Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For VP Biden, a plain-talk welcome

Express editorial logo82

Mark Fraser

US vice-president Joe Biden has come all the way to Trinidad and Tobago, via Bogota, Colombia, surely having been briefed on matters topping the agenda of US-Caribbean relations. The veteran US senator, now second in command to President Barack Obama, can be assured of a warm T&T welcome and hospitality during his visit, which will also be the occasion for a special regional summit. 

It’s unlikely, however, that Government leaders, other officials, and media people he meets will show reticence about raising questions the vice-president ignored in his interview with Express political editor Ria Taitt. Of those unanswered questions, Washington’s request for the extradition of Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, both facing indictments in the US, holds specific and abiding interest for T&T.

That the US-wanted two are still openly at large in this country is directly attributable to rulings by the T&T High Court. In the latest decision on the matter, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh assigned trial priority to T&T courts over those in the US. 

As yet, however, the criminal cases against Messrs Galbaransingh and Ferguson have advanced nearly not at all in the local courts. Privately to officials, or publicly via a media bully pulpit, T&T can expect to hear this week of US unhappiness over the “Ish and Steve” matter.

In the Express interview, Vice-President Biden also declined to telegraph any response to lively T&T and regional disquiet over US deportations of criminals to their supposed “homes” here. Under a cynically perverse policy, also adopted by Canada and the United Kingdom, the US shackles and ships to the region people convicted of crimes Stateside, who just happened to have been born here. 

Such convicts, assuming they had entered the US legally, could not have been accepted there if they had criminal records when they sought their visas. Caribbean-born but American-bred criminals are thus being deported to effectively foreign countries, where their most likely prospect is to aggravate the already overwhelmed law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

The vice-president needs to hear from all levels here that his government’s criminal deportation policy is wholly inconsistent with the “friendship and common values” which, as he said in the interview, have long characterised US-Caribbean relations.

Since he is also hoping to “strengthen our co-operation on a number of issues”, Mr Biden can expect to hear from willing Caribbean co-operants that this sometimes means levelling the playing field.  This is the challenge in the third issue left unanswered in his Express interview: the special preference for imports into the US for big international rum distillers based in the US Virgin Islands. 

Caribbean rum exporters, grievously disadvantaged by this arrangement, have been threatening recourse to the World Trade Organisation, a move certain to embarrass the US, long a champion of free trade. Silence on this matter is hardly to be expected, and the vice-president will no doubt discover that, in today’s Caribbean, plain talk goes along with hospitable good manners.