Stabroek News – January 28, 2019

Kamla Persad-Bissessar

(Trinidad Express) There are more than 200,000 Trinidad and Tobago citizens who hold United States visas and can be impacted by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s “not-so-veiled attack” on the United States over its stance on Venezuela.

So said Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, at the United National Congress (UNC) national assembly meeting at Couva South Hall on January 27, 2019

United States Ambassador Joseph Mondello had slammed the Trinidad and Tobago Government for continuing to recognise Nicolas Maduro as president of the troubled country.

Rowley, in response, said he took umbrage to this.

“In the Parliament on Friday, while the Prime Minister waged his own war on the US ambassador and President Trump on the Venezuela matter, both the AG Faris and the Planning Minister Robinson-Regis could be heard and seen supporting the Prime Minister by saying ‘what could Trump do we?’” she said.

“I take umbrage at the Prime Minister’s lack of decorum and his non-diplomatic tone in dealing with this matter in Parliament. In particular, I take issue with his not-so-veiled attack on one of our most important trading partners, the United States of America.”

Persad-Bissessar said these hasty, bad decisions of the Government on the diplomatic front have far-reaching consequences in the area of national security and trade.

“Today I tell Rowley, Faris and Camille that while you and your family hold diplomatic passports and you are provided with immunity, over 200,000 of our citizens hold ordinary passports with US tourist visas. So, you want to know what Trump could do to them?” she said.

“I tell this Government while you wine and dine off taxpayers’ dollars in fancy restaurants, 70 percent of all our food is imported from the US at an annual cost of over US$1 billion (TT$7 billion). So, you want to know what Trump could do?” she continued.

She said T&T exports more than US$2.7 billion (TT$18.9 billion) annually to the US in the energy sector.

Persad-Bissessar said Trinidad and Tobago is the biggest beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and receives trade preferences which grant duty and quota free access to the US to the tune of US$400 million (TT$2.8 billion) annually.

She said participation in CBI requires among other things a waiver of certain WTO (World Trade Organisation) conditions.

Persad-Bissessar said T&T’s current waiver will expire in 2021.

She added that the US president and congress have to approve renewing the agreement.

“And you want to know what Trump could do?” she asked repeatedly.

She further noted Trinidad and Tobago benefits from the CBI with more than US$400 million (TT$32 billion) annually, together with technical advice and cooperation on border control, Customs and Excise and mutual assistance which are heavy features of T&T’s national security apparatus.

Pavement politics

“Rowley, Camille, Faris and others still want to know what Trump could do? Before standing in the wrong side of history and diplomacy and creating bacchanal and scandal with the US and our allies, they should have thought about all of these things before handling the affairs of our nation like pavement politics,” she said.

Persad-Bissessar said a leader doesn’t attack and alienate its largest ally—whom T&T depend on for regional security and economic stability.

“A leader doesn’t tell the entire free world–they wrong, but he is right!” she continued as a section of Venezuelans in the audience cheered in support.

Persad-Bissessar noted the Prime Minister said he is standing on principle on the Venezuelan matter.

“I want to say to him one must first have principles in order to stand on them. You cannot be bouffing, humiliating and ostracising our world trade partners and then run off to the US to appear as though you are trying to make peace.

“But that is how they do things…they are an upside-down, back-to-front Government,” she said.

She noted that while the superpowers, the largest democracies in the world and the economic giants have taken a firm stand on the Venezuela matter, the Government is playing “dolly house” with foreign policy.

“I am in no way influenced by the US or other free world nations on the position that I have taken; I believe in doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do and we cannot all be wrong.

“Our world has changed; we are no longer isolated from each other by water; we are connected in real time by technology and globalization.

“It is either we move with the times and realise our geopolitical environment has changed from the 70s, 80s and 90s. We cannot be like dinosaurs extinct but still hoping to be relevant.”

Persad-Bissessar said today’s diplomacy, as Ambassador Mondello has stated, requires tough choices “and if anything, as your prime minister, I was known for taking those tough choices”.