THE EDITOR: We, in TT, can now place firmly behind our backs the shame, humiliation and utter embarrassment we all suffered as a Caricom member at the hands of Kamla Persad-Bissessar on two separate occasions in 2010 when she was prime minister.
Our respite came just a few days ago in Bridgetown where Prime Minister Rowley and his Barbadian counterpart Mia Mottley ushered in a new and refreshing era in regional co-operation between the two countries that can redound to the kind of respect and empathy we should have for each other as Caribbean neighbours.
How different it was back in those lamentable days of 2010.
In August of that year, a few short months after assuming office and upon her first ever appearance as a regional leader at a Caricom Heads of Government Conference, Persad-Bissessar would stand at the Caricom podium and, like an arrogant monarch browbeating her mendicant subjects, haughtily inform her awe-struck fellow leaders that TT was not the ATM of the Caribbean.
The implication was not lost among those to whom she addressed her caustic remarks. That implication, of course, was that their countries had been sponging off TT and it had to end.
Her remarks had come at a time when the IMF was reporting that of the 30 most indebted countries in the world, Caribbean countries made up 15 of them. So it was a time when the countries of the region needed to band together and support each other so that their people could glimpse some salvation in the economic doldrums.
And just in case anyone had any doubt about Persad-Bissessar’s antipathy toward the nature of the regional integration process in which TT was involved; just in case anyone might have been the least bit sceptical about her repugnance for the majority of her fellow Caribbean leaders, she put their doubts to rest three months later.
This was in November 2010, when much of the Windward Islands was anticipating havoc from a tropical storm called Tomas that would eventually develop into a serious hurricane. Tomas would claim 14 lives in St Lucia and create great anxiety in Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Martinique, all of which were subjected to hurricane warnings. Even in TT the beaches were closed off to the public.
So how did Persad-Bissessar react to this regional calamity, to the death and destruction that Tomas visited upon our hapless neighbours?
She issued this stern dictum: any hurricane relief aid provided by TT to its Caricom neighbours should be based on one condition – that TT businesses must get something back.
The reaction from the region was not unexpected. A campaign of boycott was immediately unleashed against trade from TT, a major trading partner within Caricom.
Some commentators in Jamaica, the country that spearheaded the death of the West Indian Federation, expressed the fear that the UNC leader’s remarks did not bode well for Caribbean unity and integration.
Then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley accused Persad-Bissessar of “bringing shame” to the nation and “costing it its valuable leadership role in Caricom, which is so vital to our own economic existence.”
Well, like the other right-thinking people of TT, Rowley is thankfully no longer consumed by shame over the insensitivities of his predecessor.
A few days ago, he was proudly received in Bridgetown as a “brother” by PM Mottley, who respectfully acknowledged him as one of the supreme geologists in the region. Mottley accordingly paid him the honour of taking the lead in explaining to journalists at the Ilaro Court in the Barbadian capital what was involved in the decision by the two countries to embark on joint oil and gas explorations in the waters separating them.
Over the course of the announcement of the historic economic decisions, Rowley was also asked to elaborate on another area of co-operation between the two deeply-friendly countries that involves sharing critical diplomatic representation in a number of countries in Africa as well as in South Korea and United Arab Emirates.
But there’s a remark that was made by Prime Minister Mottley at that ceremony in Bridgetown that should emphasise the depth of the pain and setback that Persad-Bissessar inflicted upon the entire Caribbean region simply because she does not know, or pretends not to know, what economic integration in this Caribbean region is all about.
Said Mottley: “The essence of the integration movement is that as a community of sovereign states we agree to treat each other better than we treat anyone else outside the region.”
Unless and until Persad-Bissessar can assimilate those words, she is not worthy of promoting herself as a prime minister that the rest of the region will respect.
ERROL S PILGRIM