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Don't threaten us, Mr Ambassador

May 25, 2003
By Raffique Shah

I HAD planned to write this week on another perspective on the crime situation in the country, one that the alarmists in our midst will hardly see since they are so taken up with looking at the forest that they hardly see the sturdy trees that tower above it. Then US Ambassador Roy Austin once more chose to plant both his feet in his mouth, prompting me to respond to him. I have advised Mr Austin to stick to the social circuit and leave the politiking to the likes of decent "house negroes" like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. But the ambassador is a "harden" fella, as we Trinis say, so he'd have to feel the weight of the pen.

Austin all but threatened this country in relation to US companies investing here, citing Trinidad and Tobago's refusal to sign some international agreement on terrorism. Speaking at an ECA-convened conference on the impact of international terrorism on business, Austin told his audience that this was one of a handful of countries that had not yet signed on the dotted line. He added that every day his commercial section received enquiries from US companies seeking to do business here, and he suggested that investments here could dry up because we failed to sign that agreement. One must assume, therefore, that Austin's officers must be busy turning away potential investors from T&T solely on that basis.

Which is a hell of a thing, really, given that T&T is the only Caribbean country that can be considered as being industrialised. We actually export goods to the US rather than depend only on its tourists for our survival, as is the case with other countries in this region. We have oil and gas, and now methanol, urea and ammonia, even though we are small in the global scheme of things.

Austin is guilty of using US-dollar-muscle in a bid to force us to sign this agreement, the contents of which I do not know, but which, from experience, I can say would do nothing to stem the tide of international terrorism. Not when the USA, using the philosophy of might-is-right, is guilty of creating new networks of terrorists every day. When Bush started beating his war drums over Iraq, I warned that while he could easily unseat Saddam Hussein, he would, in so doing, trigger a backlash that would turn the entire world into a terrorists' turf.

Well, we've seen what happened in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. We have also seen America go on "orange alert" over possible terrorist attacks, and I should add that the bullying superpower would remain that way for as long as it engages in "preventive" wars, which is the only description that fits its battering of Iraq.

Preventive wars, incidentally, are quite different from "preemptive" ones, in which a country can claim to act to prevent the "enemy" state from attacking its soil. And there are no international laws of conventions governing the latter. So the US can do what it wants in Iraq, or, I guess, in tiny T&T, because we refuse to sign some agreement that's probably not worth the paper it's written on.

Austin should have explained to his audience why the US has bluntly refused to join the universally-accepted International Criminal Court that has brought tyrants like Milosovic before it, and which, if given sufficient evidence, could haul Saddam into the dock. What he will not admit is that the only reason the US has not endorsed the ICC is that it will not subject any American soldier or politician or citizen to the norms of human behaviour it demands of other people across the world. In other words, only Americans are above the law. Tell me I'm lying, Mr Austin.

The Ambassador should also explain why the US and Britain defied the UN Security Council decision on Iraq and proceeded to bomb and invade and occupy that country in the face of opposition from almost every other country in the world. The UN Charter allows for that body to regulate international affairs and prevent armed conflicts that could lead to massive loss of lives and destruction of property. Yet the US brazenly defied not just the Security Council majority decision, but pleas from Secretary General Kofi Anan and a host of prime ministers and presidents across the world. If the US could act in such a unilateral manner in defiance of the UN Charter, what would prevent it from violating the very agreement that Austin is bullying us into signing?

And to think that Austin, who had previously worn a Caribbean mask to cover his ugly Republican face, is subtly threatening us regarding US investors coming here. Maybe he should re-direct investors to St Vincent (PM Ralph Gonzalves would be happy to have someone invest in a banana-chips factory!). Or maybe Grenada or Dominica or Anguilla would be more attractive to them. Really, I wish Dr Eric Williams were still around to tell Austin just where he and George Bush could shove their investment and investors! Luckily for the ambassador, PM Patrick Manning tends to lean heavily on the gentlemanly side of political behaviour.

Austin suggested that if we "fail to properly combat the worldwide terrorist threat", we "could lose business to competitors who are better prepared and have better and safer environments". Where are these "safer" countries, Mr Austin? Saudi Arabia is as safe as the US would want, what with more than 10,000 fully equipped US troops stationed there. That failed to stop the Islamic suicide bombers who attacked building blocks housing foreign workers there.

Is Iraq any safer now than it was under Saddam: days ago a US camp came under attack, and since the new rulers have absolute power, they simply opened fire and killed whoever happened to be in the way. Are countries like Kuwait, the UAE, Yemen or Egypt safer than T&T? For that matter, is the fortress-like Israel safe? Hell, is America any safer that we are from the terrorist threat?

Clearly, no country is safe from terrorist attacks simply because the US has a presence in almost every country in the world. No international agreement or treaty will save us from the determination of suicide-bombers. The US has created an unholy global mess and now it wants others to do the cleaning up for it.

Sorry, Mr Austin, we have no obligations to you or to the US. If anything, the US should compensate every country that suffers attacks from anti-American extremists, because terrorists are your creatures. And they are as ugly as the terrorists that sit in the White House and the Pentagon.

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