed


Part One: Narcotics Squad in Cocaine Trade

 National Security Minister John Donaldson knew about it

Around the start of 1984, I suddenly realized that my concern and fight against the growing narcotics trade had made me something of a nemesis for many people who appeared to be decent and respectable.
 Only later did I become aware that those involved in it would have done anything to get me out of the way..including members of the Narcotics Squad. At the time that it was being played out around me, however, I just could not put my finger on the web of deceit that was being spun.
We continued to arrest violators at Piarco International Airport mostly trying to leave the country with marijuana and cocaine concealed on their person or in their luggage.
But there was little evidence of people using the airport to bring in drugs.
This gave rise to the suspicion that Trinidad and Tobago was a dealer’s haven as well as a transhipment point for cocaine.
It meant that our miles and miles of unprotected coast were being used to the fullest advantage by the drug barons.
By this time I had worked out that US Currency was the mainstay of the thriving drug trafficking business
This was easy to deduce, as none of the countries we dealt with in the cocaine trade- Colombia and Venezuela- were aligned with our domestic currency.
And, this was compounded when hand in hand with the drugs trade, more sophisticated weapons started appearing and there was a steep rise in drug-related crime.
Even though we mounted an operation we codenamed FAN -Firearms, Ammunition and Narcotics- we were unable to make significant inroads into the spate of violent, armed robberies that suddenly became the order of the day, or arrest some of the big importers that our informers fingered. 
After all, we had to catch them in the act— and in possession of drugs.
Armed robberies are a natural offshoot of the firearms and narcotics trade.
So while we wanted to get at the financiers and the originators, we also had to keep some control over their careless, wanton foot soldiers who were not averse to blazing paths of death and destruction.
Meanwhile, we kept getting leads and information that showed how widespread the drug tentacles had reached and that kept us on our toes as the scourge kept turning up in different parts of the country.
For example, we discovered that six nationals of Trinidad and Tobago, two Cubans and two Venezuelans, operating out of an Indian village on the banks of the Orinoco River had established a thriving arms and ammunition trade in the Erin-Chatham-Icacos areas of South-West Trinidad.
Working together with Inspector Pedro Meza of the Tucupita Police, the local police were able to arrest some members of that ring.
Meza and I later collaborated and discovered that six Trinidadians had set up a similar camp on our Blue River at the El Socorro Road extension (across the highway).
In addition to arms and ammunition, they also trafficked in drugs.
Furthermore, in South Trinidad, we found that a Colombian connection had been brought in.
A Savonetta woman was the “Kingpin” in this gang.
Her son-in-law, a Colombian national who worked as an engineer at the Ministry of Works in Trinidad, looked over things on behalf of his home cartel which had three boats docking at Claxton Bay with cocaine merchandise every 15 days.
One night we got lucky and arrested two crew members of one of the boats.
They were held at a San Fernando nightclub with over TT$300,000 worth of cocaine in their possession…probably waiting for a transaction to take place.
I also learnt that a Customs Officer operating out of its Preventative Branch and the proprietor of a haberdashery store on Henry Street were also involved in a similar fishy business.
The bossman held several banking accounts outside the country, supplied nationals of Venezuela with foreign exchange and issued cheques that were to be cashed overseas.
I passed all this and other information to the then Minister of National Security, John Donaldson, in an official memo.


John Donaldson (left) and Burroughs.


I further noted that the Godfather of the Henry Street operation was a wealthy Colombian living in that country, owned hotels in both his country and Miami and was in the process of establishing a business connection with a Woodbrook businesswoman (who was alive at the time of writing). The long and short of it is that I was not twiddling my thumbs on the ever-worsening drug situation, as the story still goes.
I even called for a meeting with Victor Cockburn, the Comptroller of Customs, Commander Jack Williams of the Coast Guard and Signoret of the Civil Aviation Department.
We were under an external threat by land, sea and air, as I recommended that an amalgamation of the Police, Customs and Immigration, Coast Guard, Regiment and Civil Aviation people and the air wing of the National Security Ministry should embark on a joint plan of action.
At the time it seemed strange to me that some ten years after I warned the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration that local drug lords were setting up shop these people had flourished so much.
 Some people accuse me of all sorts of drug-related crimes but the record of those years will show that I was always involved in fighting the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF) and other terrorist gangs, solving the Malik murders and generally pinch hitting wherever and whenever a big crisis arose.
While I was pressing on with the job, however, there had been no political will to wage a concerted battle against the treacherous trade in cocaine, especially.
In addition to doing my work I spoke to thousands of school children and other young people on the danger of drugs. I only now realize how threatening I must have sounded to some big people in society when I spoke at such gatherings
I was always like a voice in the wilderness even when I was telling people that drugs were exchanged by criminals with easy access to huge sums of money supporting an underworld economy that was bigger than the gross national product of many developing nations.
I also noted the distinct possibility that persons of high social standing could be corrupted by drug money and that public officials could also be taken in by bribery.
I could clearly see that it was a bigger problem than I could handle.
It was out of my hands.
And I also realized that the entire criminal justice system that existed in the country needed to be upgraded dramatically!
Part Two: Foreign Currency Racket ...how money laundering took root.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Lawsuits fly faster than bullets @ blinging Pan Trinbago

  

 “It was rumored that Pan Trinbago money went into all the legal fees…..?' 
‘Yeah right, Yeah Right,” he said fishing at first for a response to the question sprung on him, sitting on a chair behind a desk full of papers which by a wild stretch of the imagination he thought made him look important.
   It was a  Facebook Live broadcast courtesy Marcus Ash, Secretary of the Eastern Region of Pan Trinbago.
  “You see there are people who will recognize when you have a good case and when you have a good case somebody will have to pay for their losses,”  Richard Forteau Secretary of Pan Trinbago, under scrutiny for the first time, said.
 “ Are you saying it is on record that Pan Trinbago…?” Marcus Ash continued. But Forteau shut him down, forestalling the direct question that may have cornered him into telling an outright lie.
 Never mind that ten weeks before on April 19th, 2018, the first cheque, 0000959 for TT$22,500, was cut for  Attorney Farid Scoon, who five days later brought a claim, on April 24th, 2018, against President Keith Diaz and Northern Regional Chairman Gerard Mendez and  Tobago’s Regional Chairwoman, Marie Toby who were part of an interim committee appointed to run the affairs of Pan Trinbgao following an Extra Ordinary general meeting.
  It was followed by  Cheque #0000960, issued eight days later for TT$40,000.That was one day after the High Court claim.
And guess what? More money will be spent as Forteau and company with a life expectancy of just a few months have decided to appeal one part of the judgment handed down by Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh.
All this time, the entire steel band community including the most prestigious and legendary steelbands in the world, along with all the downstream suppliers who collectively make Panorama the largest revenue generating event for the annual carnival festival are spiraling downwards in a financial drought.
  But playing smart with foolishness, however, Forteau manipulated the truth.  
  “Pan Trinbago has friends and there are some people who recognize that when you have a good case who lose will then have to pay. That is as best as I can put it for more than one reason”, he is on record as saying.
    It was an outright lie, boldfaced and without remorse.
     Pan Trinbago’s Pan Factory Account at RBC Royal Bank, #55 Independence Square  shows by Pan Trinbago’s spending patterns it was a mere pittance the money withdrawn  to pay Scoon for representing Forteau and five other members of the Central Executive in their quest for survival when steelbands from across the country met and fired  the executive.
     Indeed for the period March 20th to April 30,  the Pan factory Account was depleted by TT$ 612,673.68.
       With TT$620,000 in the account at the end of March,  Pan Trinbago ended with TT$19,681.97  at the end of April.
  
      
  The records would show there were consistent and steady withdrawals via cheques, with the single largest being TT$50,608.35.
 That as both Forteau and Diaz put on their best sorry faces when explaining that not even the administrative staff at the Pan Trinbago’s  Headquarters and by extension the support staff at the various regional offices have been getting their stipend.
    And that the bands that have not received their prize monies, except for the  Single Pan Bands who were paid shortly after their leg of the competition ended in February.
       It was a highly unusual move. But they, after all,  are instrumental for keeping Keith Diaz in the Presidency of Pan Trinbago and so, while he was able to, before the outcry against his leadership, which began in January 2017, grew any bigger (as it has), he settled his base first.
      But since Carnival Pan Trinbago has all but declared itself bankrupt, waiting on government funds to bail them out of a financial dark hole which the longstanding Forteau and other members of the executive masterfully dug themselves into.
       And not even the long arm of the law, via a sadly helpless High Court  Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh could make a difference.
    In his 14 page judgment often quoted by both sides, conveniently, the judge sets out the crux of the problem which is conflicting information about the membership of Pan Trinbago as both Diaz and Forteau gave conflicting information- to  build their own case for and against the constitutionality of the meeting in which Forteau and the executive were fired ad an Interim Committee set up.
  Not since the High Court judgment handed down in May, has anyone had the decency to clear the air about the true number of steelbands in good financial standing that are members of Pan Trinbago which would make them eligible to request the extraordinary meeting?
   And the Judge opted to stay with the official figures handed down by the Secretary  Forteau based on the statistics which Forteau provided to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Community Development and Culture who would then disburse funds based on the number of steelbands listed.
    We all speculate the list is padded and in the interest of fairness and integrity neither Forteau nor Diaz have provided information to clear the air,.
  “The number of financial members signing the requisition is critical to the validity of the vote that was eventually taken at the meeting to remove the central executive.
         “Having ruled on the law as it was set before him, Justice Boodoosingh chastised the Executive- all inclusive, in the final paragraph of his judgment.
          ‘Finally, I note some disturbing allegations are raised on both sides. It has not been necessary to identify them at this stage it is not for me to make the findings of fact on them. I would hope  however that if it will not be business as usual, but that some consideration will be given to the fact that the substantial number of members whether or not they have met the high 60% threshold to call the meeting did feel sufficiently moved to express their dissatisfaction with how the organization has been managed. The executive members might well remind themselves that they were elected to serve and they are required to do so with integrity, competence, and skill.”
         What has happened since?
         Only to make matters worse,  Forteau, Salvador,  Joseph, Sheppard, Augustus and Reid appealed, effectively filing a lawsuit against   Pan Trinbago Incorporated which was a claimant in the first matter.(See Photo below).
   And that because Justice Boodoosingh declared ”the decisions taken at the 17th April meeting were taken in the name of Pan Trinbago. It was therefore notionally a decision of Pan Trinbago acting through members. The claim should proceed against Pan Trinbago and the members of the Interim Committee assuming they continue to defend the actions of the April 17th meeting,” he said when he struck out Pan Trinbago as the first claimant and added it as the first defendant.
           Forteau, using the money of Pan Trinbago has moved to file an appeal against the entire steel band community in Trinidad and Tobago on May 14th.
  It was another piece of information that he held back during that Facebook Live. He flipped the coin and it would cost far more than he has already paid Scoon. 
   
            If that wasn’t enough, Darren Sheppard fired off his own legal notices.
  The External Relations Officer at Pan Trinbago who landed the enviable job as Events Manager- a post which was previously held by Pan Trinbago’s Vice President Bryan Serrette, before his fall out with Diaz which triggered the beginning of the end of Diaz.
           Pan Trinbago’s Financial difficulties mean that Sheppard was not being paid his full contractual fee for  April 2017 to February 2018.
 But when his contract expired on March 31st, 2018, Pan Trinbago found the money and paid him the sum of TT$95,000 which was owed.
    In the current climate of unrest this did not sit well with Gregory Lindsay the leader of the Power Stars Steel Orchestra, one of the most vocal campaigners for the removal of the executive and San City’s Aquil Arrindel, both of whom  have been among the men leading the charge against the Keith Diaz executive since January 2017.
             Well, using the heavyweight of  former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan’s Freedom Law Chambers, Sheppard fired off pre-action  protocol  letter to both men saying that  his public image has been adversely affected by  defamatory  statements which constitute serious slander and Libel and that he  “suffer serious irreparable damage and financial loss.”

              Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning would have put it all - all that you have read from the top until now- as “Wajang behavior.
              Still, the substantive issue: that steel bands by the dint of their work and very existence who generate the income for Pan Trinbago are still sucking salt, five months after he 2018 Panorama Competition, has not been dealt with.
                     None of the large, medium and small bands have been paid.   
                 These bands whose “asset base, personnel, equipment and real estate is the largest in steelband anywhere in the world”, who “represent so much of the best of leadership ability, organization and success in steelbands and are the main attraction in any steel band event.”
                    And then there was the large band caucus.
                   Phase Two, Starlift, Silver Stars, All Stars, Desperadoes, Renegades ( reigning Panorama Champs) Invaders, Exodus, Birdsong and La Brea Nightingales met.
                   And they seemed to have accepted responsibility for allowing some of it to happen, showing that NCC played with the fire too.
  ‘1. The executive of Pan Trinbago committed bands to a prize structure in excess of the monies allocated by the NCC
                   2. “Bands participated in the Panorama with full knowledge there was a financing gap between the NCC allocation and the Pan Trinbago Commitment
                   3 “The original defunct between the NCC allocation and the proposed  Pan Trinbago Prize structure was worsened by advances to the latter by the former during the course of 2017.
            4. Bad faith negotiations by  Pan Trinbago in treating with its debt to the NCC compromised efforts to bolster the resources available for prize monies and appearance fees.
                5. On directions from Pan Trinbago NCC continued to make partial disbursement at 2017 levels which could not have been sustained with the 2018 allocations’ 
          6. As a result of 1-5 above from the 2018 allocations, approximately $8.1 million is currently available to service a reputed commitment of TT$16 million.
     These bands want a prompt disbursement of the remaining allocation of TT$8.1 million to bands currently owed for Panorama 2018 and financing existing deficit  of 50%
Outside of that, there is not so subtle campaigning for the executive of Pan Trinbago b with Newtown Playboyz and Phase Two pan Groove’s manager, Keiron Valentine, the former Mayor of Port of Spain throwing his hat in the ring, without an official launch.
                  Valentine is waiting in the wings with his manifesto and his support staff.
                   

  
                        

    

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Duvonne’s Music Activism: Who Feels it, Knows it.





  
 Duvonne Stewart opened the gates of hell and met them face to face; the killer and the man who killed the killer. 

Duvonne Stewart hears the results. Photo Maria Nunes
He faced the demons, conquered them and had  love to spare ..with a little bit of help from his “close friend, mentor, motivator, critic”  Wayne Alleyne whom he saw lying in a pool of blood on the ground just outside his home on Queen Street in Port of Spain.
A murder statistic for the rest of Trinidad and Tobago, but this 59-year-old man was another one who was killed only to send a message to the other side in the turf war in the battle zone of East Port of Spain; the heartland of the island’s top three steelbands; Desperadoes, Renegades and All Stars. 
 “They made an example of Wayne. He was so close to me that it was real. It hit me hard. Every single thing that was expressed musically in the performance of Renegades, I turned around that experience and transformed it,” Duvonne said about the murder on December 11th 2017.
 Yet when he cried, in front of the whole world to see, he stifled the tears in the soulful and expressive arrangement of Year For Love which ended a twenty-year-drought-long transition from its record breaking success with the late Dr Jit Samaroo.
 It was more than a high  for the accomplished arranger of the Single ,Small and Medium bands who ,stepped into the hallowed halls of  Trinidad’s music history as a musical activist, leading a cadre of international players from the bands he has arranged for in the US, UK, France, Japan and St Vincent here in the Caribbean.
The Renegades, also, got a chance to breathe.  
To manage the  Charlotte Street band throughout the restless season, required more guts than the glory they achieved with the victory at Panorama Finals on February 10th.
In a community splintered by gang warfare-Nelson Street at war with Duncan Street, Prince Street at War with Queen Street and Laventille Road at War with the rest, for example- they dared to go from block to block- the band’s executive and administration- moving around inviting them to the pan yard.
And, at practice, in between sharing notes with the players through a loudspeaker. Duvonne would preach to  his team and  the immediate neighbourhood which included the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) next door.
The community held it together and there was peace and love, under a watchful eye, for a season. The music triumphed.
 “It was a year for a purpose. It was a mission that everybody understood and it was well executed with the passion, the true,real ,playing ethic of a song was  infectious because many players in the band lost a loved one through the hands of the criminal and they played a significant part in saying This Is The Year For Love.” Duvonne said. 
Never mind that ten days after Carnival the tension that was held in check overflowed when 25-year-old Akil James was shot dead at Calvary Hill, a stone’s throw away; a Rasta City top ranker who was killed in Rasta City turf.
Parts of East Port of Spain bordering the lanyard -Observatory, Bath, Oxford, Basilon Charlotte and Piccadilly Streets -erupted as they burned debris, ironically enough,  smack in front of the Renegades on February 20th.
Photo:Trinidad Guardian
 Finally, Stewart is on the international circuit and is freeing his mind as he shares the story behind his captivating arrangement  to music students  starting  at Howard University in Washington D.C in March and extending to the University of West Virginia in June and then a recall at Howard, followed by Berklee School of Music after which he will move on to Europe  to familiar ground at the University of Nantes , then on to Paris before England.  
 Renegades’ Year for Love was a soulful cry from the belly of Trinidad’s hell vocalized by instruments in a manner that no journalist, teacher, preacher, priest or community activist has verbalized.
  It was the definitive moment of protest in Trinidad Carnival 2018.  A thesis waiting for a social scientist.
 “I was in hell.I see what could take place down there.In there I had a conversation with  Wayne, the guy who killed Wayne and the guy who killed the guy who killed Wayne, a man with a Pump, talking to the killer. Fire will bun dem.
 “For me, it was an audiovisual production for the world that came from inside. I planned it out, the pyrotechnics, everything,” the  41 year old father of one, said about the band’s  statement on Final Night.
  Read on for the mitigating factors, to understand how the landmark arrangement came together, spiritually, in a year when Duvonne also conquering health issues literally became  fit and ready to finally grab the baton from the late Jit Samaroo and run his leg of this race  to also take  a new breed of arrangers into the promised land.


 The Genesis       

It all started December 11th, 2017 when “they made Wayne an example”. 
“On that Sunday afternoon,I was looking to go in the panyard. I came downstairs and heard the gunshots. He had come downstairs to throw out the garbage.
 “I did not see what happened but he was shot in the head. I saw him on the ground lying down in a pool of blood and I knew what the repercussions are like. I was traumatized.
 “On Monday morning I was expecting to hear “Yo! Duvonne, come outside let we lime nah.”
 “Me eh hear that. For four or five days I was out of it.
 “It hit me like my mother dead. He was so close to me that everything was real. Every single thing that was expressed musically in the performance of Renegades I turned it around and transformed it from that experience,” Duvonne revealed on his return to Trinidad from sharing his story with the students at Howard University in Washington, D. C.
As Loop TT reported
 “The actual gunshots that took place..another young one gone. Bram!.. and then meh boy Wayne and so I started to transform myself in telling the story," he said, giving words to the arrangement. 
“In hell, I met the killer, the man who killed Wayne, we are face to face and I  am asking what you kill Wayne for?  
 “He was about 21 years old and he died about three weeks afterwards when we were full into the carnival season.
 “I heard  people say yeah boy, they now kill the man, the man dead.
 “But, I didn't feel relieved. The same saga continues. The man who killed the man who killed Wayne. 
 “I was repeating and replicating that incident musically in this arrangement,” he said.
 Moving forward to the February 20th protests Stewart said  “the incident sent a negative outlook to what Renegades was portraying for Carnival, and people want to know why and how these things happen. 
 “Well, it’s the system that causes things like that to happen,” he said, from his experience living on the frontline of the battle zone that his community has become.
“This is just how it is on the Eastern side of Port of Spain,"  he intoned. 
 "When we first advertised the song  as the choice for the band we were going from Block to Block around the Eastern side of Port of Spain, the Renegades' Executive team… the administration. We were moving around inviting them all to come in the panyard. To bring back the love. 
“They came into the yard, talking and liming. Everybody put down their guns.
 “And then the people around told us they liked what we were doing down in the panyard.
“They told me they were hearing what I was saying.
 “They knew who the song was dedicated to; what the song was a reflection of. They knew Wayne. 
 “From the time they heard me call Wayne’s name in explaining the arrangement to the players the phone would ring. 
 “They would tell me he’s a good one. We will fix that, they promise.
 “But it’s not about fixing that. It's about about bringing that love and vibes. 
“There was a part of the song where I was actually talking to the killer in hell and I went back into my subconscious where I ran up the stairs and knock on the door and the door opened and all I could see was the Garden of Eden, a peaceful, tranquil place where I brought in the line from the hymn Let There Be Peace On Earth,” Duvonne explained.
  “I was trying to talk to the community now. Let there be peace in Trinidad, throughout the world.
 “Then I brought them together, let us talk, all ah we is one family. It was all in the song. The day ended and the next day came and  I tried to bring all that into the arrangement and I went back to the person who killed Wayne for him to talk with him.
 "Yo! Put down your guns. ‘When you kill this is what will happen, fire go bun you. Full stop.
          


The Process

"From the first day I came into the pan yard on January 2nd, 2018, to distribute music I demanded the use of a microphone and a Public Address (PA)  system so every line, every sentence, every statement, every passage made evident to the instrumentalists what they played.
 “I had to describe and explain to them, off the bat, what it meant so the passion of executing the feeling of what I was doing in different parts of the song was fully understood by every single member.
“Because I had the opportunity to speak with everybody like it was one on one, they were very attentive, very understanding, very patient with the process. As I said I wanted to bring the story real.
 ‘It wasn’t something that I could have done in a Jazzy way or even with BeBop and have people think I was just doing music. 
 “I wanted to be clear in the arrangement. I wanted to be real. I wanted to be clearly looked at with the arrangement “Year for Love” because for the past five or six years as the Panorama Arranger for Renegades I was trying to mimic the Renegades’ style due to the legacy of  Dr Jit Samaroo that we inherited from the early 70’s 80’s and 90’s.
“I wanted to make that transition, for it to become evident, where Duvonne Stewart could be heard in the entire arrangement.
“When people hear Pan Elders(the Medium Band  Champions) everyone said yeah, this is a Duvonne.
 “ During that time though when they came by Renegades for them it was like Duvonne was trying to do something like what Jit did.
 “But then again reality did not hit the band in such a way for me to be ME in arranging for Renegades,” Stewart mused.
 “And the calling came in 2017 when I arranged Voice’s Far from Finished” for the  Ebony Steel band in London. 
  “Ebony won the UK Panorama.

 
“And that was the get-go. When I heard Year for Love, as I said, I wanted to be clean and clear and to be understood in all aspects of doing the arrangement.
 “The lyrical content of the song was so powerful that I wanted to bring the story unto the instrument because I wanted it to be how the singer brought it over, just real.
“I wanted the people to understand what it was like being in the mind of Aaron St Louis while he was writing the song, this being an extended version of what Duvonne Stewart did with the arrangement.
 “The creative minds that came together for this arrangement was a true story in which I had two friends who lost their lives through the hands of the criminals in December. 
 “It just naturally came to me what I wanted to say to these criminals, you know, bun dem.
 “Just about 3 minutes and 40 seconds into the song there was a passage that I used ” this is my time for Bunning” a line from Black Stalin. 
“That was the hell, when Judgement day comes, you are getting fired. 
“I tried to incorporate it with the Year For Love theme and everybody understood what I was doing and so it became easy to articulate. 
 “In another part, just about five minutes into the arrangement  I incorporated Let There Be Peace On Earth. I tried to bring the peace and the love- that was my story about what this place is supposed to be.
 “That was an inspiration that I received from within that God did not make this world to be how it is right now. 
“Everybody is supposed to be living in love, with harmony with peace; stop the killing the fighting.
“And then at about six minutes, I brought in  “all ah we is one family,” using a little Nelson line to let them feel how the Year For Love was supposed to be… and at the ending let them continue during the fire. 
 "I was just trying to send the message clearly ,without trying to be difficult or two or three notches above the average listener, without them being misled, without them coming into the panyard and just listening to a bunch of notes, a bunch of phrases and a bunch of lines. I wanted to tell the story real and true.
  “So I had to come right back down to grassroots and let them  understand what I was trying to do.
"If it doesn’t start with me, it doesn’t go anywhere. It has to start with me. I had to be mentally ready to make these players feel comfortable every single night from January 2nd until the 10th of February.” 
Duvonne was leading from in front.



I was very scared to take the baton, until...


 "When Dr Jit Samaroo was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006, the band wasn’t ready for the transition in terms of life after its premium arranger. 
“While I received a call from the management, I declined, the reason being that I just wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to fill that shoes . 
Duvonne and Dr Jit (Photo Duvonne Stewart)
“ Amrit Samaroo attempted and he was very successful in his ways. He then left and started his band Supernovas.
“In 2010, they called again. I declined again. I still was not ready.  
“The band did not make Panorama finals in 2011 and then there was a call that I received from BP directly saying to me "no is not the answer".
 “Come and take this band and do whatever you want to do with it", they told me.
“So 2012 was my first attempt at arranging for  BP Renegades. On  January 7th  I was doing Vibes by Mark Loquan, sung by Denyse Plummer. 
 “Before going to the panyard, I was very, very scared. Because as I said before it was not something that I had planned, to come and work with Renegades.
“But when the calls came I had to answer in a very professional way. Walking through the gates of the panyard I found about 100-plus people with open arms saying welcome back home. And that was the start for me accepting the fact that I was being loved, I was being appreciated; that I  have been gifted from the people who made me who I am because I was also a player for Renegades in the late 80’s early 90’s.
“ I performed in the Junior Steelband Festival in 1992 where Jit Samaroo saw me and invited me to play with Renegades.  
 “I was here since Bees Melody…my first tears crying as a young kid playing on the frontline when we thought we won the Panorama,” he recalled.
“Due to consistent results over the years 2012- 2016, (when we placed third) a dynasty was in the making and a new legacy was coming of age, the one that Dr Jit Samaroo started.
“So they saw a promise that this guy is knocking on the door so we have to take care of this guy, try and make this fella feel comfortable in himself, That was the vibe from the band. The message did not come directly from the players to me, but I heard it through the grapevine.
"I was 430 pounds at my heaviest weight.Concerns were brewing throughout the panyard. Duvonne getting too big, Duvonne you have to take care of yourself and stuff like that.
 “And being this young person in a fraternity where I had been respected by many young people, locally, regionally and internationally and working for one of the best steel bands in the world I had to make a stance to preserve me as an individual with good health.
"Renegades actually pushed me in that direction because of a feeling I got from every single player inside of here.
 "We have to keep Duvonne here for long. And I tried many, many programs until I made up my mind to do the Gastric Sleeve surgery in 2016. 
Nobody knew that I went to do it.
 “I lost 100 lbs in 2017  and everyone looked at me and thought something was wrong. At the first gathering in the panyard we all huddled and I told everybody what I did and there was an emotional change in the band. 
"Everybody greeted me with tears and the vibe of the band changed drastically.
"Now, it’s 2018  and I have lost about  230 lbs in total and the general reception was that I made them feel comfortable knowing I would be here for a long time, health-wise as long as God says yes.
“Take the baton, run with it, because you are here to build a new dynasty. you are here to stay, we want you here to stay. That gave an added confidence boost to me to deliver me to Bp Renegades.
 “The management team of Mr Michael Marcano and Candace Andrews Burmunt, all endorsed me: Duvonne this is your band now. Its history is Jit’s history. This is your time, they said, ands o everything evolved into making Year for Love Duvonne Stewart’s Year for Love.
 "I finally took the baton this year.
 “In the years in between, I was trying to make Renegades sound like how Jit Samaroo was. Being in his shadow  and  thinking that I was doing something good. Yes, I  was doing something good but I wasn’t really expressing who Duvonne Stewart really is.
 "How could you not move out of Jit’s shadow?
 “ I was a student of him. I was an understudy. Everything that he did I idolised it. Coming to the band that he made and he also groomed and made me what I am  I thought that what I was doing was the right thing. 
 "In the five years before 2018, in that transition period I was just sending the information from my head to the players, everybody knew when a double tenor solo was coming up, cos Jit used to do it, a Cello solo coming up because Jit used to do it but that time is all gone, now.
"It just happened. It just naturally happened because I was in that frame of mind" he said.
  "And people might draw reference to your middle pans?" I asked
“ …which is a trademark of the band. Letting go of these nice fluent cello lines and quadrophonic lines? That’s what I learnt him, taking it away is like taking the heart out of Renegades," he responded.
 "That is how the band was built. That is how the instrument was being used inside of here. 
"Telling the story of what he was doing from before. But everything else is just 100 percent Duvonne," he assured.

  

Sheer ecstasy was a sign of intimidation

 ‘I never led from in front like I did this time. If you go back to the image that I had before with Renegades, I was like a rock in front of the band. I was just like being still, being stagnant, just watching around and waving my hands.
"Losing all that 230 pounds made me more energetic. I felt more real, more athletic.. running from one side of the stage to the other. 
"It made people wonder who is this man in front of the band? 
'And when they were told that is Duvonne? They were saying  Nah! "Everybody was like let me take a good look. Wow, Duvonne transformed this band.
"Hell yes! I was out to shock people!Everybody was gravitating to see me in front of the band this year.
 "The new image, the new personality, the new energy. I was just loving every minute of this carnival season. 
"It was humorous but yet still interesting and inspiring to a lot of people who saw the transformation of what I made myself to be.
 And that all came to a head for a semi-final performance.
A man possessed (Photo Gary Cardinez)
“After the preliminary round, the word on the ground was that Renegades is the band to beat this year.  
"The National Semi-Finals was four days later and we had to go out and make a statement to John and Jane Public so they would know the reason for Renegades being that band on top. 
"And we had to make that statement clear from the word go.
 "The draw for the semi-finals was very, very strange.It was the first time I had ever seen something like this. All the bands that played the same songs performed consecutively one after the next.
" I know that Desperadoes is a Champion band, I respect the band big time. And that performance that was given by Renegades on stage was totally spontaneous to the point where the energy, the vibe, the performing values that played a part on that said Sunday night was just sheer ecstasy. 
"The players just gave me what I wanted at that point in time because everything that was said in the panyard; every stanza, every line that was articulated by me to them was well portrayed and executed on the stage. 
"I had a fire torch in my hand. Nobody knew I had that. 
" I did use it on the drag but I did not plan to use it on the stage because it may have sent alarms to the Fire Service, but I said to myself  Duvonne if they have to lock you up tonight, they have to lock you up.
 “If they have to charge you tonight, they have to charge you tonight. Tonight is the night to make that Semi-Final statement that Renegades is out for blood, is out to make that cut above the rest.
 "A sign of intimidation to the rest of bands that we coming to bun people.




   Turf wars erupt in cyberspace 

      .. as a new breed walks through the gates


There was an unease among some bands and steelband turf war went into cyberspace after the semi-final performance, with the management of All-Stars and Desperadoes and Renegades  issuing statements to keep their players on chill.
 “I felt that nobody expected that a new breed, a new name arranger could be on the scene so dominant that he and his band were on the verge of winning National Panorama holding the lead from the preliminary straight up.
“ Messages, comments and all these things of a certain nature were coming to me. I heard it, I saw it and I felt it. 

 “Again, it was a distraction to make me be less of what I am to my organization and to my band. Again, I had to come here every single night prepared to make every single player comfortable with their confidence level high above everything.
“Among the comments they said that Duvonne is a rookie arranger. "That Duvonne wasn’t ready for this war as yet.
  “He now come. Another band will beat him. Renegades peak in the semi finals, they said,
 "But  I guess they did all they could have done and little did they know that those comments made me stronger in coming to the panyard here every night to execute and build a final night production to wow that Queen’s Park Savannah.
Again, at 41 years old, I could see the transition process of a new generation of Arrangers 
Somebody had to open that door. And, being in a band like Renegades with a managing team like they have and structures as well, I was given all the tools to work with. 
“It was just a matter of time to break down that door and the time was right in 2018.
 "The life-changing image that I have, the music that I had embedded in me, the confidence that I got from the managing team to be me, was all integrated to what this production lent to itself on February 10th.
“No distraction. no confusion. no night-before-jumbles in the panyard. Everything was just flowing clockwise inside this panyard here from the day go.
"All the distractions, all the darts that were coming, I expected it. Now that I have achieved what I have achieved in winning National Panorama with Renegades I believe that I have opened the gates for young arrangers.
"There must be a lot of arrangers that do not have the band that I have to go forward but yet still I  was still determined in opening that space, letting them know this is our generation’s time to say something, to make that statement, and that goes  for Seon Gomez, Arddin Herbert, Carlon Harewood, Liam Teague, the three amigos from  the US  Kendall Williams  Odie  Franklin and Mark Brooks. and all the young arrangers who  have the know-how to send their voices out through music.
"I am not taking full credit for it but this is what we have to do now, rush in the gates and make it happen.
 "No disrespect to the virtuosos that existed before who paved the way for us to be where we are now.  They may say  Duvonne is sounding like Jit, but who you want him to sound like again? 
 "That was the guy I was learning under. Then again I have to find my own purpose in terms of being me and that was one of the key things that made it possible in 2018. 
"Len Boogsie Sharpe, Leon Smooth Edwards Ken Professor Philmore, Ray Holman and you go on, these guys did what they had to do and I say thanks very much to them, but the generation has changed. The generation has evolved to come into this game to make a new sound for the next 10, 15, 20 30 years.
 "I won’t be here forever but what I thought I did was make the new breed arrangers feel comfortable in walking through the gates now to make themselves be heard in Panorama.
 "The older generation will be in the competition still; they will bring their game on and again Nuff respect to them, but now a group of young arrangers is coming at them with fresh and new music.



 Straight Up, Aggressive, Unedited
              My Dynasty is Now


"I could speak for ME personally. I am being myself. I am being real. Uncut. Unedited. Unplugged with the ideas that I have to bring whatever composition is being led to me. "There is no other way to be right now.
(Photo Bp Renegades)
"In the 80’s and 90’s the arrangements that came from the virtuosos were very technical to articulate. A new generation has evolved we have to try to make them understand what we are doing in terms of being transparent, in being straight in your face. That is what it was like arranging this said piece, this composition.
"Carlton Alexander’s approach to Year For Love and Duvonne Stewart’s approach was completely different.
"He is of the soulful, jazzy, very orchestrated type. Sometimes the young generation may not tend to gravitate to it. I am not saying that he is not doing something good. For me, he is doing something good, but then again there is a flavour and taste for people to understand. 
"My version was like up in your face telling you that fire go bun yuh directly without you trying to understand three or four or five times what Duvonne really doing.
"That is just the real straight minded approach that I have. bringing everything directly to your face without going left or right.  Yes, aggressive.
 "I go with the lyrical content of the song and build from there. For example, the line  "another young one gone, brap!", It’s like a gunshot! "There was total silence in the band.
 “I was just saying that a criminal walk up to the band and killed somebody. So I  explained that to the players.
 “In teaching them I explained everything in detail so they understood what they were playing.
"When it's your time, it's your time. I believe my Dynasty is now. I could win come second, third, fourth, come tenth. Nobody knows what next year holds or even what song is available.
 "Everybody goes in at zero, it’s up to the judges.I don't take time to critic what a man does with his own creation. "You can’t go inside his mind and tell him what to do. This is what he feels, what he does and sees fit to bring it to the table. Every single arranger  did what they did best in what they brought to the table."I am not saying that Quincy Jones can’t do what we do. I  see us as phenomenal musicians, exceptional musicians. All of us, the new breed, the Grand Masters who did what they had to do.
"Len Boogsie Sharpe, for me, is the greatest I have ever seen arranging and playing. To be consistently in the top three over three decades .. I can say the same thing for  (Clive) Bradley,  (Jit) Samaroo and Alexander. "They are all phenomenal in re-creating and repositioning music that was given to them.



A Billion Dollars waiting


After his stint with Ebony Steelband in London, Duvonne  Stewart was invited by Billy Ocean to be part of a project at the Music Arts Department at Liverpool University which involves a lecture and workshop on the steel pan.
 “The instrument is growing big time in London. It is compulsory in most of the schools in the UK.
"We need to take time to pay maximum respect to this instrument. This is supposed to be compulsory in the school system. Start it from the school system, make it compulsory that every single child in Trinidad and Tobago learn this instrument.    At the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary levels make this instrument a study because there is a market for steel pan outside.
With Billy Ocean (Photo Duvonne Stewart)
"Andy  Narrell, Victor Provost, Robert Greenidge, Liam Teague Robert Foster, just to name a few are living comfortably internationally off this instrument and they are living examples to the people in Trinidad and Tobago to know there is a life out there with steelpan music. 
“If we don't have the right measures, procedures, the right template back home to make a child feel encouraged to make pan an occupation it will never get from where it is right now. 
“That is why Robert Greenidge lives outside, Ken Professor Philmore is more outside, Len Boogie Sharpe is here but there is nothing here for him to do after the carnival. That is why I travel a lot to make name for myself.
"Outside of that, we have University program in Trinidad at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) run by  Seon Gomez ,Mia Gormandy and Leon Smooth Edwards. There is one in the University of the West Indies and one at COSTATT. Multiple students go there to get Diplomas, Certificates and stuff like that and then after there is nothing for them here. There is not a school steel band program in any of the schools in Trinidad. None.
"At some schools, there is not an instrument in the school.
“I went to Signal Hill Secondary in Scarborough and I received multiple book lists and there is a part in there which says music. So you go buy your manuscript, you buy your Trinity or Royal School of Music Grade One or Two and the instrument that you use is a Recorder. 
"Why it is a Recorder when you are living in a country with an instrument that is national and indigenous.The steelpan supposed to be the instrument used to teach people music in Trinidad and Tobago. Everyone should know what is “doh ray mi fa so la ti doh”  on every pan in Trinidad. 
"We should take time to invest in nurturing and respecting the instrument for what it is because this instrument is a billion dollar industry.
 "The connections that I  built over the years working with bands internationally, So players from all the bands that I touched came back to Renegades to help with the mission.
 Casym in New York, Starlift in St Vincent, Ebony UK had had over 20 players here,  we had two players Calyps Atlantic in France and a couple of Japanese players I normally work with.
" And then again I have a fan base of international pannists that also love Renegades and want to play with the band, they came back, because of how I did the music.
  "I wrote the Score and sent it to all the players internationally,  so they had a fair idea by the time they landed in Trinidad.  I score my own music using the e-pan  a midi steelpan interface that is triggered with any music compatible software  and I go about writing the music by actually playing pan and I am like 120 players doing the song., 
"It is easily accessible for me to do things like that. when they come two days before preliminaries. It's just to fall in and play with the band.