Trinidad & Tobago: PM's Statement Causes Backlash

Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister has come under fire for her statements about hurricane relief to some of the CARICOM nations that were severely damaged by Hurricane Tomas. Bloggers throughout the Caribbean archipelago were offended by the sentiment that any release of the twin island republic's aid dollars hinged on reciprocal economic benefits. The PM's position has left a bitter taste in the mouths of those affected by the storm and prompted an online boycott of Trinidad and Tobago products in a region already not particularly enamoured of the country's approach to doing business.

Discuss SVG, whose island took quite a beating from the storm, was “saddened” by the Prime Minister's statements, but conceded:

The reality is any diplomatic offering, whether it be humanitarian aid, regional investment or otherwise always comes with strings attached, whether it comes from a developed country or developing nation. Maybe Kamla has simply not realised that such declarations are better not made in the public forum, limited only to confidential discourse among regional peers.

Politics aside, what upset her was “the callousness of the statement”:

How dare she rank the desire to ensure the benefit of her nationals in the same category of the families, villages and communities that have been ravaged by Tomas? Has she seen or was she even cognizant of the dire needs not trivial wants of St. Lucia, Barbados and our very own Hairouna? I am tempted to blog on the possible effects of this Hurricane on the political landscape but I shall refrain while I pray and do my best to bring our nation back on its feet.

In contrast, Barbadian bloggers Barbados Free Press and Barbados Underground saw the statement for what it was, and thought that all the fallout was unnecessary. BFP even admitted that:

The BFP crew joined the outrage against Persad-Bissessar’s statements made earlier this week – until Marcus walked into the room and gave us his outstanding impression of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II…

‘We’re both part of the same hypocrisy…

…but Kamla’s decided she’d rather tell the truth.’

The post continued:

Proponents of CARICOM love to talk about how wonderful and strong the Caribbean Community could be if we would only unite and put aside our selfishness. If the stronger and wealthier countries would help our neighbours to the best of our ability, the entire family would progress.

Fine words. Fine thoughts.

The Caricom party line heard for decades ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

So when Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar said that Trinidad and Tobago taxpayers are getting tired of being thought of as the CARICOM family piggy bank, that she has to consult with the citizens before her government can make promises AND that if houses are to be built as a gift from T&T, it will be T&T companies that build them with T&T materials… WELL… that put the mongoose in the chicken pen!

The blog couldn't help but note similarities to Haiti in the wake of the January 12 earthquake: not in terms of the scale of the disaster, but in Caribbean's people's response to the victims:

It didn’t take long to cut through the Bajan veneer of sincerity about Haiti, did it?

Barbados did not take in a single injured patient from Haiti. Not twenty. Not ten. Not five. Not two. Not even one.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas, the small island nations of St. Vincent, Barbados and St. Lucia are looking for help from Trinidad & Tobago.

Ask yourself these questions… Did we really do as much as we could for Haiti for the last nine months? Why should we expect anything different from our neighbour, Trinidad and Tobago?

You know the answer, because ‘We’re both part of the same hypocrisy’

BU thought the whole affair was nothing but “a storm in a teacup”:

It is understandable for people to become emotional at this time when St. Lucians and Vincentians are in obvious distress. It may come as a surprise that BU see nothing wrong with the meaning behind Kamla’s position. Perhaps her message was twisted by a media which is always on the hunt to sensationalize news of late.

If the aid had come form China, USA, Britain and a host of other countries the issue of reciprocal arrangements would be a moot point. It is generally known – taken for granted some might suggest – that many of the so called developed countries attached conditionalities to how aid is deployed. Why should T&T dump aid in St, Lucia for example and the government there feel under no obligation to purchase raw materials from T&T? expressed similar feelings and was in support of his Prime Minister's position:

When the Prime Minister announced to CARICOM earlier this year that the Trinidad and Tobago ATM is now closed, many probably thought it was political rhetoric. Now that she is exercising the Republic’s prerogative by expecting some measure of reciprocity by our CARICOM brothers and sisters in their time of need she is being vilified.

For years Trinidad and Tobago has been seen as the financial big brother to the rest of CARICOM and the countless millions that we have pumped into that black hole has returned very little to the Republic except maybe some good will. Clearly, and a few years too late this position must change and if we are to continue to benefit from CARICOM membership we must exist as an equal partner or leave.

The blogger also addressed the online call for a T&T boycott…

There have been reports that on Facebook and other social media many CARICOM nationals are calling for a boycott of Trinidad and Tobago products and services. Retaliatory marketing can only foster estrangement and if regional governments support this then they confirm the status quo as being fair-weather friends and aren’t we better off without this kind of arrangement?

…and examined the statement in the context of the country's current economic reality:

During the election campaign there were calls for better governance, economic progress and a generally better standard of living for all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. Now that we have the leadership we wanted how could we expect it to be business as usual? The actual and opportunity costs of any expenditure must be put in its proper perspective so that we don’t embark on imprudent fiscal activity that could prove deleterious to our already precarious economy.

Whereas the PM's statement is acerbic in nature the reality is that we will not sign a blank cheque to aid anyone and this must be seen as the responsible thing.

Objectively, we are already in deficit financing from the latest budget. Any expenditure we undertake outside this deficit carries us deeper into the red. How are we to pay for this ‘aid'?

While the blogger admitted that “from a diplomatic perspective it [the statement] is a disaster and we can expect the consequences to be far ranging and protracted”, he also drew attention to the recent fallout “when most of CARICOM signed onto Chavez's Petrocaribe deal”:

They essentially told Trinidad and Tobago to go to hell with your oil and gas we'll support Chavez. The consequence being that Trinidad and Tobago had to expand its extra regional and international marketing to compensate for the losses incurred. We weren't brothers and sisters then. All concerned made decisions relevant to their economics and even though they've bounded their economies to Chavez for years to come they made choices that benefited them and had the potential of crippling our own economy. Regardless of the situation, sovereign responsibility is the first priority: anything beyond that is a betrayal of the mandate voted for by the people.

Of course, in true Caribbean fashion, humour has been one way that bloggers are tackling the issue. No sooner had the Prime Minister's statements conjured up regional ire than @Fake Kamla made her debut on Twitter; her political foe and the country's former fake Prime Minister, @patrickmanning, was the first to comment:

So Kamla and I not so different after all. Only thing is she talking country, whereas I used to talk Patos’ pocket.

Fake Patrick Manning even wrote a blog post about it, publishing comical letters he purportedly received from a range of characters who are unhappy about the current Prime Minister's resolve.

Back on Twitter, Fake Kamla decided to crowdsource her apology to CARICOM; suggestions ranged from blaming alcohol and PMS to channeling Margaret Thatcher.

Using an interesting bit of logic, the fake Prime Minister defended her position by saying:

CARICOM, giving you aid $ to spend on goods made in other countries = buying clothes for your husband to wear to go out and horn you.

She addressed the issue of the boycott, noting that the campaign seemed to be offline and asking:

Looking for a CARICOM person who's actually boycotting T&T goods. What T&T product DIDN'T you buy today?

Referring to her trip to St. Lucia today, the fake PM tweeted:

Packing for St. Lucia trip. Anyone know what fabric resists banana stains the best?

Finally, in response to a netizen's link to a mainstream media story suggesting that her statement's were misunderstood, she enthusiastically agreed:

Damn right I was! RT @jovanreid: T&T PM says she was misunderstood


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