By Hudson George
It might be a big surprise for some citizens in the OECS countries when they heard the news that Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar offered to help flood victims in St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica. However, the fact is, Mrs Persad-Bissessar has no other choice but to give emergency assistance, in order to keep good trading relationship with her OECS neighbours. She cannot isolate herself and her country from the rest of the region, with all her oil and gas money; and insulting mentality.
Hudson George has a BA in Social Science from York University, Toronto, Canada. He has been writing since his early teenage years and now contributes letters and articles to a number of Caribbean newspapers
As it is always easy for Caribbean politicians to preach divisions when it suits their interest to attract voters based on race politics and xenophobia, but when they are elected into office to govern their country, it is a different ball game all together. They recognise very quickly that they have to be friendly and very diplomatic with their CARICOM trading partners because they cannot isolate their people from the wider Caribbean community. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, that country is not powerful enough to make a big trading impact in Latin America. Only within the CARICOM bloc can Trinidad and Tobago stand strong as the leader.
On the other hand, in Trinidad and Tobago race plays a big part in politics. It is no hidden secret that Afro and Indo Trinbagonians vote by race. However, due to the fact that the PNM governed the country for very long time, before and after independence, with a strong following from the African population, the East Indian politicians realised that their only hope and means of getting political power is to hold on to their race ethnicity base. And as other ethnic groups, including some Africans, wanted to get rid of the PNM government, Persad-Bissessar’s UNC party was able to win over nontraditional supporters and form a successful coalition with smaller political parties and defeat the PNM.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s coalition front uses national pride and “island-ism” as major issues to attract dissatisfied voters regardless of their ethnicity. There is no hidden secret that a section of the Afro Trinbagonians does not like their African brothers and sisters in the neighbour islands. And due to the fact that the majority of citizens in the OECS countries are black African origin, Mrs Persad-Bissessar was able to make political strides and hold on to her East Indian ethnic voter base. The campaign was successful for the coalition. As in all free democratic societies, people have their free will to choose a government of their choice.
However, even though the PNM has a large following of voters within the African population, the majority of rich business people who support the PNM party are not of African descent. In addition, the PNM had its corrupted officials, who made some big blunders too and their blunders were relevant issues for the coalition to campaign on and win votes. But it seems as though the coalition government is not stable. Some top party officials got kicked out and others defected. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar and Jack Warner are now political enemies.
With the absence of Jack Warner and other influential persons from Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s coalition government, she must have realised by now the honeymoon is over. Jack Warner formed another political party and he has taken away some supporters from Persad-Bissessar’s UNC faction within the coalition. Mr Warner’s affiliation with the UNC party was plus for Mrs Persad-Bissessar when they were in the opposition. She could have argued that her UNC party is multi racial because Mr Warner is an Afro Trinidadian with financial clout and international recognition.
In addition, Mrs Persad-Bissessar has to deal with COP, which is another East Indian based political faction within her coalition. Although COP is still a part of the coalition, there are long standing differences between Persad-Bissessar’s UNC faction and Winston Dookeran of the COP. As a matter of fact, Mr Dookerran was a UNC politician who left the party and formed COP. However, it seems as though both UNC and COP’s common enemy is the PNM, even though they have their own differences.
Additionally, in spite of the hard economic times some CARICOM citizens are experiencing on a daily basis, there is no large influx of OECS citizens landing on the coastal shores of Trinidad and Tobago in small boats as refugees. Presently, it is obvious that Mrs Persad-Bissessar is more interested in her political future. Her main focus is how she can hold on to political power within the democratic system and to enjoy the company of other CARICOM leaders, when they have summits. She knows it is a pleasure for her to hold academic discussions and enjoy big banquets with her Caribbean colleagues.
With the present political climate in Trinidad and Tobago, after Jack Warner defeated the UNC candidate in a by-election and the PNM was victorious in local elections, some influential trade union leaders are no longer supporting the coalition. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has no other choice but to stretch out an olive branch to CARICOM neighbours in times of their crisis. She cannot talk like a drunk person and say that Trinidad is not a ATM machine anymore. And even though she is loyal to her UNC political base, the CARICOM bloc has a large African population that must be respected. They are the main consumers of Trinidad and Tobago manufactured products.
In conclusion, I know that the contribution Trinidad and Tobago will make towards the flood disasters in the neighbouring islands is not really a genuine brotherhood thing. And it is expected that some citizens from the twin island republic will make a mockery of Vincentians, St Lucian and Dominicans. They will make negative comments and say that Trinidad is taking their money and feeding small-islanders. Fortunately, this time around, as a Grenadian, I can say that I am happy that bad weather did not affect Grenada, because my biggest wish is that Grenada never has to receive one cent as a gift from the government of Trinidad and Tobago.
I hate to be insulted by Trinbagonians when their government gives us help in the time of need. Anyway, my sympathy to all Vincentians, St Lucians and Dominicans, who lost their loved ones and personal property in the flood disaster.