It is said that all politics is local, meaning that nations rarely look beyond their own interests. But that approach has never reflected the reality of the world's inter-connectedness, more so in this era of modern globalisation. A total local perspective is especially unworkable for a small region like the Caribbean.
In this light, it is unfortunate that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar should have linked emergency aid for our storm-struck neighbours with economic returns. "There must be some way in which Trinidad and Tobago would benefit,'' said Mrs Persad-Bissessar on Monday. "So that if we are giving assistance with housing,'' she added, "then we may be able to use T&T builders and companies so that whatever money or assistance is given, redounds back in some measure to the people of T&T.''
Disaster relief and economic assistance should not be, nor made to appear as, a business deal. Help should be extended without any strings so glaringly attached, especially in light of the loss of life in St Lucia and the infrastructural devastation in other islands.
If a self-interested case had to be made, the economic stability of the other Caricom countries is essential to continued favourable trade, since these countries take about ten per cent of T&T's exports. From a political point of view, good Caricom relations are also essential if each country, individually too small to have any real weight on the international stage, can make an impact by presenting a united front on the various issues which affect the Caribbean as a whole.
As Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar noted at the Heads of Government meeting earlier this year, T&T is not the region's ATM machine. However, the fact remains that our better fiscal position due to oil and gas wealth imposes a moral responsibility to assist the welfare of our less prosperous neighbours.
This country would hardly appreciate it if the developed nations of the world continually demanded payback for any funds they gave for development projects. Most of the time, such aid is rendered in order to foster goodwill and maintain socioeconomic stability. Why should T&T adopt a more mercenary position with respect to our Caricom brethren?
Maybe this is not Ms Persad-Bissessar's true position; maybe she was taking in front to deflect the inevitable criticism that the T&T government is helping other countries before it attends to local problems. This may be why she emphasised that the Opposition Leader would be consulted before any decisions on aid were made.
Mrs Persad-Bissessar might do well to remember, however, that great leaders are distinguished from pedestrian politicians by their willingness, at some or several points, to defy public opinion in order to serve the greater good.