Orin: Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana need ‘reset’ from lingering political animosities

“[…] When the incumbent David Granger administration tried to stop the party of Bharrat Jagdeo and Irfaan Ali from taking office after an election they’d won in March 2020, some in that party felt that Dr Keith Rowley was soft on Granger, in contrast to his Barbadian and Vincentian colleagues Mia Mottley and Ralph Gonsalves.

“[…] There’s also lingering feeling around travel and immigration. The perceived indignities suffered by the suitcase traders lining Charlotte Street in Port-of-Spain in the 1980s, and the long bench at Piarco (with the longer bench at Grantley Adams Airport apparently forgotten)…”

The following guest column on the relationship between the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana was submitted to Wired868 by Orin Gordon, a Guyana-born, T&T-based media consultant who publishes at oringordon.com:

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders supporters make a point during the CPL final against the Guyana Amazon Warriors at the Brian Lara Academy in Tarouba on 16 September 2018.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

In March 2009, the new US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with the gift of a red button emblazoned with the Russian word ‘peregruzka’. The Americans intended for it to mean ‘reset’ but they got the translation wrong. ‘Peregruzka’ meant ‘overcharge’. 

As Russian forces commit atrocities against Ukrainian civilians after giving rehearsals in Georgia and Chechnya, we can say two things. One, Russia has not reset at all; and two, the Americans and others mistranslated Vladimir Putin.

Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago need a milder reset, without the gimmickry. And that was apparent before reaction to the comment from Guyanese Vice-president Bharrat Jagdeo that Guyana needs to invest its oil money in its non-energy sectors, and that T&T was ‘falling apart’ for its failure to do so.

He was, as head of the Express’ Multimedia Business Desk Anthony Wilson said, ‘using T&T as a cautionary tale of what Guyana ought not to do’. Like Will Smith’s response to Chris Rock’s tame joke at the Oscars, reaction to the comment has been overblown.

Photo: Guyana Vice-president and former president Bharrat Jagdeo.
(Copyright Demarara Waves)

Some context: Jagdeo was a two-term president for 12 years from 1999 to 2011, and is term-limited from serving as president again. He’s as powerful a deputy leader as you’ll find anywhere. Unique among Guyana government officials, he’s relatively unconstrained in what he can say. 

President Ali will likely have told his Foreign Minister Hugh Todd to tell his T&T counterpart Amery Browne that the VP’s freely-exercised comments about the state of the twin-island republic did not represent an official statement from the Guyana Government.

Browne’s first reaction—saying very little beyond the fact that he spoke to Todd—was a good one. His subsequent op-ed was unnecessary. 

Yes, T&T helped Guyana in its time of need. But if you gave me groceries when I was broke (and we agreed that I wouldn’t have to repay), I don’t want to be reminded of it every time you feel displeased with me. 

(Editor’s Note: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies the claim that Guyana Foreign Minister Hugh Todd reached out to Minister Amery Browne and that Trinidad and Tobago was assured that Jagdeo’s statement ‘did not represent an official statement from the Guyana government’.)

Photo: Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Senator Dr Amery Browne.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley took the high road; that should have been it.

Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud said on Facebook: ‘VP Jagdeo never questioned the importance of close TT-Guyana ties nor our commitment to regional integration’. In any case ‘falling apart’ is not an empirical measure. There’s no point in getting worked up about it. 

It’s a framing that we can disagree with. I do.

Trinidad and Tobago is sophisticated by the standards of many other developing countries. Its commercial and physical infrastructure are significantly ahead of most. 

There are potholes in which you can run a bubble bath, and large parts of the budget statements of the Finance Minister can sound like pie-in-the-sky. T&T has been a big disappointment on sustainable energy, and digitisation has been painfully slow.

Photo: A woman responds to the fiery atmosphere during protests in Barrackpore in October 2021.

It has stored up a lot of trouble for over-dependence on oil and gas; but manufacturing is robust, and big pushes are being made in areas such as shared services. 

Trinidad and Tobago’s sound qualities, overall, hold true.

I won’t deconstruct whether it’s falling apart or not. That’s been done to good effect by Wilson and Curtis Williams, his opposite number at the T&T Guardian. An examination of the dynamics of Guyana/T&T relations is more useful. 

The feeling in some sections of Guyana is that Trinidad and Tobago has been smug and complacent about its oil wealth, and hasn’t built on it as much as it should have. Those with long memories will remember then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham mocking a declaration, attributed to his Trini counterpart, Dr Eric Williams, that ‘oil don’t spoil’.

“Oil don’t spoil”, said Burnham, “but you try eating oil.”

Photo: Jamaica’s Prime Minister Michael Manley (right) signs the Caribbean Community Treaty in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on 4 July 1973.
At his side (from right to left) are Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, Guyana Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, and Barbados Prime Minister Errol Barrow.
(Copyright AP Photo)

When the incumbent David Granger administration tried to stop the party of Jagdeo and Ali from taking office after an election they’d won in March 2020; some in that party felt that Rowley was soft on Granger, in contrast to his Barbadian and Vincentian colleagues Mia Mottley and Ralph Gonsalves.

There’s a clear and undeniable kith and kin dimension to relationships among the countries’ four main political parties, and that’s a consequence of their political similarities. 

There’s also lingering feeling around travel and immigration. The perceived indignities suffered by the suitcase traders lining Charlotte Street in Port of Spain in the 1980s, and the long bench at Piarco (with the longer bench at Grantley Adams Airport apparently forgotten). 

Since Guyana discovered that its undersea reserves were more than 10 times Trinidad and Tobago’s, there’s been a lot more needle in the relationship. Many Trinis think that Guyana is feeling itself—ungrateful, sounding too cocky, and getting too big for its breeches.

Photo: Then Trinbago Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo (left) celebrates the dismissal of Guyana Amazon Warriors star batsman Shimron Hetmyer during the CPL final at the Brian Lara Academy in Tarouba on 16 September 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

In Caribbean Premier League (CPL) cricket, Trini schadenfreude at Amazon Warriors losses has a harsher edge.

In the 2018 final at Tarouba, Trinbago Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo tried to turn a video of two apparently drunk Guyanese women trampling a T&T flag into a comment on Guyanese disrespect for T&T. It was cynical but it worked.

The next year, the Warriors faced the Barbados Tridents in the final. Nearly every Trini I know became Bajan for a day. Too much of it had, I felt, an uncomfortable edge that went beyond cricket. 

The attendant nationalism around the sides is ridiculous. Franchises aren’t national teams. The marquee player for the Guyana-based team was Trinidadian Nicholas Pooran. He has just signed for TKR.

Despite the increasingly heavy traffic of Trinidad and Tobago businessmen to Georgetown, the two countries remain wary and suspicious of each other. Guyana’s use of its new-found financial muscle to hoover up the next three CPL finals should endear the country even more to TKR fans.

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One comment

  1. There is no surprise here.
    But as a former American Defence minister once said, “Countries don`t have friends; we have interests.”
    And as my grandmother used to say “Ingratitude is worse than witchcraft”.
    This is nothing new. We as a country have been punching above our weight despite all our failings and outside interference in our internal affairs. We were the first country to monetize natural gas, thanks to our technocrats. Had the government not caved to the bleeding hearts and Sunday morning enviromentalists, we would have had well established aluminium smelters and downstream industry.
    Point Lisas has been a highly successful model despite all the setbacks. Jamaica is also envious of us but they made that decision when they sabotaged the Federation.

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