R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
November 23, 2018

Hypocrisy and new realities

PERMIT ME A COUPLE comments this week on some international and regional issues which have great significance for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean as a whole.

First, there is the ongoing international scandal surrounding the outrageous murder of a Saudi Arabian journalist by agents of his own government in the Saudi Embassy on Turkish soil. The gruesome details of how Jamal Khashoggi met his death, deliberately and wilfully, are by now public knowledge. Worse, evidence has been produced that this horrific act of murder was carried out on the orders of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself. Not only has the Turkish government made this accusation, providing evidence, but the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) itself has come to the same conclusion.

What I find most repulsive, and frightening, is the response of the US government, spelled out by none other than its leader, President Donald Trump himself. That response tears off the mask of “human rights”, “democratic values” and “respect for the sanctity of human life” that has long been placed on the masthead of US foreign policy.

Instead, President Trump has made it clear that, as the popular saying goes, “money runs things”, even if it must trample on the rights of human beings. He has blatantly refused to lift even a finger to wag at the Prince and his semi-feudal government, claiming that Saudi petro-dollars take priority over all else. Now, can you imagine US reaction if a member of the government of Iran, or Venezuela, or Cuba, had organised such a ghastely act on the soil of a foreign country?

In all the years of US-Cuba differences, Cuba has never, ever, been accused, even by its wildest opponents, of such an act. Yet the US continues to maintain a criminal economic embargo against it, in violation of the wishes of the entire international community, save Israel and the USA, on the grounds of “violation of human rights”. The same pretext is used to cause tremendous economic and social damage to Venezuela and Iran, among others. Even our neighbouring St Lucia, is facing US ire because of alleged “extra-judicial killings” by its security forces.

So is it then, that as long as you have money, and kow-tow to US interests, you have a free hand to kill at will those who criticize or oppose your policies? Does “America First” mean to hell with the rest of us, those who Trump described as “shit-hole countries”? And what are those among us who shamelessly bow to US foreign policy lines saying now about Trump’s response to the Khashoggi affair?

BARBADOS – public service retrenchments

The Mia Mottley government in Barbados is continuing to struggle with the herculean task of rescuing the Barbados economy from the depths of despair. It has had to make some very difficult decisions, some of which are inflicting more pain on working people. Among these is agreeing to a programme of lay-off of workers in the public service as part of a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure financial and economic support.

Workers in the public service, both the official service, as well as statutory corporations, are feeling the pinch as the government seeks to trim its huge wage bill, either by direct retrenchment or by offering “voluntary separation packages”. It must be a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those who voted for the government in the hope of economic recovery.

The situation in Barbados is one in which we in the rest of the region should take note. Every one of Barbados’ neighbours in the region shares the same difficult situation of an over-loaded public service which is seriously draining the national coffers. Governments of all types and varying philosophies have succumbed to the temptation to solve the unemployment situation by increasing employment by the state, irrespective of whether it can be afforded.

Time after time, in Budget after Budget, Prime Ministers and Finance Ministers, from Mitchell to Eustace to Gonsalves, have warned us of the dangers we face in pursuing such policies. But it is one thing to talk about the danger, acting on it brings tremendous political risks. Any Opposition will bawl “blue murder” if government attempts to trim the public service, even if it would have done the same when in office. When are we going to have an honest discourse about this and the choices before us, devoid of political partisanship?

The world has changed and is changing daily even more rapidly. In Barbados for instance one union has accused the government of “gender bias” in laying-off a number of women employed as clerks, typists etc. Yet the reality is that we are victims of a system where women have traditionally been employed to perform such tasks. Today, however, the nature of work has changed and there is no longer the demand for such categories of workers. Women are therefore suffering as a result.

We need to face up to realities and engage in meaningful national dialogue about alternative approaches and how we can re-organize our economies to cope with changing circumstances. The old approaches and traditional politics will get us nowhere.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.