On Thursday 11 December, Trinidad and Tobago ‘s Prime Minister Patrick Manning shocked the nation with news that his doctors had found a malignant tumour in one of his kidneys. He made the announcement at a press conference after informing his Cabinet. That same evening Manning left Trinidad for Cuba , where surgery to remove the affected kidney is scheduled for next week. He said he plans to return to Trinidad in early January. The revelation comes at a time when the Manning administration is facing widespread criticism of its measures for dealing with the global financial crisis , and the prime minister himself was recently accused of interfering with press freedom . Poll results published on 7 December suggested that Manning's approval rating is now just 17 per cent.
Surprisingly, in the 24 hours since the news broke, there have been very few public comments from Trinidadian bloggers. Jumbie's Watch, who writes frequently on politics, responded with what can only be described as gloating:
This could be a ploy to garner sympathy at a time when his government is at the lowest ever in terms of popularity…. I can't help but think the bigger the risk of the surgery, the better it is for the country. Should he die on the operating table, then the country may have a glimmer of hope in moving forward….
Coffeewallah was far more circumspect . "I will not discuss the forbidden subject lest I piss someone off," she wrote, then went on to discuss her lack of faith in Trinidad and Tobago's health system. "Clearly, I am not the only one," she said, in a thinly veiled reference to Manning's decision to have his surgery done abroad.
The satirical Secret Blog of Patrick "Patos" Manning , which parodies the prime minister, was silent today, but its anonymous blogger did post updates at Twitter and Facebook. "Why Cuba?" asked "Patrick Manning". "Because no Cuban doctor would secretly try to replace my kidney with a jackass kidney."
Commentors at the Manning blogger's Facebook page left scathing remarks. "He has cut the hospitals funding here, but its OK for him as he heads off to Cuba," wrote one of them.
Though public online forums have been relatively silent on the consequences of Manning's health situation, behind Facebook ‘s closed doors a discussion is raging among Trinidadians and Tobagonians. One note posted on Facebook last night, for example, criticised the response of reporters at the press conference where the prime minister announced his news, asking why they failed to ask penetrating questions. Senior journalist Lennox Grant (quoted with permission) replied:
Somebody, senior or junior, should have fumbled, faltered, stammered or otherwise signalled and encouraged follow-up questions on what may be the biggest story of our time.
Some Trinidadian Facebook users are asking why Manning is not having his surgery at home. Others suggest this illness is somehow a form of comeuppance for what they see as his bad governance. But there are relatively few expressions of sympathy — a striking sign of the prime minister's personal unpopularity. And not many are yet discussing what Manning's short- or long-term incapacitation could mean for the present government, and Trinidad and Tobago's politics.