T&T still 'tekking liberty' with Jamaica

Published: Sunday | December 8, 2013 Comments 0
Gary Spaulding
Gary Spaulding
Winston Dookeran (right), Trinidad's foreign minister, and Jamaican counterpart A.J. Nicholson field questions from journalists at a press briefing in New Kingston last week.-Rudolph Brown/Photographer
Winston Dookeran (right), Trinidad's foreign minister, and Jamaican counterpart A.J. Nicholson field questions from journalists at a press briefing in New Kingston last week.-Rudolph Brown/Photographer

Gary Spaulding

The legendary insularity that has long marred relationships in sections of the Caribbean conspired last week with the monumental lunacy of some of our leaders to sabotage the valiant efforts of two ministers from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to stave off a looming trade war.

It is instructive to note that the term 'trade war' was utilised not by Jamaicans campaigning for a boycott of goods produced in Trinidad and Tobago, but by Winston Dookeran, Trinidad's minister of foreign affairs, as he addressed journalists in Jamaica last week.

Equally instructive is the fact that it was Jamaica's minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, A.J. Nicholson, who seized the initiative to invite Dookeran here to forge a path of reconciliation after Jamaicans declared 'war' on T&T's productive sector.

Rare good sense prevailed in the emotion-riddled domains of two countries that flaunted allegations and counter-allegations, as Dookeran was in Jamaica much quicker than anticipated. And so, the initiative came to fruition when it appeared that some men and women in the twin-island republic, as well as Jamaica, were losing their reason.

But more troubling was that reason appears to have eluded some of the region's political leaders, whose enormous egos are only surpassed by their mouths, given the lunacy of their pronouncements.


Of significance was Dookeran's unmistakable appreciation of the facts and figures that appear to have escaped the attention of emotionally driven proponents and opponents in both countries.

As a former governor of Trinidad's central bank, Dookeran would be acutely aware that Jamaica was T&T's second largest trading partner.

To quote a fellow journalist from Trinidad: "Dookeran, the foreign affairs dude, is older, less aggressive (than Gary Griffith) and a former governor of the central bank, so he understands the economy and why we need to end the impasse quickly and smooth Jamaicans' feathers."

Dookeran, an articulate and cool customer, based on his interactions with Jamaican journalists last week, appeared devoid of senseless emotionalism.

He would be painfully aware of the likely fallout with a country with which Trinidad and Tobago has as a multimillion-dollar importer.

Only the United States, at $29 billion worth of trade, according 2010 data, is valued more than T&T's trade with Jamaica.

For many in Jamaica, the phrase 'trade partner with Trinidad and Tobago' is a misnomer, as the trade imbalance between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago is overwhelming, skewed as it is in favour of the latter.


Arguments were also advanced last Thursday that T&T's National Security Minister Gary Griffith's offensive and insulting comments came as the CARICOM relationship was costing the people of Jamaica $25 billion per year, or two per cent of GDP.

That money, private-sector leaders proffered, could be used to develop Jamaica and not to subsidise Trinidad and Tobago, which will turn out to 'tek liberty'.

The man with whom Dookeran had come to Jamaica to engage is a vocal and eminent proponent of regionalism.

A.J. Nicholson, a former justice minister, is an unceasing advocate for the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its final jurisdiction (as the final appellate body in place of the London-based Privy Council), as well as symbols and structures of CARICOM.

It was supposedly against the backdrop of his unwavering commitment to the principles of CARICOM and its treaty that Nicholson expressed concern that the treatment meted out to Jamaicans at Piarco International Airport, and the sharp increase in the number of Jamaicans being returned from Trinidad, have generated considerable public outrage, particularly in the wake of the Shanique Myrie ruling.

Anthony Hylton, Jamaica's industry, investment and commerce minister, echoed Nicholson's sentiments. He warned that if the Government fails, there were clear indications that the people are willing and ready to take matters into their own hands to launch a boycott of goods out of Trinidad and Tobago.

Even so, emotional individuals continue to disregard facts and figures governing trade and treaty in their imbecilic efforts at one-upmanship which may scuttle a move towards reconciliation.

Griffith is described by his compatriots as a military man with little or no knowledge or appreciation for the economic and financial implications that could befall the twin-island state that he seeks to protect with a vengeance.

"If he's mouthing off like that, he has support within the Cabinet (also known as the Cabal), but not necessarily Kamla. They will probably say one thing officially, and continue deporting randomly," we were told by the Trinis.

Only days after Dookeran returned to Trinidad and Tobago, Griffith took him to task for making promises to Nicholson on travel between T&T and Jamaica, without first consulting him.

Griffith reportedly maintained that he was not backing down on his decision to boot "undesirables" from other Caribbean countries out of T&T, insisting that people who enter this country under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) programme continued to be a burden on the state and could further escalate the crime situation.


"T&T is not a mall, where anyone will be allowed entry," Griffith declared. Apart from his boorish behaviour that threatens to ruffle feathers in both Jamaica and Trinidad, his pronouncements bring into sharp focus another issue - who really leads the Government of Trinidad and Tobago if Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had given Dookeran her blessings.

Why should Dookeran need to 'consult' with Griffith, if Winston Dookeran, Trinidad's foreign affairs minister, was mandated by Persad-Bissessar to hold discussions with Jamaica's A.J. Nicholson?

My checks reveal that Griffith's statement has annoyed the hell out of prominent members of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, and there are indications that sections of the political directorate are just as, if not more, irritated.

Karl Samuda, who by his own account experienced myriad challenges with Trinidad and Tobago's commercial sector, summed up the sentiments of many Jamaicans. He charged that Griffith's expression is demonstrative of the harbouring of deep-seated resentment towards Jamaica and Jamaicans.

"Notwithstanding any efforts by any individual minister or group within Trinidad, it is clear that the government of Trinidad does not intend to live up to their obligation under the Treaty of Chaguaramas.

"Trinidad's action bears out the long-held belief that they have no intention of providing Jamaican nationals with the respect that we deserve ... . It is for this and other reasons, some of which relate to immigration and others to trade, that I have repeatedly said that it is time to end the chat and get down to serious action," he said.

Truth be told, the emotive rivalries between Trinidad and Tobago predate the trade and immigration issues of recent memory.

The events of 1961 that culminated in Jamaica's withdrawal from the Federation of the West Indies, with the comments of T&T's prime minister at the time, Eric Williams, that "one from 10 leaves nought", continue to haunt us.

So, fast-forward to 2013. It's unfortunate that an intemperate outburst from an army man-turned-politician could wreck the tenuous relationship that exists between two major players in CARICOM.

Tragically, some of these anachronistic, ex-army personalities tend to attempt to retain a vice grip on a past life, forgetting that they are not at war and, in the process, bulldozing sensible diplomacy in their wake.

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com.

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