Media companies usually long for hard news when Parliament is in recess and the law courts are closed during the summer months. The senior writers also take their holidays and the lessor journos have more chance of their reports not being spiked.
Frivolous or attention grabbing stories then, in this time known playfully as the silly season, make it higher up on the newspaper and broadcast agendas as companies try to keep their revenues up.
Social media may have turned the silly season on its head, offering an overflowing smorgasbord of nonsense news rarely meant to amuse or provoke, rather to undermine and manipulate the unsuspecting public, but silly season is also the time we are now in, notwithstanding the deadly coronavirus that has changed many people’s lives, perhaps irrevocably. With TT’s general elections due in the next few months and critical presidential elections due in the US in November, we have entered a political season of outlandish gimmickry which would make us guffaw if it weren’t so damaging.
It cannot be easy for any opposition to make tracks against a successful government as elections approach and it finds itself searching desperately to grab a toe-hole via some issue of national concern that could help swing public opinion in its favour. In our case, the allegedly treaty-busting meeting here between the Venezuelan vice president and our PM and key cabinet members during lockdown offers the Opposition something to hitch their wagon to and the media, by default, a story to run with. So too is the overcharged story of us selling gasoline illegally to Venezuela. Some of it involved quite shockingly low grade behaviour on the part of some senior opposition members who saw it fit to summon a rebuke of our PM and the people of TT by invoking the empty wrath of the representative of a foreign government that wishes to hold us to ransom. The brouhaha smacks of desperation and reveals the depths politicians would plumb to achieve power, including sacrificing the welfare of its own citizens.
What could the Opposition have been thinking in trying, in effect, to encourage the US to introduce sanctions against us? It has been interesting to watch the pitiful saga unfold, finally with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, too latterly, weighing in on why we are not bound by the Rio Treaty, the agreement the Opposition was goading the US to say we have violated, the Heritage-Aruba gasoline sale story having been too slippery and therefore escaped from the opposition’s grasp.
Professor Andy Knight, former head of the Institute of International Relations at UWI St Augustine was the first to opine that we had not contravened the treaty, which is a collective defense pact triggered by a military attack, and no act of aggression had occurred. Then came head of the MSJ David Abdulah’s well-argued piece for Wired868 on how the other politicians and media have all got their knickers in a twist over what is merely US unilateral sanctions against Venezuela, nothing to do with the Rio Treaty.
Meanwhile, Martin Daly and Reggie Dumas wisely counselled that megaphone diplomacy is unseeming and not the way to get things done. Of course, the US Embassy openly contradicting the National Security Minister’s account of a conversation with the Ambassador was unfriendly and uncustomary and can only be viewed as a challenge. It prompted the reluctant Minister of Foreign Affairs to step out of the crease and boldly remind the US, the Opposition, and the general public that we do not support external intervention in the affairs of sovereign countries, a policy I personally agree with. Who would want a foreign government to seek to unseat any serving TT PM simply because it did not approve of him/her?
The main point in all of this is that the US and the Opposition are seeking power – one, electoral power which, after all, is their duty to do; and the other, long-term politico-economic influence in the running of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, located in its immediate backyard. If Panama were not the maritime passageway between the east and west coasts of the US, President Noriega would not have been removed from office on drug charges and given a 40-year prison sentence, and if Venezuela were barren and not strategically important it wouldn’t matter if a thousand Maduros ran it. There is too the matter of political ideology, not something that usually divides our main parties, but it is clear that the PNM has a bias towards the left, and the UNC, although forged partly out of the struggle to protect workers’ rights, is essentially conservative. And in relation to the US, the politics of opportunism prevails, fired by nationalistic self-seeking and personal delusion.
This dangerous silly season is set fair as President Trump’s approval ratings plunge, and while our Government continues to cleverly manage the bonus popularity covid19 has paradoxically given it, our Opposition will continue to run amok.