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Misleading the nation


There is a lot of talk about these days, not all of it intelligent comment, about last month’s signing by most Caribbean countries of a Petro-Caribe agreement with the government of Venezuela.

Some of the comment raises pros and cons or questions about the agreement itself but, regrettably, much of it, most of it in fact, revolves around Venezuela’s President Chavez, the Perennial Fidel Castro of Cuba and our own Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.{{more}}

I have not yet seen nor, of course, studied the Petro-Caribe Agreement and missed quite a bit of the talk around it. (Missed may perhaps not be an appropriate term, for from reports I gathered, one is better off not hearing some of the diatribe). When I put my eyes upon it, I would be in a better position to make informed comment. But one does not have to see the agreement to comment on the politics of it, since that seems to be the crux of the matter.

In that regard, I cannot believe my own ears. Firstly to listen to the political criticisms being voiced here, one would believe that Petro-Caribe is entirely a three-man affair, with the rest of us being dragged into it as helpless pawns. But other Caribbean governments are involved as well, not just Venezuela, Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So their leaders don’t count, have no sense or what? Both Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have particular national interests, why they are not involved. It has nothing to do with the POLITICS of the matter, as those who would misinform the nation are trying to tell us.

Secondly, the critics are either completely ignorant of the issues pertaining to the PROPOSED (because it is only that) Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) or deliberately trying to deceive. They speak of Venezuela and Cuba trying to derail the FTAA and to set up an alternative with “Ralph joining them,” as though the FTAA is of our creation. The Free Trade Area of the Americas was largely an initiative of Washington and while in principle, the other governments of Latin America and the Caribbean, including CARICOM, felt that it provided possibilities and opportunities, they were always aware of the inherent dangers of the kind of free trade pact proposed. Thus ALTERNATIVES were always sought.

Again, it is neither Venezuela nor Cuba in spite of all their public opposition to the FTAA which derailed the process. It was the larger Latin American nations, led by Brazil, which have had serious disagreements with US trade policies, including on agricultural subsidies. Cuba and Castro were never part of the proposed pact (a position with which many nations in the hemisphere publicly disagreed). In fact most of the rest of the hemisphere often raised this issue. Further, within the US itself, in Congress, in Washington, there has been serious opposition, to the FTAA – from politicians (including from President Bush’s own party), from the labour movement, from the farming community, social activists etc. all of this anti-FTAA clamour forced the US Administration itself to begin to review its own FTAA pursuit and to re-strategize. Instead of focus on the hemisphere-wide pact, we began to see a regionalising of it with the US seeking sub-regional trade groupings. The Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA) is one such. So much for alternatives. Need I say more?

But what is worse is that in this day and age, people are criticizing Prime Minister Gonsalves for making an agreement with people whom the US does not like. Have we heard this before? Why did we bother with October 27, 1979 if before we talk to anyone we must find out if that person is a friend of Big Brother? Where is our sovereignty when we allow our foreign policy to be determined by whether it pleases another, not whether it is in our best interests? Where is our sense of pride and dignity if we are prepared to cower before the glare of another?

One can make the valid criticism that the PM needs to consult and to educate our people more when taking such steps. Our Foreign Ministry has long lagged behind in this regard. Nearly four years ago it sought popular involvement in an ongoing process of participation in shaping foreign policy but long abandoned this necessary step. The backwardness we have in our midst is part of the consequences.

One can also appreciate differing views on the benefits of the pro-Caribe pact, informed debate. But that is not what we are getting here. It is only “Don’t dare to think for yourself.”

No sensible person would advocate a foreign policy which seeks to antagonize neighbours. But our powerful neighbours don’t care whether when they supported apartheid, that they too dehumanized us, they don’t care when they wage wars what effects it has on us. They are pursuing their perceived national interests.

We may not agree but we must respect their RIGHT to do so. Equally so they must respect our RIGHT to develop relations with whom we please. And if those who aspire to high political office cannot promote and defend our sovereignty and dignity, then they are not worthy of the sacred trust of our people.

Cast Closed.