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Raffique Shah


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We have come a long way, Barack

By Raffique Shah
April 05, 2009

For those charged with securing the Summit delegates from rampaging protestors, as happened at last week's G20 meeting in London, their bigger challenge is likely to be refereeing jousts among the delegates. Our people are not known for violent protests. In my youthful days I was involved in some of the biggest protest demonstrations that followed the Black Power eruption of 1970. Among them was the infamous "Bloody Tuesday" on March 18, 1975, which, by the time it was violently attacked by the police on Coffee Street, San Fernando, had grown in size to more than 5,000 people-and expanding by the minute. The violence, when it came, was on orders from Dennis Ramdwar, not from the demonstrators.

I do not expect "Trini-mode" that to change with all the threats of protest marches, strikes and alternative "summits" planned to coincide with the official Summit. I read where officers in charge of securing the "red zone" said they were prepared for any eventuality, armed with "tear gas" (CS grenades) and presumably live ammunition.

Such force, or threat of force, is wholly unnecessary. The organisers of these alternative actions are all responsible leaders, maybe more so than the host government's. Prime Minister Manning met with unionists and others, requesting them to tone down their protests, to "make the country look good".

He didn't need to do that. Except for a handful of politicians who can best be described as the "lunatic fringe", no one else wants have our country look like a nation of irresponsible people. What Manning should be wary of is, having convinced the unionists in particular to behave in a civil manner, he and his government honour their side of the agreement. I cannot understand how a state corporation as monopolistic and profitable as TSTT cannot initial a new industrial agreement with its employees years after negotiations started, that long after the previous agreement expired. The same holds true for T&TEC employees and several others

So if the workers are restless, if they must march and threaten industrial action to pursue their goals, they have just cause to protest. Ditto for Customs officers and employees of the BIR, where government, in its infinite folly, want all of those employees to take forced separation (Government calls it "voluntary", but they know it's not) and then re-apply for jobs in the new, private revenue collection agency they plan to establish. If their excuse is they want to rid the "bad eggs" in these vital divisions of the Ministry of Finance, then why not do the same to the Police Service, to Licensing and other similar, corruption-prone state agencies? I shall have more to say on this very stupid idea-after the Summit!

Inside the official Summit, Chairman Manning is likely to be under greater pressure to keep some delegates from each other's throats, a challenge that is sure to come. As I pointed out two weeks ago, US President Obama will attend not as "master of all he surveys", but as just another delegate, albeit an important one. He would want to talk energy, maybe alternative energy-and I say all hail to him for adopting this progressive stance. But President Lula of Brazil would want to know why there is a US-imposed tariff on ethanol from his country.

Prior to the recent G20 Summit, Lula made it clear that those responsible for the global economic and financial crises are the developed countries who thought they knew it all, but showed they knew nothing about finance. In the words of another commentator, they were adept at financial innovations before they looked at financial regulations. To add insult to the US (and Canada's) injury, Lula made it clear that the majority of countries in Latin America are not seeking aid, just fair trade (as distinct from free). Protectionism, as is being practised by many OECD countries, is a key obstacle to global financial recovery, Lula argues.

In fact, at the conference, Venezuela's Chavez may well suggest that if any countries need to be placed under "IMF conditionalities" that Latin and Caribbean states endured 20 years ago, it should be the USA and European Union members that are all running huge deficits.

Note that the US-trillion-dollar-stimulus-package approved in London, will be financed by China and Brazil as much as OECD countries. In other words, Obama is not coming to Port of Spain to meet with beggars, but with self-reliant emerging economies that can take care of their people once the global trading field is level. We have come a long way, Barack.

Indeed, while poverty remains rampant in Latin America and parts of the Caribbean, we are little different to what obtains in many self-styled rich countries. The people of Beetham plan to give President Obama a DVD showing the conditions under which they survive. "Damn!" he might say. "These people live better than the poor in America!" With an average of 500,000 people thrown on the breadline on a monthly basis, "tent cities" and "caravan parks" have sprung up across the USA.

So if there are fireworks at the Summit, they will erupt inside the Hyatt, not among protestors on the outside. Stand down the troops, commander.

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