A backlash against Trinidad and Tobago that has triggered talk of a boycott of its goods has generated a diplomatic storm after its prime minister told reporters the twin-islands would have to get something in return for helping Caribbean neighbors affected by Hurricane Tomas which during the first week of November passed through various Caribbean islands including Haiti, killing seven and turning Haitian refugee camps into rivers of mud.

Trinidad and Tobago is continuing to provide humanitarian aid to storm-damaged nations in the Caribbean but West Indians have reacted, largely through social network media, with harsh criticism to Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s Nov. 1 comments:

“We will have to look at ways in which we would be able to assist,” she said. “But you would recall my comments earlier this year, when I said there must be some way in which Trinidad and Tobago would also benefit.”

Within days, citizens of nearby Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia—islands hit hard by the ten-day tropical storm—bombarded social networking sites in a fury, calling for a boycott of the republic’s products.

One St. Lucian posted on Facebook: “Seriously, that was simply heartless and plain selfish! We need to show her what can happen when serious, God-fearing and caring people unite. I think we (St. Lucia) import a lot of snacks from T&T, I will try my best to avoid buying these things… Come on, guys, and join me!”

Some Trinidad and Tobago officials say the outburst may strain the twin-island nation’s relationship with the rest of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community and Common Market. The regional partnership includes Trinidad and Tobago and 19 other nations in the region that share a single market and economy.

Trinidadian officials acknowledge that a boycott call surfaced in Jamaica but stress that it did not reflect official policy. Trinidad and Tobago Trade Minister Stephen Cadiz Nov. 9 said during an appearance on a Port-of-Spain radio program that “persons with other agendas” in Jamaica are leading the effort to boycott products from Trinidad and Tobago. He did not identify the persons responsible for the boycott call.

In a desperate attempt for damage control, Dr. Ken Baugh, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, told Jamaica’s leading newspaper The Gleaner, “I know that people are concerned and disturbed at her comments, but we need dialogue before action is taken, as people might get hurt who are not involved.”

Persad-Bissessar said her remarks were taken out of context, according to another Jamaican newspaper article. She released a statement outlining a new emergency assistance model that will foster a joint-relief effort that will provide supplies to affected islands. The note stressed Trinidad and Tobago’s support of its “CARICOM neighbors.”

“We undertake to lend whatever assistance is practical in the circumstances,” the statement read. “We continue to hold fast to the belief that we must all rise together in the region. And the government is ever mindful that sometimes it may be necessary to lift others in the process.”

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO