LIKE samizdat, the latest work of Winston "Explainer" Henry has been filtering through the streets of Port of Spain this weekend. He has yet to compose the music, nor has he made arrangements to record it. But for this calypso, it is the words that count. It is called "Hang Dem High" and you can tap your own beat.

Use the hangman's rope as bowtie; / Hang dem high, hang dem high / And no lawyer can't ask me why; / Hang dem high, hang dem high / Don't mind how they beg and cry; / Hang dem high, hang dem high / Who loves to kill must not fraid to die.

Who loves to kill are indeed being killed. They are the Trinidad Nine, a gang of thugs convicted in 1996 for the brutal slaying of Hamilton "Teddy Mice" Baboolal and, for good measure, of his mother, his sister and his aged father. One by one, they are being led to the noose at Frederick Street jail over three days: Friday, yesterday and tomorrow. There is a break for the Sabbath today.

Such a grisly succession of executions has rarely been seen. No family visits were allowed in the convicts' last hours. Their bodies are being dumped in unconsecrated graves between the perimeter fences of another prison, incongruously called Golden Grove. A deep ditch runs alongside them. And "Explainer" has the mood right; there are few tears being shed.

"Finally," blared one of the twin islands' newspapers yesterday. If there is relief - it is not exactly celebration - it is felt over the demise in particular of the first of the men on the gallows, Dole Chadee. Chadee was the gang leader and a powerful drugs baron enriched by the cocaine trade between Latin America and the United States. Many had thought his last day would never come.

By yesterday, there was almost an air of routine in the street outside the jail. Shortly after 6am, the Commissioner of Prisons, Cipriani Batiste, strode from the gate, as he had three times on Friday, to confirm, without elaboration, that the first of the day's three hangings had been successfully carried out. He would be back twice more. The process lasts a while - each man is left to dangle for an hour before removal.

Even the commandos of the Emergency Guard, MP-5 submachine guards at their sides, were growing more relaxed - yesterday most crossed the road to a small cafe, escaping the blistering heat outside, to watch South Africa take on Pakistan in the cricket World Cup. Only the Hindu holy man, who is allowed to see each convict as he goes to the gallows, reminded us of the death that was unfolding inside the jail.

"Each time it is gruesome," said Pundit Dinnanath Dubay. Of Chadee, in his last moments, he said: "He looked serene and poised. But he was sad and withdrawn." The Pundit voiced his own mixed feelings over the executions. "There is a positive effect, because I think with these executions, the murders will lessen. At the same time, I feel that life has to be preserved."

It is a recent escalation of violence on these normally languid islands that has denied these men popular compassion. More than 80 per cent of the country's population have voiced support for the death penalty. Asked on Friday what he thought of the petition sent to him by figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu begging for clemency, the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, Ramesh Maharah, told reporters bluntly: "I have not read it".

The executions may have serial legal and constitutional repercussions. They have come after three years of legal wrangling that extended to the Privy Council in London, which remains the court of last resort for defendants in all of Britain's former Caribbean colonies. Even though it cleared the way for the hangings finally on 26 May - and refused final appeals on Friday morning - the Council is widely seen as an insulting vestige of the Empire that should have no role here.

Indeed, moves to that end are already under way. Next month, heads of government of several Caribbean Commonwealth members are to approve initial steps towards creating a court of their own that will eventually replace the Council in London. This could mean a much faster journey to the gallows for the roughly 250 inmates on Death Row across the region.

Among those gathered at Golden Grove on Friday to watch the burial of Chadee from the other side of the prison fence was Mitchum Campo. He had brought his 20-year-old son, Jason, along with him. "I wanted him to see that crime doesn't pay," he said. Deterrence, he said, was the point. "If this deters just one person from committing a murder, then that is good enough for me."

Comments