“Thank you very much and goodbye.”
This is essentially what outgoing D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Ancil Antoine was told by the People’s National Movement (PNM) leadership yesterday.
Antoine was summarily removed as the party’s candidate for the 2020 general election following his “insensitive and objectionable statements” at a campaign meeting on Saturday.
At that meeting, in praising the Government’s success in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, Antoine called for the continued closure of the borders to Americans and Trinbagonians in the United States.
“America is a sh..hole country. Sorry to say that. And we will have to make sure that we don’t allow Americans to come in. Yuh know all dem Trinidadians who does run into America and who does send back all dey barrel and so forth. Make sure and tell them to stay out of Trinidad for the rest of the year, all yuh family and dem,” he said.
Some members laughed when he described America as a “sh..hole country”. But sources said officials moved swiftly to cut the transmission of the meeting which was being live streamed via Facebook, realising the implication of the statement. Sources said some persons even left the meeting after the statement was made.
During his speech, Antoine commended Rowley for his Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic and contrasted it to US President Donald Trump “who has gone against his scientists and his experts and now America is a sh..hole country”.
Antoine yesterday reportedly expressed regret for his statements, but the moving finger had already written him out of the PNM’s 2020 line-up.
The use of the term “sh..hole” was direct reference to the word Trump used to describe Haiti and African countries at a meeting in January 2018.
PM: Insensitive and objectionable
“The candidate’s removal is as a direct consequence of insensitive and objectionable statements made by him at a campaign launch recently, such statements not being representative of our party or country’s position,” a statement from political leader and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday. “The PNM leadership has withdrawn (retired Brigadier) Antoine from the list of candidates to be presented to the party’s Central Executive for final approval, scheduled for tomorrow,” Rowley said. “I take the responsibility for this ship both as Prime Minister and as political leader,” he added.
A replacement candidate is expected to be selected within the next 24 hours.
Sources said Antoine’s supporters sought to contend that the whole speech had to be listened to in order to understand the context. But the party’s leadership felt that there was no context to justify the use of this language or alleviate the potential damage. “We have over 300,000 people out there who regard Trinidad and Tobago as their home and carry Trinidad and Tobago passports. The statement was wholly insensitive as it ignored the legitimate desire of nationals who may want to return home for a variety of reasons, including bereavement, but cannot, one official said.
Sources pointed out that Antoine served for three years in Washington as the Director General of the Inter-American Defence Board in Washington. At the time he was the first Caricom national to hold this position.
Sources said the PNM leader and Prime Minister felt compelled to act because the statement was totally out of step with the Government’s policy.
The Government has maintained that Trinidad and Tobago and the United States have good relations, they said, and one source said: “This tirade (of Antoine’s) was worse than the last one, (two weeks ago at another campaign meeting) because this one was international.
“The Prime Minister had to get rid of him because if he were left as a candidate, this position (of him) could be misconstrued as a Government position.”
Skating on thin ice
Antoine, to the surprise of many, had made it through the first round of screening when many of the retirees, even those who held ministerial portfolios such as Anthony Garcia and Edmund Dillon, failed to make the cut. Antoine prevailed again after criticising many of the women on the constituency women’s league whom he felt did not support his candidacy. This occurred on June 22.
His outburst included a statement that he was “going to destroy all of allyuh”, but was advised against this by constituency chairman, Herman Noel.
“Ah giving allyuh back allyuh constituency and allyuh party in 2025 and allyuh could kill one another over it if allyuh want,” he reportedly thundered. He also reportedly upbraided the woman who was nominated against him for the seat, Averline Scott, telling her: “I will finish you politically.” Notwithstanding these intemperate remarks the constituency executive stood solidly behind him and the Prime Minister did not move him.
But having escaped twice, Antoine was clearly now skating on thin ice, when he made the most damaging of his many intemperate statements.
Among the persons being considered for the seat are Arima Mayor Lisa Morris, PNM PRO Laurel Lezama, and Nicola Harvey.
Constituency chairman Noel said yesterday the constituency had not yet been officially informed of the decision. He said he was “saddened” to see Antoine go but conceded that the statement was not appropriate.
He noted, however, that some people “may feel that ‘they’ were trying to get at Ancil and any little things he said of a controversial nature would have been used against him, but it doesn’t mean Ancil had to make any statement like that”.