A moko jumbie dances at the launch of Downtown Carnival at Woodford Square, Port of Spain on January 19, 2024. – Photo by Faith Ayoung
Despite travel advisories warning citizens from countries such as Canada and the US against coming to TT, National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters has invited the world to this year’s festival.
In a phone interview with Sunday Newsday, Peters said there are plans for increased security in the build-up to Carnival Monday and Tuesday on February 12 and 13.
On January 10, the Canadian Government updated a travel advisory which told its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when coming to TT, owing to violent crime. Under the subhead of safety and security, it said violent crime including armed robberies, assaults and sexual assault occur frequently, especially in Port of Spain.
It said tourists have been targeted, and since 2018, incidents of kidnapping for ransom had increased. It advised cruise ship passengers to be very careful when walking around.
“Shootings, kidnappings and other gang and drug-related violence also occur. There is a risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the advisory said.
NCC chairman Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters. –
While people have expressed their views on TT’s crime rate and Carnival – with some questioning whether it should be held at all, given the crime rate – Peters said even without crime there are some people in the country who believe Carnival should be stopped.
“We were taught and made to believe that Carnival was the worst thing to ever happen to this country, it belongs to the devil, it is a devil thing and it is against God. Without all the crime publicity, we are having, there are people who will say that anyway.
“I don’t take on that kind of thing. We were taught in this country to hate ourselves. Hate Carnival, hate calypso, hate steelpan, hate mas.”
He said these people are in the minority and many understand the significance of Carnival.
“Fortunately, the Government of TT understands that and so we continue to propagate our Carnival all over the world,” he said.
Peters said crime does not have a significant effect on Carnival.
“Around Carnival it don’t have any crime. We should probably have Carnival every day….Everybody, even the criminal-minded people, take time off to participate in their Carnival activities.”
Soca artiste Mical Teja has the crowd at Woodford Square in Port of Spain dancing as he sings DNA at the launch of Downtown Carnival on January 19, 2024. – Photo by Faith Ayoung
He said measures will be taken to ensure the public’s safety during Carnival.
Asked about the effect of the travel advisories against TT, Peters said he does not think it will significantly harm the TT Carnival product.
“It will have some kind of impact on something, but I do not believe it is going to be any significant impact.”
The commission plans to spend an estimated $146 million on this year’s event, and Peters said it has received a portion of the subvention.
“It is never that you get all of the funds that you are actually allocated at one time…We get those things in tranches.”
The funds received so far have been spent on ongoing activities, especially those in the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
While some people have expressed concern about the growth of other regional carnivals like Jamaica, Peters said in most cases, TT has been working alongside these countries.
In fact, he said, members of the Jamaica Carnival Stakeholders Committee will be his guests at this year’s Carnival and are expected to be in TT by February 7.
“This is the Caribbean, and TT is the mecca of Carnival. We are the ones who created this type of carnival. So we are always in collaboration with a lot of people, whether it is in New York, Miami, London, Canada, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.”
He said TT’s Carnival is not threatened by any of these carnivals, but the country needed to be careful as it is now in a “competitive business.”
“We have exported Carnival so much to the rest of the world, we have to make sure that whatever we are doing is done in a way that makes us keep our status.”
The TT brand of Carnival, he said, is spreading even more, as there was interest in other markets like Ghana and the Emirates city of Dubai.
He said he is “dribbling” to get into those markets, and there had been talks between officials in Dubai and the NCC on January 18.
“We are going to continue these talks by Monday or Tuesday (January 22 or 23) to take a contingent there.”
He said exporting TT’s Carnival meant increased foreign exchange.
Bethany “Trinity” Lightborne performs at the launch of Downtown Carnival, at Woodford Square, Port of Spain, January 19, 2024. – Photo by Faith Ayoung
Asked if the country earned any kind of consultancy fee through these discussions, he said “no” but it worked out in the long run that TT was paid.
“When we go out there and export this and people see it and like it, where it comes from and people come to TT, it redounds to the exchequer.”
Peters said he is pleased with how Carnival 2024 is progressing and the commission is doing its best to ensure whatever kinks exists, it will work them out.
“TT’s Carnival is safe. I want to tell people, ‘Feel free to come to TT’s Carnival. It is a safe place to be. No one is going to harm you. No harm is going to come to you. Come to TT’s Carnival, you are well protected.’”