Stuart Young, Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Minister, is a man who seems ready for battle. His job is to ensure the safety and security of the twin-island republic and its citizens from all internal and external threats. It is a position that would keep most of us up at night, as the once oil-rich nation has been literally at war with itself for some time, seeking to arrest rampant crime and gruesome murders.
Today, Trinidad and Tobago, like every country around the world, has entered what is effectively World War III. But this war that has engulfed the globe pits us against a powerful and deadly unseen enemy, a virus.
Our neighbours took a decision, purportedly in the national interest, to close all ports of entry at midnight on March 22. Unfortunately, 33 of its nationals landed at Grantley Adams International Airport a few hours after the deadline, despite their valiant efforts to return home from their aborted bucket-list Dubai cruise.
As any good neighbour would do, Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her Cabinet offered the elderly Trinidadians refuge here. At the same time, appeals were made on behalf of the group to their own government to give them a chance to come home and undergo any COVID-19 testing or quarantine near their loved ones. “Well, who, tell we, do that?” as Paul Keens-Douglas would have retorted.
Last week, the youthful minister Young, full of sound and fury, shocked many with his broadside against Barbados, suggesting that our Government may have been tacitly colluding with Trinidadian citizens, no less, to breach its border during the lockdown.
Using such an inflammatory and accusatory word as “infiltrate” to describe Barbados’ humanitarian effort, one would have thought Prime Minister Mottley was teaming up with Yasin Abu Bakr for another attempt to remove the duly elected government in Port of Spain. Of course, it’s absurd. Likewise is the public stand taken by Young. Surely, there were other options open to the national security minister than the very public rebuke of CARICOM kith and kin. To what end was this attack?
Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship reaching into the depths of history. Vast numbers of Trinidadians and Tobagonians can trace the lineage to this country, so too a number of latter-day Bajans have Trini roots. Indeed, many Bajans would argue that Trinidad has benefitted more from the relationship than Barbados. They tend only to look at the island’s current corporate landscape. But history is history; mutual is mutual.
But back to the mouthy minister. We don’t know how much of this rubberised sabre-rattling is Young’s own attempt to raise his profile in the Keith Rowley cabinet or whether his angst with Barbados is an appeal to the political base in an election year. We don’t have the answer but we find his handling of the matter offensive to the spirit and practical application of regional integration among two of CARICOM’s founding members.
One must remind our Trinidadian friend, that when many in the region and around the world were closely monitoring the novel coronavirus’ rapid spread from Wuhan, China to parts of Europe and North America just two months ago, it was Trinidad and Tobago that went ahead with Carnival 2020, leaving its doors sprawling open to thousands to party with fun-loving folks. There was no social distancing, no quarantine, no temperature checks and no citizens were allowed to go and come – unless they had a rag, a flag or something liquid in their hands.
The minister for national security seems to bring his youthful legal appetite for confrontation and challenge to his ministerial role. But he may want to do a little brushing up on his international relations first; history, too. Dr Rowley, ever the diplomat, says the relationship between Port-of-Spain and Bridgetown is “as good as it has ever been”. He knows of what he speaks.
No less shrewd a politician is Prime Minister Mottley, who has remained loudly quiet throughout this whole saga. As chairman of CARICOM, she knows all in the region will be watching closely how she handles the callaloo-versus-coucou storm in a pot. We have no doubt she is taking note.