WE in Trinidad and Tobago have found ourselves in a political and diplomatic mess, in the middle of a geo-political conflict between the US and Venezuela—perhaps even Iran now?—and apparently taking sides in the latest Venezuelan civil war.

It appears as though we have lost sense of the fundamentals of our independence, foreign policy and international relations. Other interests appear to be taking us off course into dangerous territory which does not serve our short-, medium- or long-term interests.

An important place to start to regain our bearings is Lloyd Best’s seminal 1971 essay, “Independent Thought and Caribbean Freedom”.

This was in many ways the seminal statement of the pan-Caribbean, political-intellectual New World Group—to which I have been connected for some decades. The New World Group began in Jamaica while Lloyd Best was lecturing there, inspired by CLR James’s lectures at the UWI Mona campus on the West Indies Federation. The movement spread down to Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and throughout the Eastern Caribbean.

By 1971, Jamaica (1962), Trinidad and Tobago (1962), Guyana (1966) and Barbados (1966) had become independent. The Eastern Caribbean states had not done so as yet. Black Power, radical trade unionism, socialism and communism, and Cold War rivalries were rocking the entire region during the period.

Many intellectuals, trade unionists and political parties had embraced socialism and were openly aligning themselves with the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc. Other political parties were embracing the United States and Great Britain. In Guyana, Jamaica and Grenada this socialist alignment went farthest in the English-speaking Caribbean. It put our countries in unnecessary trouble.

Had we become independent merely to allow ourselves to be used as pawns in other people’s Cold War? Did we really think either side in that war cared for our well-being and development, or indeed even knew what to do to help us?

Why would we submerge our national interest and development in foreign conflicts that had nothing to do with us? Were we just looking for new imperial masters, so soon after independence?

These are the fundamental questions Best put to the entire region.

Best was convinced no inter­national power had the development of our countries first and foremost in their minds—nor should they have. Our development is our concern and responsibility, and no one else’s.

Best saw the often intense ideo­logical battle between so-called “socialists” and so-called “capitalists” in the region as “substitute activity”. A kind of fantasy and role playing, that VS Naipaul had also called out so well, and even Eric Williams did at some points.

It eventually hurt the region badly in the 1970s and 1980s: the CIA intervened as Michael Manley unnecessarily emboldened his rhetoric and it began the garrison warfare there; Grenada disintegrated with the murder of Maurice Bishop in the grip of “Marxist-Leninist” fervour; and in Guyana from the 1950s and 1960s the intervention of the great powers led to bloodshed, dictatorship, poverty and violence.

Best rightly called all of this “substitute activity” that was not only unproductive, but dangerous. Our people became so caught up in these global debates that it substituted for our first responsibility: solving our problems right here at home, the development of our countries and the region.

It was a way of running away from our responsibility, using borrowed rhetoric to fight—a fight that was not ours.

Controversially, Best boasted he “mashed up all that left-wing business in Trinidad”. He urged a truly independent position, on neither side of a neo-imperial Cold War.

Of course, we can make statements and take public positions on these global conflicts, if we so wish. But to get openly—or even secretly—involved unnecessarily directs our attention away from where it should be.

We had—and have—our own fight. And we do not need to antagonise any side in whatever fights they are having. Fifty years later, we are far from solving our own problems of development, and the national and global Covid-19 lockdown has made matters even worse. We need to focus here, not elsewhere.

In our current Venezuelan crisis, there is a further issue. While socialist-leaning intellectuals, outright socialists, anti-imperialists, anti-Americans and others have rallied for ideological reasons, we are neglecting the fact that the billionaire Wilmer Ruperti is the driver of the global sanctions-busting regime, in which Trinidad is alleged to be just one part, and in which there is surely large sums of money passing through.

So while citizens are fighting ideological battles, there are these other matters which must be thoroughly investigated, made even more necessary because our Government leaders keep getting caught in mis-statement after ­mis-statement.

The ideological argument that is currently taking place is another type of “substitute activity” altogether: a sort of distraction, misdirection and sleight of hand by persons who may have other motives entirely.

So while we seek to extricate ourselves from direct participation or entanglement in this increasingly escalating geo-political confrontation, let us also clear up the money trail, which appears to be as murky as the location, path and destinations of the fuel itself.

Kirk Meighoo

Cunupia

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Newly-released video of the police involvement in the Beetham protest in which the pregnant Ornella Greaves was killed calls for a serious review of the statement by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith that no officers were around when she was shot.

While the public is yet to see the video on which the Commissioner has based his claim, new video clips being shared on social media show a large number of police officers, with guns drawn, descending on protesters and shooting in the midst of the protesters with their hands up chanting “Don’t shoot”.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “unreality” as “the quality of not being or seeming to be real”.

Will what awaits us after August 10 subdue the unreality that normally pervades a general election campaign in Trinidad and Tobago? Will we be real?

My principal but probably vain hope for the general election, to be held on August 10, is that it will not polarise the country further.

Realistically, one cannot hope for more, and it is mamaguy to feed us dreams of unity and overcoming, while our leaders are likely to engage in verbal warfare, way beyond the so-called cut and thrust of political debate.

I met Sophia Chote only once, but was enchanted by the intellectual sophistication and emotional maturity of her columns. Her writing reminded me of the quali­ties that one found in the thinkers of the romantic movement of the 19th century: a belief in democracy and republicanism, an appreciation for the sublime and transcendence and, most of all, a belief in the power of imagination.

I don’t know why Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar thought it necessary to appeal to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to invite a team of observers from The British Commonwealth and/or Caricom to witness the conduct of the general election that will take place on August 10.

This letter is addressed to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. Sir, following the recent protests staged by the people of severely challenged communities over the killing of three residents, you have made a masterful response and appointed a committee to undertake an analysis of the situation and make recommendations on the way forward.