ST. VINCENT: – Minister of Foreign Affair Sir Louis Straker has described as “unfortunate … demeaning … insulting” comment by Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that any aid her country gives to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations affected by Hurricane Tomas must redound to the benefit of Trinidadians.
The comments on Monday, Nov. 1, have generated heated discussion on the Internet, including several Internet campaigns calling for the boycott of goods from Trinidad and Tobago.
Sir Louis, however, did not anticipate that Persad-Bissessar’s comments would have any lasting impact on interregional cooperation.
Hurricane Thomas ravaged the southern Caribbean last weekend, killing at least 12 persons in St. Lucia and leaving significant damage to agriculture and infrastructure in St. Vincent and Barbados.
It has since travelled north, where it is unleashing its fury on Jamaica, and Haiti, where thousands of people are still living in makeshift shelters after January’s earthquake.
Sir Louis, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, told the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in Kingstown that Persad-Bissessar’s comments “reflects great selfishness” and is demeaning to the entire Caribbean.
“It show great insensitivity and it is insulting to Vincentians and Trinidadians. I am very disappointed by the statement made by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and feel very strongly that she needs to reconsider it, reflect on it and see the damage that was done to the image of her country throughout the region and the world, and would want to offer an apology for what she has said,” Sir Louis said.
He further said that Persad-Bissessar’s comments did not reflect “the spirit or the sentiments of the people of Trinidad and Tobago”.
“Many of the people of Trinidad and Tobago have their roots in many of the islands — Grenada, St. Vincent, and Barbados, particularly. And when it’s a matter of disaster, when it’s a matter that one is in great need, I would expect that those who have been blessed with resources to share those resources to the countries around,” he said.
“[I] don’t think it would affect our relationship because our relationship – we are all part in CARICOM, and I don’t think it will have any lasting effect on the people of the region and therefore we will always be cooperating in one way or the other, despite this,” Sir Louis said.
In Persad-Bissessar’s defence
But while Sir Louis said that Persad-Bissessar might want to consider apologising for her statement, she had defended herself against criticism of her remarks.
Persad-Bissessar told journalists in Trinidad and Tobago that under a new partnership with the private sector called “Helping Hands”, emergency assistance and reconstruction efforts, rather than cash, will be offered to Caribbean nations in need.
“The government expects that this approach will be a boost to the local construction industry whilst simultaneously assisting those persons who are in urgent need of these supplies. The accruing benefit to local business will place Trinidad and Tobago in a healthier economic circumstance,” Persad-Bissessar, said, according to CMC.
However, the opposition in Port-of-Spain has rejected Persad-Bissessar’s invitation to join talk to determine what strings would be attached to aid that the oil-rich capital gives to its neighbours.
Leader of the Opposition Dr. Keith Rowley said he would have nothing to do with Persad-Bissessar’s “backward, colonial policy”.
“We believe that in situations like these, we are unconditionally our brothers’ keeper, to the best of our ability,” Rowley said.
However, Austin “Jack” Warner, who acted as Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar attended the funeral of former Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson, said there is nothing wrong with his boss’s proposition.
“There has to be returns to the people. The Prime Minister’s statement, therefore I am saying, is not insensitive. The statement is not breeding insularity. The statement is putting everyone on notice that you cannot be brothers and sisters only when they are in need and strangers when the going is good,” Warner said this week.