In any family there are likely to be disputes. Some may be superficial, others, more deep-seated and harmful. How we handle those periods of unrest, however, will determine whether normalcy can resume or if the fractures will likely be permanent.
The Caribbean region, and more specifically, the 15 states that comprise the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), have had to confront many disputes since its establishment on August 1, 1973, with the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Even CARICOM’s founding members – Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica, whose prime ministers came together to create the bloc for economic, functional cooperation and deeper integration, have found themselves, at times, in deep disagreements that mostly centred on trade matters.
To help in the resolution of some trade issues, the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) was established. That body is responsible for the promotion of trade and economic development in the Community, and its decisions over the years have managed to quell troubled waters.
Who can forget the tussles between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, over the export of furniture to each country’s markets? At the time, local furniture makers were enjoying thriving sales in the twin-island republic.
Then there was the long-running row over the entry of pasteurized milk from Trinidad and Tobago, into the Barbados market. Local producer, the Pine Hill Dairy (PHD), sought to protect our dairy industry and their market share, and accused our neighbour of flooding Barbados with milk made with cheap milk powder. The PHD insisted their Trinidadian counterparts were unfairly competing with Barbados’ fresh milk products.
There were also verbal spats over Barbados’ export of juices and carbonated drinks to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Our main producer, the Banks Holdings Group cried foul, arguing that the sub-region was introducing trade barriers to keep out Bajan products.
More recently a dispute has erupted between Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) and the Barbados-based Rock Hard Cement, operated by businessman Mark Maloney. That row has gone as far as the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
While all this would point to a very fractured union, the fact is, CARICOM remains the oldest surviving integration movement in the developing world.
And so, those who had the unfortunate experience of watching a widely circulated video of proceedings, which appear to be from the Antigua and Barbuda Parliament, would have assumed that war had been declared between the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados.
We may not know the full details surrounding this most recent verbal assault by a member of Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s Cabinet, but we know the relationship between the two governments appear to be deteriorating to unhealthy levels.
The two leaders have strong personalities and are not afraid of a political fight. That fact is what concerns us greatly. The average observer may come to the conclusion that there appears to be a lack of trust on the part of the two prime ministers and decisions from Bridgetown and St John’s, are now viewed with skepticism from both capitals.
The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves and his Barbados counterpart, Mia Amor Mottley, were the two shareholder governments and the chief proponents of collapsing the cash-strapped carrier, after pumping millions of dollars over the years into LIAT and failing to get a return on investment.
Last December, Prime Minister Browne accused Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, of deliberately undermining the Antigua government’s efforts to put the new version of the airline in the air by blocking its landing rights.
Browne, a man known for his forthrightness and sharp tongue, is aware of the massive job losses that will result in Antigua if the airline is forced to close and the resulting airlift capacity that his country will lose.
Browne, who had some choice words about the issue said: “I want to know who has this type of gumption. Which group of individuals has this type of gumption to take this type of policy decision in order to discriminate against LIAT.”
But it seems Browne’s Cabinet is taking a leaf from his book. The rhetoric has now reached a new low with personal attacks and inuendo about intelligence and economic performance.
We know that politics are no child’s play events and are certainly not for the thin-skinned. But we fear Browne’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Governance, Lennox Weston, may have taken his political gamesmanship too far.
In a Barbados TODAY report last week, Weston’s anger was on full display as he lashed out from the security of the floor of the Antigua Parliament.
While not naming Barbados directly, he made references to Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her Government.
Minister Weston said there was a plan to takeover LIAT or to destroy it at a meeting in Barbados to discuss the relocation of the headquarters to St Vincent and the Grenadines – another shareholder territory.
“LIAT wasn’t destroyed just by any act of COVID, LIAT was destroyed by a deliberate attempt to either take over or destroy,” he claimed.
He added: “You all think we must be nice and smile and talk nice to them as if we be fooly?. . . We went to better schools than them, we beat them in class all the time, we brighter than them, the economy look better than them, our economy performing better than them. So how come we watching them?” Minister Weston declared.
Weston’s remarks are difficult to accept as mere criticism of a decision by the Government of Barbados. They border more on a personal falling out, or a jealous spat.
Trade and economic issues may always be a source of contention between nations. However, we fear that the dispute between Barbados and Antigua is devolving into something more egregious that should be addressed posthaste.