PRIME MINISTER Dr Keith Rowley yesterday expressed disagreement and disapproval with the Express story and editorial relating to the issue of race being advanced by spokesman Phillip Ramdial for the 33 Trinidadians stranded in Barbados as a factor in Government’s initial refusal to allow them to return home.
Government has since indicated that the group can return to T&T but they must make their own arrangements.
Ramdial had alleged that race was the reason the group was being rejected from entering this country, which was published in an article that appeared in the Express on Friday April 10. On the same day, National Security Minister Stuart Young at a virtual news conference condemned the race claim as well as the article in which Ramdial had stated that he felt the group was being treated unfairly because it comprised mostly Indo-Trinidadians.
“The Government does not operate on the basis of race in making any decisions,” Young said, adding that it was unfortunate that certain people were resorting to the race card. The Express in its editorial on Sunday April 12 rejected the charge, saying that it was not “promoting race” and that it had expressed no opinion on Ramdial’s allegation, but it had merely carried a “news report on a matter of high public interest”.
The Prime Minister however categorically rejected this position yesterday.
In a Facebook post shortly after 1 p.m he drew attention to a video of caretaker Prime Minister of Guyana Moses Veerasammy Nagamootoo telling Guyanese nationals stranded overseas to stay in place and await the reopening of Guyana’s airspace, which has been closed to commercial flights since mid-March. Days after that country recorded its first imported case of COVID-19 on March 11, the Guyana government closed its borders, including the two major airports, to all incoming commercial flights until May 1, 2020 as part of its effort to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
In a virtual press briefly Nagamootoo revealed that thousands of Guyanese who were currently overseas had made requests to return home. “We are on lockdown of our airspace and no flights would come in until such a time as the order expires, is varied or amended.....So Guyanese overseas, we empathise with you and we know you wanna come back home....But for the moment, we’d like to see you sit it out for a while longer until we are able to give ourselves some space to be able to deal with the number of cases here and see if we can do proper contact tracing and are able to reduce the number of imported cases in the country,” Nagamootoo stated. Among the Guyanese waiting to return home are an estimated 200 cruise workers, 80 persons in Miami, Florida and over 10,000 in New York. Guyana has 45 confirmed cases and six deaths.
Rowley: Political narrative
Rowley asked whether a racial interpretation would also be advanced for Prime Minister Nagamootoo’s decision. In his post, Rowley said: “What does the Trinidad Express think now that an East Indian Prime Minister in a Caricom nation has taken a position that his Government is not opening its border to let even nationals in, many of whom are East Indians. The decision in Guyana is coming one month after a Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister took the same decision for the identical reasons.”
Prime Minister Rowley accused the Express, along with Opposition politicians, and a cadre of lawyers and columnists of “invoking race” and facilitating “disgruntled people” (ie such as the nationals in Barbados seeking to return home). “The singular objection ..is to shape and fashion a political narrative that they believe would be negative to the Government,” the Prime Minister said.
He added: “As Prime Minister I do this job only in keeping with my oath of office, lonely and thankless as it is, I do it because somebody has to do it. There will be another time when somebody else will have to do it and I will be the most understanding of their plight. I see the best wishes meted out to me and my family by many grateful citizens, but I also see the nastiness of some who have a role to play but choose to play it discordantly.”
The Prime Minister said a news story on race might make “good” headlines and sell a media product. “But do you think that you people have any idea of the spectrum of pain and stress involved in making decisions on a silent, invisible killer which threatens to change all lives forever?” he asked. He concluded his post by saying: “Or are they just the parochial tools of the ambitious thieves and vagabonds who have nothing to contribute other than their own narrow self-interest?”
T&T not alone
The Government in responding to the race issue, and to suggestions from Ramdial that it treated the T&T nationals in Barbados differently from the T&T nationals in Guadeloupe, pointed out that at the time the group from Guadeloupe returned to Trinidad and Tobago, the country’s borders were still open, in contrast to the situation with the Barbados group. The Guadeloupe group also made their own arrangements for their return, including securing an aircraft and financing their return.
The Government has also pointed out that all over the world nationals from many countries have been confronted with this problem of being stranded in the face of the closure of their countries’ borders.
The US Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago in a release dated April 8 announced that its citizens in Trinidad and Tobago should remain here until regular commercial flights are once again available. The Embassy said it did not anticipate additional chartered repatriation flights from Trinidad and Tobago.
Just one week ago, 45 Jamaicans who worked on a cruise ship, Marella Discovery 2, were twice denied permission to land in Kingston, amidst the restrictions on all incoming passengers in the face of coronavirus containment measures. The ship docked at the Port of Kingston and the Jamaicans were refused permission to land.