General Elections are due in Trinidad & Tobago on Monday, making the twin-island republic the fourth CARICOM nation (after Guyana, St Kitts & Nevis and Surinam) to call a national poll during COVID-19. But it is Guyana and Barbados that continue to be under the regional political microscope following recent government decisions that some see and/or treat as signboards or signals of things to come.
The end of the five-months-long election impasse in Guyana has finally initiated the process of Regime Change following a free and fair poll that the late Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur spent his last days fighting for and grieving over, but did not live to see.
But the Guyana and Barbados stories both somewhat changed this past week:
The new PPP/C administration agreed to back Washington’s bid to take over the Presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); and PM Mia Mottley fired Environment Minister Trevor Prescod, a popular Pan Africanist minister, who has since said he will not be silenced by the ‘White Shadows’ that quietly run things in Barbados, irrespective of which party is in office.
PM Mottley hasn’t explained why she fired the popular minister from her Cabinet; and the new Guyana government hasn’t explained why its first foreign policy announcement was in support of a controversial move by Washington to break with Hemispheric tradition.
But before firing early salvos, the critics lobbing missives should first try or remember to acquaint themselves with at least some of the relevant facts.
By established convention, (under the Bretton Woods Agreement), the President of the World Bank is a nominee of Washington and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Director an EU nominee.
In the case of the IDB and the Organization of American States (OAS), similar conventions exist whereby elections to the positions of IDB President and the OAS Secretary General are normally between Latin American or Caribbean candidates.
But since 2017, the Donald Trump administration has been showing it is never unwilling to flex its muscles in pursuit of its political objectives in international organizations the US belongs to.
Bang for America’s Buck
This US President has made it abundantly clear that Washington will get whatever bang he wants for its buck from any institution the US Treasury contributes heavy financing to, or he will withdraw membership – and financial support.
He quickly reversed progress on national environmental matters initiated by President Barack Obama and withdrew the US from the UN’s Climate Change Convention (COP-21); and earlier this year he announced withdrawing Washington’s $400 Million annual contribution from the World Health Organization (WHO).
President Trump has also thrown similar established conventions out of his way in matters closer to the Caribbean home.
Thanks to US pressure under his watch, the official Venezuelan government representative on the IDB’s Executive Board was replaced earlier this year by an appointee of US-backed, unelected ‘Interim President’ Juan Guaido.
Same at the OAS too, where the Venezuela the seat vacated by the Maduro administration in protest last year is now held by another Guaido appointee.
The US is the principal contributor to IDB and OAS funding and Washington, under Trump, has also more frequently flexed the muscle of its financial and political leverage to pursue its political objectives in both entities.
That muscle was exercised earlier this year to ensure Washington’s nominee, Luis Almagro, was re-elected as Secretary General of the OAS; and the USA is now again moving to break with convention and make a bid for the Presidency of the IDB.
The Bajan ex-minister’s public statements indicate he is naturally unhappy and he’s made it abundantly clear that he will continue to stand up for Black Barbados for as long as he is an elected MP.
His exclusion has been associated with everything from his public advocacy against the statue of Lord Horatio Nelson in Bridgetown to him being fired as a result of pressure brought to bear on PM Mottley by the ‘White Shadows’ that heavily finance her ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
But it will be difficult (for now) for Prescod’s supporters at home and abroad to rally around his cause until he or PM Mottley say or explain why a Pan Africanist Minister was fired from her Cabinet by the CARICOM Prime Minister with responsibility for the demaand by regional governments for Reparations from Britain and the EU for Slavery and Native Genocide.
Critics noticeably responded differently to last week’s announcements by the two administrations in Barbados and Guyana.
PM Mottley is regarded as saying the right things at the right times in the right places, some around her even claiming she’s ‘CARICOM’s new Maurice Bishop’.
She didn’t remain quiet about Barbados not being among CARICOM member-states invited to meet President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2018, or US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kingston, Jamaica earlier this year.
And she also reiterated Barbados and CARICOM’s support for Cuba against the latest attacks by US Republican Senators trying to criminalize the help thousands of Cuban doctors and nurses are giving to Caribbean people and world citizens to fight COVID.
But in the case of Guyana, the distant critics have kept their periscopes focused not on President Irfan Ali, but on PPP/C Leader, General Secretary and twice ex-President, Bharrat Jagdo.
Avoiding and Evading
As Vice President in the new government and the Head of the PPP/C Transition Team, he is already described as a ‘Caribbean Putin’, given that the popular PPP Leader who was forbidden by amended law in 1999 from contesting a third election, sits in the new Cabinet astride the elexcted President and Prime Minister.
True, Putin and Jagdeo both found creative ways to avoid and evade the brakes and breaks on democratic re-election stemming from ‘Term Limits’ introduced to prevent them from contesting elections they could or would have won.
Each has also been separately accused of divorcing their wives to marry the state.
But the two Caribbean political leaders cannot be equally measured with the same ideological yardstick because while both hold and exercise maximum central power, their circumstances differ at gubernatorial levels.
In both cases, for example, only the elected Head of Government is recognized by the Constitution.
It would be a reflection of 21st century version of what one great thinker of yore described as ‘infantile disorder’ for armchair theorists who claim to understand the nature and evolution of Caribbean politics today to judge the PPP/C as if it were still led by Cheddi Jagan — or to judge the PNC (the main partner leading the APNU-AFC coalition) as if it was still led by Forbes Burnham.
But some are already engaging in application of selective amnesia in the Guyana case, having remained absolutely quiet when ex-President David Granger led Guyana into the pro-US ‘Lima Group’ at the OAS.
The region’s governments naturally supported Guyana against the age-old territorial claim by Venezuela to two-thirds of its territory, but remained deafeningly quiet when the Granger administration elected to openly join the Canada-led group of OAS member-states supporting Washington’s open bid to remove the elected Maduro government.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Guyana and Barbados today, the early critics are being rather subjective in their selective application of the principles of objective analysis.
To some, what’s good for Barbados is bad for Guyana.
But it will always be unfair to compare Jagdeo to Jagan, or Mia Mottley to her longtime predecessor JMG ‘Tom’ Adams, unabashed facilitator of Caribbean participation in the US invasion of Grenada in 1983.
If Jagan was still around, would the PPP/C have supported the US position at the IDB?
And if Burnham was still alive, would the PNC have allowed the APNU-AFC to succumb to its March 2 electoral loss after holding out for five long months?
We’ll never get answers to these questions that lurk in the minds of those who refuse to accept that times and people change — and change is the only constant.
No Silver Linings
All governments take decisions they consider to be in the nation’s best interests and it would be futile to tell or try to convince any that unpopular decisions should be avoided or rescinded simply because a distant few don’t agree.
That’s not how governments operate.
But no matter what euphemisms are selected to describe those holding the political power levers in Georgetown and Bridgetown, euphemistic White and Dark Shadows still hover high over Barbados and Guyana today — and neither offer silver linings overnight.
Distant critics should therefore practice patience and observe better, even for just a little bit longer in both cases, lest erroneous conclusions be arrived at much too early, simply because they decided to ‘rush the brush.’
It’s not even about deserved criticism being ‘Better late than never.’ Instead, it’s one of ensuring we ‘Look before we leap!’