As irresistible as the temptation to subject the Prime Minister's full-page ad on Sunday to Common Entrance standards (as it has), there is something in the message to which much more attention needs to be paid.
It is that in this country’s dealings with the rest of the world, in the post-independence era, we have never tended to be short on self-esteem and confidence.
I remember former foreign minister Ralph Maraj at one Caricom meeting some years ago declaring that achievement of strong regional unity had the potential to position the Caribbean “at the centre of the universe”.
Jamaicans in the audience must have opined that the declaration of “we lickle but we tallawah” had apparently been subjected to a massive dose of steroids on that particular occasion.
But it has not all been a euphoric delusion. Sunday’s full-page statement sent me back to Paul K Sutton’s compilation of speeches by the late prime minister Dr Eric Williams. There I found far more eloquent expression of the application of political “self-determination” as a basis for enlightened, strategic insertion into the management of international affairs.
Dr Williams, you see, was able to nuance multiple tiers of engagement at the regional, hemispheric and global levels. He did so by suggesting that it is quite possible to find our way in the world (however clumsily at times) as a small, sovereign island state with a mind of our own.
There were his observations about the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement in the early 60s. He noted that T&T had been “more non-aligned that most of its colleagues (and exercising) the greatest circumspection in avoiding interference in the affairs or others”.
Dr Williams was also clear that, on the question of self-confidence, developing nations had to shape their destinies based “in theory and in practice, on an active role for the passive participants of previous centuries.”
Of course, the real experts can add other levels of interpretation and analysis but, to me, there is a clear connection between the late prime minister’s assertions and Sunday’s clumsily-constructed yet important treatise.
There are, of course, those who conclude that being “force-ripe” on foreign policy has no place in the modern context and that there are matters over which our inputs have absolutely no force or meaning. The same people also typically suggest that the independence project, when it comes to foreign policy, has been a meaningless farce.
This, I believe, was the question being addressed by Sunday’s text which encapsulated last week’s “taller and prouder” pronouncements by the prime minister.
But the PM’s ad appeared, ironically, a day after Venezuelan opposition politician, Juan Guaidó scooped the Caribbean media and some regional diplomats via Twitter. He did so by announcing the outcome of an online meeting with selected Caricom ministers of foreign affairs, including our own.
The meeting, he said, was meant to discuss the “crisis” in his country and his vision for the way forward. Before then, the meeting had inexplicably remained unannounced. It appeared, based on his reluctant comment to the press, that foreign minister Dennis Moses had been relying solely on a bland Caricom press release to report preliminarily on the outcome.
Under no circumstances is this acceptable. The T&T population and media are not a set of “stormers” to this process.
Meanwhile, Dr Williams was not known to be particularly fond of successive Venezuelan administrations. Sutton’s compilation establishes that. One (now deceased) former senior diplomat once told me Williams’ feelings exceeded a mere absence of fondness.
The Twitter responses to Guaidó’s Sunday scoop included words such as “sanguijuelas” (leeches) and “chulos” (pimps) when describing Caricom’s role in the current imbroglio. His handlers had better watch it.
At a PNM party convention in 1975, Dr Williams expanded on what he termed “Venezuelan penetration of the Caribbean” with reference to debates at the time over that country’s exclusive economic zone and its territorial claim over Guyana’s Essequibo region, among others.
The political complexion at the Palacio de Miraflores had not mattered then when it came to these things. This has not changed. The prime minister’s prescribed pragmatism seems perfectly in order. But his foreign minister needs to listen more closely to the intended message.