Post 375.

Once again, so many voters looking for sanity and trustworthiness find themselves wanting. A PNM win was secured by the government’s deeply cautious, but extremely successful health response. It was also secured by the vast distribution of social and economic support to tens of thousands of citizens, and the millions given carte blanche to religious groups which constitute major voting blocs. Don’t expect these monies to be properly and publicly accounted for, of course. The PMN found the best way to use a disaster to secure gratitude in the voting booth. That’s just reality in an election year.

Fascinatingly, the Prime Minister made a lengthy speech about campaign finance reform. This sounded like a brilliant plan to spend billions as a party (in government) without the constraints of procurement regulation while cleverly limiting other parties’ (out of government) ability to spend on their campaign without oversight. Campaign finance reform, if passed, will be a double win for the PNM and cause some belly pain for the UNC as they are well aware that parties in government spend millions (and this year more than a billion) in state funds as part of their campaign and parties out of government straggle on what they fundraise.

All this cleverness now seems wasted, however. It’s clear that the PM and Minister of National Security Minister lied to the nation or maybe are lying to themselves or maybe they just open borders and meet sanctioned foreign elites on the fly. I don’t understand calls for Stuart Young to resign when the anancy story goes straight to the top. What does a voter do when the party in government is caught in a lie? Go back into a relationship without trust?

On the other hand, the UNC’s strategy has won no love. Moonilal’s ill-fated run to the US Embassy was simply to send the message that an election is coming and a change of regime would be in US interest. Threat of sanctions, which it almost seemed that the UNC was begging for, would help send that message to a population already hungry and fearful, and provide nice sound and fury to secure desperate votes on the campaign trail. Moonilal didn’t anticipate that the press would pick up the story, but kick dust in his face and it’s now clear that new bacchanal must be quickly found.   

The UNC strategy was despicable, though I disagreed with the PM that it was traitorous and I disagreed with Cudjoe that it was racist. Actually, I thought Cudjoe’s commentary on Moonilal, and Indians, was itself despicable and racist, or maybe he hasn’t read anything on Indians in the Caribbean published after 1980.

I understand why we have to remain under US policy rule as our major trading partner and neighbourhood bully, but to champion that position was to reduce us to colonial status and playing policeman of our own subordination, like little boys in khaki short pants.

There has been a global call to lift sanctions, particularly at this time, when they impose an immoral cost on the shoulders of innocents and the poorest and most vulnerable in Venezuela. Sanctions against Venezuela are also not CARICOM policy. As citizens of the world, we have a right to our own views on global affairs. We have a right to think for ourselves beyond US politics. We have to abide, or bears costs of doing otherwise, but we do not have to agree.

So, where does the last weeks’ political chaos leave us?

Over the last decades, the incumbent has had trouble getting back into government though a month ago the PNM could have called an election and, without even a campaign speech, immediately won. Today, if we vote the PNM back in, we will be showing that we accept degrees of dishonesty yet again.

The AG has the Commission of Enquiry into the Point Fortin Highway, which is racking up tens of millions and again constitutes campaign spending using state resources, in his back pocket to pull out whenever the UNC bawls corruption. If we vote the UNC back in, he will make sure it shows we are prepared to accept much the same.

As Iran bravely ships oil to Venezuela, and Caribbean waters heat up, an election season fight for credibility has begun. We will have to choose between two parties with questionable decision-making, many smart men and too little trust. As with hurricanes, we can only hope to weather the wrath of oncoming storms in our tiny teacup.  

Post 370.

Like bandits in broad daylight, the US has dispatched warships to the Caribbean Sea, en route to Venezuela.

This is a fascinating lesson for a generation that has never witnessed US ‘big stick’ politics, having been born long after the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the US installing of Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinoche in 1973, and the place of Cuba in the Cold War.

Most of my undergraduate students are born after 2000, in an era when focus on the psychological has taken over from analysis of the geopolitical. This generation would have been too young to remember the US ousting (in his words “kidnapping”) democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, but if young people across the Caribbean need a live example of US imperialism to mobilise against, this is it.

Analyses of this war-mongering and its intersection with the current oil and COVID-19 crises highlight how often global political brawls end up in our Caribbean gayelle, and this might momentarily direct our gaze away from our household challenges toward understanding how badman from Russia, the US, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, China and more fight in our contemporary world.

The military deployment of Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft has been justified by laughable reasons that nonetheless provide an excellent example of how imaginary connections are made everyday truths by state propaganda. This generation won’t remember “weapons of mass destruction” as a similar lie, but that’s how invasion and killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including children, was justified then too.

About 70 000 Americans die annually from a drug overdose, mostly from drugs from Central America and Mexico which breach US borders. Using this data, a White House press conference initiated a good ol’ Republican “war on drugs” arguing that Venezuela is a narco-trafficking state and that the warships are intended to stop shipments of illegal drugs which “penetrate” the United States “to kill Americans”.

Flexing its machoman muscles, the US military announced, “we are at war with terrorists, we are at war with COVID-19 and we are at war with the drug cartels as well…you will not penetrate this country…you are not going to come in here and kill additional Americans”.

The White House released conservative estimates that COVID-19 could kill 240 000 in the US. Guns kill about than 39 000 in the US annually, more than half of drug overdoses, but there’s no state “war on guns” in the US. Indeed, drug overdoses account for less than 3% of US deaths, behind pretty much everything else such as suicide, accidents, medical errors, and especially non-communicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease which 2016 data suggest alone account for about 60% of deaths.

No surprise, no serious news sources are buying this Nancy story. The Department of Defense opposed it, reports Foreign Policy in its newsletter. US officials told Newsweek that it was “a move to deflect criticism about the administration’s mishandling of the outbreak at home”. War is always the best way to rally masses, suppress criticism as unpatriotic, and stimulate some manufacturing sectors, all of which would be convenient responses to the US’ collapsed labour market.

At any rate, though marketing it as a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela”, the US government long has been trying to install an acceptable puppet who will be their man instead of Russia’s. Caricom has been dancing in this gayelle, refusing to meet with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Jamaica in January, and asserting Venezuela’s sovereignty despite its deep political and economic troubles. For to support invasion of one is to set a precedent for all, and that would be sheer hasikara. Indeed, if electoral corruption is a key criteria, and unmatched oil wealth, Guyana would be next.

By comparison, Russia has both already penetrated the US and has those men in suits on their knees. Its stand-off with OPEC has sent economies crashing and made US shale oil production unprofitable. It is securing its state interest in Venezuelan oil, and protecting it from US sanctions. Last week, Putin himself sent a Russian plane to New York with medical supplies even as the US is shamefully blocking medical supplies to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Barbados.

Though we may be cockroach in fowl party, as they say, this is happening in our seas. Our business is, therefore, that the Caribbean remains “a zone of peace”.