Thursday, December 14, 2017

Highs and lows of US-Caricom relations

 Marli Street, Port of Spain, has long enjoyed recognition as the location of the US Embassy, to whose offices T&T citizens have gone in quest of visas and other consular services.  On Sunday, Mayor Raymond Tim Kee presided over the mounting on the well-known street of the additional sign, “PFC Le Ron A Wilson Way”. 

Born in T&T, Private First Class Wilson, had enlisted in the US Army at age 17 and, just one year later in 2007, was killed in action in Iraq. His short service has nevertheless been celebrated in the US with posthumous military medals, and in other ways. This admirable American tradition was commended for adoption here by the father of the late soldier. 

The Marli Street rededication to PFC Le Ron A Wilson occurred close enough to the July 4 US independence commemoration to be associated with the larger reality of US influence and power as exercised in T&T and elsewhere. In the Caricom region, notice was taken of a sharp Guyanese government rebuff to what it regarded as US diplomatic muscle-flexing and interference in that country’s internal affairs.

 The US ambassador had publicly criticised the failure of President Donald Ramotar’s administration over five years, to hold local government elections. Pointedly, at a US July 4 function, a Guyanese cabinet minister assailed such criticism as intolerably out of place for the ambassador, whom she accused of having “crossed the red line”. 

Relatively little offence is either given by or taken from the US T&T mission in Port of Spain, to which, in any case, Washington has appointed no ambassador since late 2012. Across a range of areas, US-T&T relations have remained largely untroubled.

Indeed, a sobering historical note, struck at the BET awards extravaganza last month, resonated internationally to include T&T. BET’s chairman/CEO Debra Lee led the immediate and far-flung audiences to commemorate the 50th anniversary of passage of the US Civil Rights Act. 

The legislation fulfilled the objective sought by a civil-rights movement against racial segregation that had made second-class citizens of black Americans, particularly in the US south. By outlawing discrimination on racial and other grounds, the Civil Rights Act inaugurated an era in which blacks and other minorities became, more or less what Martin Luther King Jr hailed as “free at last”. 

That 1964 development was noted in T&T, then freshly out of colonialism that had enshrined barriers against the social, political and economic advancement of the majority of African and Indian, and other non-white citizens. US agitations and advances toward equality helped stimulate local “black consciousness”.

Following the 1970 Black Power uprising, T&T developments advanced eventually toward designation of both Emancipation Day and Indian Arrival Day, and the cultural, economic, political and social advances, that are maybe too much taken for granted today.