By Bert Wilkinson
Trinidadians remained in a state of disbelief as the new week began in the wake of a decision by the island’s diplomatic mission at the Organization of American States to vote against a very simple request by hurricane-devastated Dominica for a waiver of its annual fees to the hemispheric body because its economy and finances are in tatters.
Much to the chagrin of everyone in a conference room at the Washington, D.C.-based body, the Trinidad and Tobago delegation said it would not support a request by tiny Dominica to be granted a waiver because Dominica simply has no money to meet even basic domestic obligations, much less meet payments to statutory bodies such as the OAS and the U.N.
As everyone knows, Dominica was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in mid-September. Most of its buildings, farmlands, electricity and telephone systems were leveled, roads rendered impassable and schools pulverized by record high winds from that storm.
Officials said approximately 30 people had died and at least 35 more were still missing, more than six months after that storm had moved through the Caribbean. Along with Hurricane Irma, which had also pulverized many island nations in the region, the island has been struggling to rebuild in infrastructure, reopen schools and return life to some semblance of normalcy.
But once the meeting was convened at OAS headquarters, most of the other country delegations had absolutely no problems with the request from the small Caribbean Community nation, commiserating with Dominica, given its tenuous position.
Virtually out of “nowhere,” the delegation of Trinidad surprised everyone in the room by lashing down the request for assistance, suggesting instead that a deferred payment system should have been agreed to instead of the waiver.
Those words came from the island’s OAS representative, Anthony Phillips Spencer, and immediately sparked outrage, both at the meeting in Trinidad and after the video of the meeting was aired on social media.
Unable to hide its outrage and utter embarrassment at the debacle, the Trinidad Express newspaper did a hatchet job on the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley, contending that government owes the people of Dominica and the entire CARICOM bloc “a full and unqualified apology for this country’s shameful refusal to support the request.”
The paper said the fact that the fee was no more than $20,000 evidenced that the island was experiencing hard times. The video also showed how devastated and flummoxed Dominica’s representative, Judith Ann Rolle, was as she struggled for words and appeared to be fighting back tears.
Authorities in Port of Spain, the island’s capital said that the position adopted by the T&T delegation at the OAS had embarrassed the island and government.
“In an unqualified way, the ministry of foreign and CARICOM affairs regrets the misrepresentation of the position of Trinidad and Tobago offered by a public official of Trinidad and Tobago during a meeting of the permanent council of the OAS, which was held March 23, 2018, relative to a request from Dominica for a waiver of its financial contribution to that organization for the years 2018 to 2019.”
Foreign Minister Dennis Moses said an investigation has been launched into “the briefing arrangements of the public official.” He added, “The circumstances involved in the discussion at the OAS are underway. Shortly, a report as requested, would be made available to the honorable prime minister.”
The paper continued its attack on government and the T&T delegation, noting that “a more embarrassing howler in the world of diplomacy cannot be imagined.” The paper stated, “the fact that T&T would not back a sister CARICOM nation in seeking financial relief on humanitarian grounds at a hemispheric forum is illogical in the extreme. Still it is hardly surprising given this country’s cowardly and equally illogical abstention at last December’s United Nations’ vote condemning the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”