It represented an unbelievable and embarrassing turn of events. Fellow CARICOM member nation, Dominica, ravaged by Hurricane Maria last September, had asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to simply waive its financial contribution to the hemispheric body because its finances and economy are in tatters.
The country had not asked for a write off of its debts and obligations to the 34-nation grouping only for a waiver until it was in a better position to meet its obligations.
Most of the delegations in the room at OAS headquarters in Washington DC had absolutely no problems with the request from the small Caribbean Community nation, commiserating with Dominica given its tenuous position.
But out of ‘nowhere,’ the delegation of Trinidad and Tobago surprised everyone in the room by lashing down the request for assistance, suggesting instead that a deferred payment system should have been agreed to instead of the waiver.
Those words came from the island’s OAS Representative, Anthony Phillips Spencer and immediately sparked outrage both at the meeting and in Trinidad, especially so after the video of the meeting was aired on social media.
Unable to hide its outrage and utter embarrassment at the debacle, the Trinidad Express Newspaper did a hatchet job on the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley, contending that government owes the people of Dominica and the entire CARICOM bloc “a full and unqualified apology for this country’s shameful refusal to support the request.”
The paper said that the fact that the fee had totally no more than $20,000 was proof that the island was experiencing hard times. The video also showed how devastated and flummoxed Dominica’s representative was as Judity Ann Rolle struggled for words and appeared to be fighting back tears.
Overnight Thursday, Port of Spain said that the position adopted by the Trinidad and Tobago delegation at the OAS had embarrassed the island and government.
“In an unqualified way, the ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs regrets the misrepresentation of the position of Trinidad and Tobago offered by a public official of Trinidad and Tobago during a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) which was held on the March 23, 2018, relative to a request from Dominica for a waiver of its financial contribution to that Organization for the years 2018 to 2019.”
Foreign Minister Dennis Moses said an investigation has been launched into “the briefing arrangements of the public official and the circumstances involved in the discussion at the OAS is underway. Shortly a report, as requested, would be made available to the Honorable prime minister,” an embarrassed Moses said.
The paper continued its attack on government and the Trinidad and Tobago delegation, noting that “a more embarrassing howler in the world of diplomacy cannot be imagined. The fact that Trinidad and Tobago would not back a sister CARICOM nation in seeking financial relief on humanitarian grounds at a hemispheric forum is illogical in the extreme. Still it is hardly surprising given this country’s cowardly and equally illogical abstention at last December’s United Nations’ vote condemning the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”