Caribbean: 5th Summit Begins

As the heads of member states of the Fifth Summit of the Americas gather today in Trinidad and Tobago, bloggers Caribbean-wide are eager to discuss the pros and cons of the event.

Grenadian Blah Bloh Blog says:

Although I’m a good 150 miles overseas, I must admit to a great deal of personal excitement over the impending arrival of President Obama in Trinidad; we can only hope he might decide on a spur of the moment rest-stop in Greenz perhaps?

For the past week or so, as advance security measures have begun, Grenada’s Point Salines International Airport has become a hub for the U.S. Air Force. F15 jets and C5 transports occupy a section of the runway, with the F15s maintaining a steady rotation of recon/surveillance flights.

Here’s hoping to hear some good news out of the Summit.

Good news may have to wait, but Blah Bloh Blog certainly spread some confusing news in the form of photos (allegedly of the arrival of The Beast) at Piarco International Airport, although there is no confirmation as to whether the vehicle in question is actually the U.S. President‘s limousine – but that didn't stop her from commenting:

Lawd, I have to love mi Trini brudders and dem – yuh ent see dem posing wid de man vehicle!! (For what it’s worth, I understand these pictures were taken by T&T police officers, not civilians. I know we Caribbean people good, but we ent so good dat de Secret Service go let we jus’ be liming around de most secure car in de world).

Other bloggers, however, are focused on more controversial issues. From Trinidad and Tobago, Undisputed Truth has the financial impact of hosting the Summit on his mind:

The government of Trinidad and Tobago is spending between $1 billion to $2 billion TT dollars (US$161 million – US$323 million) of taxpayer money on the Summit. So far they are yet to publicly disclose the exact figure.

Trinidad’s GDP is only about US$15 billion. Trinidad is therefore spending about 13% of its GDP just to host the Summit. Prime Minister of Trinidad Patrick Manning has been mentioning his intentions to host the Summit for years. He has translated this into creating state agencies to quickly renovate and construct high-rise buildings in and around Port-of-Spain and the country each costing hundreds of millions of dollars. So the real cost of the Summit may be even scarier.

To put this into perspective, the G20 Summit hosted in London costed just £20 million or TT$180 million or US$29 million. So Trinidad is spending as much as 10 times the cost of the G20 Summit for the Summit of the Americas.

This is an absolute scandal and waste of money…

Barbadian blogger Cheese-on-bread! adds:

All eyes will be focused over the next few days on Trinidad, where President Barack Obama will be attending the 5th Summit of the Americas. I must admit now that although I would have been thrilled to get a glimpse of Mr. President, I don't think we could afford the expense that comes with hosting him. Reports suggest that T&T is spending TT$1.2 billion on the summit…thank God they have oil money. No bosie, it doesn't make sense putting ourselves in the poor house to put on a good show for the Americans.

Part of the President's surveillance has been set up here at the Grantley Adams International Airport, and I imagine all their satellites must be trained on Trinidad at this moment. All the criminals will probably be lying low this weekend…

Over in the French Caribbean, Carib Creole One [Fr] is carefully following Summit developments and ponders on issues of self-governance and inter-Caribbean relations. He also takes a look at the complex relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

Live in Guyana talks about the “Great Wall“:

The residents of Beetham Gardens, a drab area of rundown government housing and relentless gang warfare, have been cut off from the rest of this sprawling Trinidadian capital.

The government has erected a wall along the neighborhood's frayed edges, blocking the view into a long troubled community that shares space with the murky waters of industrial waste, overgrown weeds and the constant stench of the nearby landfill.

The 5-foot-tall wall is simply a beautifying touch, say government officials, who have spent months prepping for the arrival this week of 33 leaders including President Barack Obama at the largest and most important gathering of hemispheric leaders.

But it seems that Guyana has some Summit controversy of its own. Caribbean American Forum notes that:

The New York Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID)…published a full page ad telling summit participants that ‘There is a crisis of governance in Guyana which has burgeoned from unparalleled corruption, bad and despotic governance and the abrogation of the rule of law. Guyana’s democracy is tenuous at best and the nation stands at the threshold of failed statehood.’

T&T-based Now is Wow Too finds the theme of the Summit (Securing Our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability) incredibly ironic:

T&T GOVERNMENT: Citizens? What citizens? All we care about is hurriedly spending at least $500 million dollars to fix up the country so that it looks good for Obama … and the rest of the world.

Quick! He's flying in today! Forget about the global financial crisis. Let's dish out about $1 million US to rehabilitate the airport so we can accommodate the US Presidential aircrafts and the other jets that are bringing in our important guests!

Paint all the lines, roadsigns, lightpoles, tree trunks … in fact, paint every and anything on the road along the route from the airport to Port-of-Spain! We can't afford to let Obama see any of our infrastructure looking old and ratty! And never mind if the citizens are stuck for hours in traffic while we spruce up. They're used to it.

(… i.e. the traffic, not the sprucing up).

Pave the roads and fix any potholes in areas where Obama and other foreign Heads of State have to pass! Build a wall (… and call it a ‘berm’) to hide the ‘slums’ in the Beetham so our important guests won't see the poverty!

And on that note, drive around and pick up all the vagrants so it will look like we don't have a problem with homelessness and madness. Some of these social outcasts are running away, but hopefully not in the direction of the Summit centre!

As if to address her concerns, public relations blog 5 am at Mango Media Caribbean interviews a spokesperson for the Summit Secretariat, who claims that “we are ready alright [for the Summit]; we have been ready for awhile” – this despite countless stories of a lack of preparedness in the local mainstream media.

In fact, Trinidad blogger B.C. Pires, who now lives in Barbados, is convinced that the best place to be for the Summit is anywhere outside of Port of Spain:

The Summit of the Americas starts tomorrow and the big shots start arriving today, with Barack Obama being the biggest shot of them all, of course. And you won’t be able to move a muscle in town until Barack and the Beast ride out again.

He's not far off – Caribbean Beat Blog, for instance, reports that:

Caribbean Airlines (CAL) has been informed by the relevant authorities that there will be limited disruptions to its scheduled operations during the Fifth Summit of the Americas…CAL is recommending that passengers depart for the airport much earlier than usual, in the event that any traffic pile-ups occur, in order to arrive at the airport three hours ahead of their scheduled flight departure time.

But there is a lighter side to the Summit as well – at least in the eyes of bloggers. As always, Trinidadian This Beach Called Life uses humour to focus on key issues, posting a fictitious diary entry from President Obama:

The trip to Mexico was eventful. We promised to use less illicit drugs and Mexico promised to export less gardeners. I am now on my way to sunny Trinidad and Tobago and can’t wait to see the Hyatt.

I can see a few tall buildings, the Great Beetham Wall and Hugo waving a red flag. Port of Spain looks good from this angle but there are wires hanging everywhere. I wonder if they managed to round up the homeless and hide them from the international press. This was so Third World, the cleaning up for the Summit but denying it wasn’t so. Only a Banana Government would act this foolish. I wonder if there is going to be any protest but I don’t think a semi-dictatorial leader would allow something as democratic as protests to take place during an international event. It would make them look even worse.

Culture is also playing a role – both officially and unofficially. Caribbean Free Radio‘s flickr photostream displays a photoset entitled “The People Must Be Herd”, along with the following explanation…

As final preparations are being made for the staging of the 5th Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, a group of artists will do a performance installation on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago's capital, Port of Spain.

The silent procession is part of a video installation being created by the band’s designers Ashraph Ramsaran and Shalini Seereeram.

T’in Cow Fat Cow debuted as an independent mas band in 2009, inspired by the song T'in Cow by 3 Canal.

…while Repeating Islands blog has the scoop on the cultural presentation for the official Summit opening later today:

For the opening ceremony, [carnival designer] MacFarlane has put together a 45-minute cultural presentation that traces the development of the Caribbean peoples from the indigenous inhabitants to the multi-ethnic citizenry of the region today.

What the Fifth Summit of the Americas will eventually achieve is still up for debate, but one thing is certain: the multi-ethnic citizenry of the blogosphere will monitor its progress every step of the way.

Fabienne Flessel contributed to this post.


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