Kamla Persad-Bissessar appeared to back away from recent remarks that Trinidad will basically give aid to Eastern Caribbean islands battered by Hurricane Tomas only if the twin island republic will benefit from such grant aid directly, telling St. Lucians as the week ended no “strings” will no longer be attached to any level assistance her government gives to the sub-region.
She made the declaration during meetings with St. Lucian Prime Minister Stephenson King as she toured the storm-ravaged island that now says it needs a whooping $500M to rebuild its tattered lifeline banana industry, repair its stock of damaged buildings and restore potable water systems that were overrun by cresting rivers and streams.
“I want to make it very clear Mr. Prime Minister that we remain committed to assisting you here and the people of St Lucia. There are no strings attached to the humanitarian aid that we bring and will continue to send to you for reconstruction.”
The statement was in stark contrast to the previous week when she triumphantly, if not arrogantly, declared that the Caribbean trade bloc’s largest and most prosperous economy would not dole out aid unless local businesses would basically get the rebuilding contracts.
Coming on the heels of her previous declaration in July that the oil and gas-rich twin island with Tobago was not “the ATM” of the Caribbean, Persad-Bissessar was roundly criticized at home and abroad for remarks that appeared to be contemptuous of regional neighbors.
Still, she toured some of the devastated areas and announced plans to send coastguard vessels with relief supply containers flush with building materials. Containers were also headed to neighboring St.
Vincent which Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said was visited by an act of nature so devastating that will set the country back for years.
But for the less politically discerning, the prime minister took along Contractors Association President Mikey Joseph and construction magnate Emile Elias in her delegation that also had several cabinet ministers.
Persad-Bissessar’s statements had so irked people in the region that some in Jamaica and many in cyberspace had called for a boycott of Trinidadian products, a point she was forced to address during a press conference at home at the weekend.
“It is not the official position of Jamaica as far as I understand it—so diplomatically through the prime minister and the deputy prime minister I have not seen any comment where the government is endorsing it and I would not want to intervene in the private sector of Jamaica, it’s a free country and they are free to voice their opinions,” she said, blaming a newspaper headline for blowing her remarks out of proportion.
Part of St. Lucia’s problem is that its main water conservancy dam that pumped up to eight million gallons of water daily has collapsed cutting off supplies to households but moreso to the lifeline tourist industry officials said..