All quiet on the Parliament front yesterday prior to proceedings.
National Security Minister Stuart Young seemed unusually unburdened, joking with Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy. Port-of-Spain MP Marlene McDonald showed no signs of being worried that some of her constituents were nabbed in recent police raids.
And Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh shared something with UNC MP Christine Newallo-Hosein which sent her into gales of laughter, telling him, "Go! Don't come back on this (Opposition) side until 2020!"
Banter was temporary. Minutes after the start of proceedings, Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George was yelling "Order! Order!" when both sides butted heads during Question Time.
Prime Minister Keith Rowley was absent at the time. He'd been part of this week's recoup push on both sides; Government seeking to bounce back on assorted issues internally and externally; the Opposition, tweaking internal profile.
In Tobago recently, Rowley had sought pushback on major issues internally and externally. With Young alongside on Monday, he'd fired a shot across police leadership bows, voicing dismay about attacks on tourists and the crime detection rate. A less than subtle prompt to police/leadership, especially with recent homicide spike and a murder toll of 69 as T&T's national fete—and expanded visitorship—approaches. The need to get a handle on the problem in Tobago especially has increased following Rowley's announcement of marina plans. Following his blanket “bouff”, it was hardly surprising police leapt into action with a rash of raids.
The Tobago visit—whether part of election prep or not—allowed Rowley to monitor particularly progress on projects in Tobago East where his party's reportedly weak. It also facilitated outreach on other Tobago issues from the beleaguered ferry service (with the promise of more ferries) to the failed Sandals (ditto, marina replacement). Rowley's tack on the marina has been to “take in front” and urge PNM troops to defend the new plans lest another failure occurs.
His meeting was also geared toward reinforcement of T&T's image on Venezuela issues into which T&T's been drawn closer—and up personally—recently. Rowley shared his dim view of OAS secretary general Luis Almagro's partisan stance in the matter and delivered certain quipped jabs at Venezuelan National Assembly deputy Carlos Valero— Assembly head Juan Guaido's proxy—following Valero's recent rejection of Rowley.
How his brief remarks on Valero will go over in Guaido's camp and whether it'll compound negative perception about the Government as a pro-Nicolas Maduro administration—recently voiced by Valero—remains to unfold.
After Rowley spoke Tuesday, Valero on Wednesday dismissed Caricom's Montevideo Mechanism for peaceful Venezuelan resolution as “nacio muerto" (stillborn) and "going nowhere”.
Rowley acknowledged Venezuela is the most challenging foreign policy issue T&T's been called upon to deal with. Whether or not T&T's found wanting—as he believes it won't—the issues may be out of regional hands since Guaido has set what appears to be a collision course with embattled Maduro with Guaido's February 23 bid to open a “humanitarian corridor” to bring in US aid blocked by Maduro at Colombia's border. Cuba's warned the US was “secretly moving special forces closer to Venezuela to intervene under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis". On the heels of that, came Maduro's Thursday announcement that his officials held talks with US officials this week. But US signals haven't conveyed any bending about the need for Maduro's exit.
T&T's, however, preparing for any eventuality. Valero had complained T&T was dissing humanitarian aid for Venezuelans. But the National Security Ministry since February 4 was undertaking a UK-assisted workshop (concluding yesterday) on humanitarian aid and disaster management. How much such expertise will be needed, remains to be seen.
Venezuela's issue will assume greater significance for T&T's Opposition following Valero's criticisms. UNC's La Horquetta meeting on Monday attracted what UNC officials described as a “general election crowd” which may signal the measure of mobilisation success constituency co-ordinator Jearlean John's had. Nor is the Opposition delaying election planning, judging from Thursday's meeting with Election and Boundaries Commission. Respective PNM and UNC recoup will heighten over the coming months. Just how much work will be needed on Venezuela and other issues—for both—remain ahead.