Caribbean Countries React to PM Persad-Bissessar’s Comments

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar provoked reactions across the region after her complaint that her country cannot continue to provide so much aid to other, less affluent Caricom countries. Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s comments came in the wake of her concerns about the funding and management of two regional funds in which her country is the main regional benefactor: the Caricom Development Fund and Trinidad and Tobago’s own Petroleum Fund which was set up to assist other Caricom partners.

According to BBC Caribbean, a Jamaica Observer poll found that just over 45 per cent of respondents found the PM’s “ATM” comments “an honest wake up call for Caricom,” 44 per cent found the comments “arrogant,” and ten per cent thought them “a rookie mistake by an inexperienced politician.” BBC Caribbean also has a forum where readers may comment and/or answer the following questions: “Are some Trinis right to feel resentful that the country has provided major funding to its neighbours from its oil and gas wealth or should it be grateful that shared wealth means that the rest of the region stock TT goods on many shelves? If you’re Trinidadian, is Mrs Persad-Bissessar simply voicing a long-held view? If you’re from elsewhere in the region, what do you think of the remarks by the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister? Is this damaging to T & T?”

In response to the public outcry, former Caribbean diplomat, Sir Ron Sanders, a syndicated public affairs commentator, wrote that “Such statements would not endear Trinidad and Tobago to the rest of the Caricom countries, nor would it encourage citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to regard other Caricom citizens with anything but contempt. In reality, the relationship between Trinidad and Tobago and other Caricom countries, particularly the smaller nations of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), is far more mutually beneficial than is conveyed by the analogy of the ‘ATM machine.’”

Speaking at a PNM rally, opposition Leader Dr. Keith Rowley admitted to a view held by many Trinidadians that former leader Patrick Manning might have been “excessive” in his regional outreach but also reminded the new PNM leader that Caricom countries constitute Trinidad and Tobago’s largest market, sounding a warning that this could cause some Caribbean countries to do business elsewhere with the resulting implications for jobs for Trinidadians. He emphasized that “Our jobs here are largely dependent on what they spend on our products over there. [. . .] Those of you who travel will know that when you go to Barbados, St Vincent, St Lucia, Antigua, (and) Jamaica, all the shelves are stocked largely with products that say ‘made in Trinidad and Tobago.'”

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