Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar has apologised to the region for her statement that any aid given to Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Tomas must redound to her country’s benefit.
The Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) reported this week that Persad-Bissessar said on a radio programme in Jamaica on Monday that her remarks were “most unfortunate”.
“I do apologise for the statements that have been taken in this regard. I remain committed to regional integration and to our Caricom (Caribbean Community) brothers and sisters,” Persad-Bissessar said.
The prime minister’s comments were make early November as St. Vincent and St. Lucia suffered extensive damage to their agriculture and infrastructure during the passage of the hurricane at the end of October.
Barbados and Haiti were also affected by the weather system.
“If we are giving assistance with housing for example…then we may be able to use Trinidad and Tobago builders and companies, so that whatever money or assistance is given redounds back in some measure to the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Persad-Bissessar told reporters in Port-of-Spain on Nov. 1.
Persad-Bissessar, who came to office earlier this year, told CARICOM leaders in July that oil-rich Port-of-Spain could no longer be regarded as the region’s “ATM card”.
She said in Jamaica this week that since the controversial statements were made her administration has sent several shiploads of containers to the islands affected and that Haiti would also receive assistance. The prime minister has also visited St Lucia.
“The way I envisioned it is that, I can only give from my home, I think St Lucia Prime Minister Stephenson King put it in these words and I appreciate, when he said what Kamla is saying…that we don’t expect her to go out and shop for us and so she would give us goods and supplies out of Trinidad and Tobago, that is what I meant really. It is most unfortunate the way my comments have been received and I do apologise for that,” she said.
Sir Louis Straker, Minister of Foreign Affair in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, had described the prime minister’s comments as “unfortunate … demeaning … insulting”.
The comments have generated heated discussion on the Internet, including several 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.
“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 had said.