Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 3rd 2015 Contents Region in crisis? Yes, up to a point. It
could be a whole lot worse. Yes,
we re no Singapore. But the
Caribbean---T&T in particular---has a whole
lot going for it.
Doubt me? Try teaching at Costaatt. You
get a bunch of bright, imaginative students
who are juggling families, jobs and modest
incomes to earn themselves a degree.
Most aren t too hot at rambling para-
graphs of classically footnoted prose---
though a few of them are. But ask them to
turn out a PowerPoint: they create, and
Social media, cable channels, foreign
travel---these students are outward-looking,
ambitious and globally aware. At UTT and
UWI, from what I ve seen, it s the same
story. Same story too, for a good few
who ve chosen the non-academic route.
Now for the big-picture stuff. We re the
Mediterranean of the Americas.
America has its differences with
Venezuela, but they re temporarily
They may bitch a bit, but at some level,
they re talking the same language---quite
often literally, as well as metaphorically.
The same goes for Cuba.
Compare and contrast the non-relation-
ships which criss-cross the Mediterranean:
France and Algeria; Italy and Libya; Egypt
Both seas have boatloads of migrants;
but from afar, the desperation stakes look
higher in the Med.
In that third landlocked sea---between
China, Vietnam and Malaysia, running
northwards to Japan---dangerous scraps are
now brewing over uninhabited islets,
wounded pride and potential oil and gas.
No joy and brotherhood there.
But yes, the Caribbean has its problems.
At the macroeconomic level, there s
painfully slow growth and rising debt.
In the real economy, we re right next to
the world s biggest tourist market: but the
region s leading industry is adrift.
For energy-rich T&T, there s inspiring
talk about diversification, but not much
reality. Guyana and Suriname, meanwhile,
bob up and down with each swing of the
Agriculture? Forget it. Soils and climate
are fine, but half a century of protected
markets for sugar and bananas was a
gigantic missed opportunity. Nobody wants
to farm; except for ganja.
Construction and natural resources?
We re talking Chinese.
Governance is the big one. Again, it s a
glass half-full. Formal freedoms are intact.
But nobody sees politics as a constructive
forum to debate future policy choices.
In T&T, I can think of just one policy
difference between the two main parties---
the UNC wants more roads, and the PNM
wants a railway.
Otherwise, it s one set of whataboutery;
faces, networks and corruption stories. In
the rest of Caricom it s much the same,
with a bit more race in the mix in Guyana,
and a bit less in Jamaica.
To be fair, Britain s election next Thurs-
day also looks an unedifying mess. And
America s next year won t be a lot better.
Then there s violent crime. Right across
the region, we have world-class murder
rates, lacklustre policing, and record-break-
ing judicial delays.
And the most successful piece of region-
al integration? Linking English-speaking
and Hispanic Caribbean from the grass-
roots up, and dealing profitably with the
big continents on either side...yes, it s the
Religions? They get all sweaty, worked
up and excited about sex (don t we all?)---
but they have almost nothing to say about
criminal morality, whether white-collar or
And those bright young kids? A tiny
careerist minority aside, they re not talking
politics and national strategy.
Those who can, have half an eye or
more on the migration route---most of all
in Guyana. In Jamaica, each Tuesday s
Gleaner carries no less than three "how
fast can I get out of here?" columns, one
each on migration to the US, Canada and
The better question would be: "how can
we all get the region out of this morass?"
Or let s say: "how do we keep the good
stuff and do something about the rest?"
First the non-answers. Small-island spe-
cial pleading won t cut it. Nor will obsess-
ing over past wrongs.
Nor will small-island shortcuttery---sell-
ing passports, badly-regulated offshore
finance, selling pro-whaling votes to the
Japanese, that sort of thing. China and
Taiwan, meanwhile, have quietly given
notice that they re no longer running a
auction sale on diplomatic recognition.
And the answers? Fifty years ago, it was
clear: independence. Forty years ago, intel-
lectuals argued for democratic socialism.
Thirty years, and it was on to the Wash-
ington consensus; free market liberalism.
All of those brought the Caribbean for-
ward; up to a point. But now, we clearly
need some fresh thinking, and clearly we
don t have enough of it.
Social media, telecoms, transport hubs,
renewable energy, blue and green
economies---all of these will be in the mix.
The trick will be for governments and
established players to remove barriers---but
not to get over-involved. The same goes
for new takes on tourism and social policy.
Spoiler alert: shameless plug. Next
week s Forum on the Future of the
Caribbean aims to break out of the acade-
mico-politicoid talk trap.
"Disruptive thinking" is the buzz-phrase.
There are some high-level speakers, from
T&T, the Caribbean and further off. With
luck, they can cut out the due deferences
and protocols, and say what they really
The polls show unsurprisingly
that it s going to be a close
election between the UNC
alliances and the PNM. The cam-
paign has begun. As usual, the
people are being entertained with
gallery ---something spicy here, a
scandal there, someone calling
someone a son of rape, someone
buying votes with laptops that
children will use to watch porn.
Nobody is hotly debating the
way they do in developed coun-
tries. Nobody is talking of the UN
indicators of a developed, safe
country. Nobody is saying: "No,
THIS is how we tackle our
500,000 strong illiterate. We dis-
agree with your education plan."
Nobody is saying "No, our health
plan is better than yours." Nobody
is saying it, but the REAL issue is
not Keith vs Kamla, it s crime,
lawlessness, its attendant issues,
the effectiveness of the police
force, the backlog in our courts.
I am continually surprised when
I open up the papers in the UK in
the run-up to the May 7 election.
No, it s not perfect, but it s a
proper election in a proper coun-
try, which is why I m writing
about it. The two major parties
running for the election are the
Conservative Party, led by the
present Prime Minister, David
Cameron, and the Labour Party,
led by Ed Miliband. Other con-
tenders are the Greens, the Liberal
Democrats, led by Nick Clegg.
The wild card is Nigel Farage s
UKIP from the 2014 European
elections. Other forces are the
Scottish National Party, the Plaid
Cymru, and the Northern Ireland
Parties (DUP, SDLP, Sinn Féin,
UUP and the Alliance Party of
Northern Ireland). As a country
that spawned our Westminster
system prepares to go to the polls,
I interviewed a businessman who
has spent enough time in
Trinidad to compare our two
Q: Is this a presidential-style
contest between David
Cameron and Ed Miliband?
A: It s about what they repre-
sent. The conservatives are seen
as competence without heart.
They are trying to make Scotland
the issue which reprises divisive-
ness that could blow up in their
faces. Labour is making it about
how much they care, and how the
conservatives will cut the budget.
We used to have a two-way polit-
ical system and every election this
could switch. Now, British politics
is broken up into four parties.
This is a complete realignment of
British politics. In the 50s, over
90 per cent of the votes was
divided between two parties. Now,
two main parties are lucky if they
get 70 per cent of the votes
between them. Thirty per cent of
the votes will go to fringe parties.
There may be a minority king-
maker. Both leaders would like it
to be a presidential election.
Cameron is better at the presi-
dential style. He looks the part.
Miliband doesn t. What s interest-
ing now is that the more they see
of Miliband, the more they like
him. He s hardworking, commit-
ted, honest. People like that.
Clegg, Cameron and Miliband are
still young, middle-aged men,
vaguely photogenic. They are in
the shadow of Tony Blair who
created a charismatic archetype
which everyone is trying to ape.
Who are you placing your
It is likely labour will get into
power despite a risk of the
party...and I predict a labour
minority government. The conser-
vatives inherited an economic cri-
sis, and labour will have it easier.
Labour has also ruled out a refer-
endum on the EU. The conserva-
tives are predicting labour will
mess up the economic, so there
will be a huge pressure on labour
to prove everyone wrong and get
the economy on the right track.
What are some of the major
issues being debated?
The economy, the health sector,
unemployment, foreign policy,
education, immigration, the Scot-
tish question, and our involve-
ment in the European Union.
What are your thoughts on
immigration, is there a better
way to deal with it than what
Cameron has done so far?
What you see on the streets is
different to what you read in
newspapers, which portrays us like
a small island in the middle of
the Atlantic that doesn t want
foreigners. There are minor skir-
mishes but on the whole, immi-
grants have been actively and
thoroughly integrated into this
society. There is a poster cam-
paign in London now that shows
immigrants from everywhere
including Australia and America
showing what they do. Some are
nurses, others IT specialists, oth-
ers engineers and so on. In the
past, immigration was associated
with Africa, the Caribbean and
Asia. Now it s also about Europe,
Australia and America. There is
talk of tightening visa fees, mak-
ing it harder for students to work
here, as there is talk of leaving
the European Union. So the ques-
tion of immigration is a mixed
bag but as a nation, we know we
benefit from immigration.
You ve witnessed an election
in Trinidad...your thoughts?
In Trinidad pre-election cam-
paign amounts to this project,
that ribbon cutting, this giveaway.
People need to know what direc-
tion the country is being taken in,
not did you give me a laptop this
week. Who is talking long-term
economic state of health, national
debt, deficit, security education or
health sector? The lack of interest
in issues of public concern is
How do you see the role of
journalists in an election cam-
Here, politicians are put on the
spot regularly on television, in
one-on-one hard-hitting inter-
views. When was the last time
Persad-Bissessar or Rowley were
put on the spot? Trinidadian
politicians strut around with pro-
tocol. They act and are treated
like royalty. When they are put on
the spot they either respond with
an "how-dare-you" attitude or
threaten legal action. They don t
respect this as a democratic
process, so they are not suffi-
ciently tested in news conferences
or nightly and daily shows. Is it
really necessary to have a state-
run TV channel to screen propa-
ganda on the Government s
So, that s the view from the
outside world. Take from it what
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt May 3, 2015
POLITICS...A VIEW FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD
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