R. Rose
April 1, 2010
Let’s not lose sight of reality

If you like “ole-talk” and “political bacchanal”, then the Caribbean is the ideal place to be. Spread over an archipelago of island and small nation states characterised by the inheritance of a parliamentary system that is not always relevant to its own needs and interests, the Caribbean reflects a combination of democratic ideals and unrealistic aspirations. Often its politics presents a picture which could be so amusing had its consequences not been so tragic.{{more}} At times one gets the impression that our politics is marching in one direction, leading us there, too, whilst reality would suggest a complete about-face.

Such is the current situation in the region. Regional headline news are dominated with the follies and utterances of political leaders which seem to be in no scarce quantity every time an election draws near. From Trinidad and Tobago in the south, to Jamaica in the north, political escapades and election-related events compete with the dreaded crime statistics for centre stage. Whether elections are on the horizon or even just past, there is no shortage of stories concerning the activities of our political parties and their leaders.

In T&T, Prime Minister Patrick Manning seems unable to avoid the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Battling a string of corruption charges against cronies, and a growing perception of almost regal arrogance, Manning is now having to face the challenge of a new Opposition Leader, Kamla Persaud-Bissesssar, who has replaced the ageing and out-of-date Basdeo Panday. He has responded to the filing of an Opposition motion of no-confidence in his Government by placing his party on an election footing, threatening to go to the polls soon. In turn, the new Opposition Leader has warned him, in kaiso parlance, not to “back-back”, that is to change his mind about the poll.

Similar picong and party rivalries clutter the regional political landscape. In Dominica, the Opposition is still boycotting Parliament, in protest at the conduct of the last general elections which they lost. In St. Kitts/ Nevis, that country’s leader is accusing his Opposition of deliberately lying to tarnish the reputation of that country, while in Barbados, the Opposition is demanding that the Government fire a Minister after an incident outside Parliament. Never to be outdone, the Vincentian political saga drags on, with focus now on payments to a local IT company for contractural work during last November’s Referendum.

Given modern communication technology, especially the presence of talk-show radio, there is ample media to highlight these issues and non-issues, sometimes completely out of proportion to their strategic importance. In the process, matters which have far more relevance to the lives and well-being of the people of the region go largely ignored. The poor are led to believe that the key to ending poverty lies with political choices, even though there is not much evidence in most of the countries that change Tweedle Dee for Tweedle Dum makes any significant difference.

It is as if we are in an aeroplane which is showing impending danger on the radar, but we are blissfully inside arguing whether the dinner served was satisfactory. The global economic crisis, the clear signs of the impact of climate change, the negative consequences of trade agreements which hurt our interests as well as natural disasters pound loudly on our doors but we seem not to heed. More than a year has passed since we signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), a binding and long-lasting pact with the European Union. What has been its impact? What of the promised benefits?

Those are not questions we ask or answers we seek, the day-to-day political commess too sweet to be bothered by such issues. Yet right after convincing our leaders to sign (no other African or Pacific region has to date signed a full EPA), the same EU has come to agreement with two South American banana-exporting regions to further reduce their tariffs. Agreement with our Central American rivals on the same basis is due to follow by year-end. But that is not what we are discussing. Nor are we talking about the proposed trade agreement with Canada, saying what it should be like to suit our best interests. No, we are still on side issues, allowing our leaders to avoid the crucial matters.

This is Holy Week in the Christian calendar, a week which should be one of deep reflection. Misdirection led to that infamous crucifixion nearly two thousand years ago. If we lose focus on the real issues we, too, can find our future crucified.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.