Et tu Brutus?

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Most folks recognise the title of today’s editorial. It is the remark uttered by Julius Caesar when he turned, as he fell mortally wounded, and saw his best friend and protégé, Marcus Junius Brutus, at the forefront of his assasins.  He could not believe it – the rather unkind cut, the treachery! Oh treachery, most foul! Shakespeare chronicles that story of betrayal in his enduring classic, JULIUS CAESAR. It ought to be required reading.

Yes, you know where we’re going with this. Unless you’ve been camping out on Mars, you must know that all is not well on the CARICOM travel front. Never mind the feel-good talk from all the leaders about their commitment to CARICOM and the cause of regional integration, the actions of some (and they know who they are) give a lie to that ideal. Indeed, much like the teething days of the West Indies Federation (it came into being in 1958), when Dr. Eric Williams reportedly said that “one from ten leaves nought,” we are seeing a redux.If you recall, it was Alexander Bustamante of Jamaica who first rejected the notion of a coming together for the greater good. ‘Busta’ (no pun intended; he was actually affectionately given that moniker by Jamaicans) said that the smaller islands would be a burden on his country, and he withdrew Jamaica from the Federation in 1962. 

Our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, a student of history, if nothing else, sees shades of this sort of internecine conflict within the region, and he has alluded to, and warned, against it. These are perilous times, and we will only be able to surmount the many challenges that we face by pooling our resources, and setting aside petty differences and narrow parochial interests. Not to mention leaving our oversized egos at the gate. We believe that there are many leaders in CARICOM with outsized egos and interests that are inimical to CARICOM. This LIAT mess exposed them for who they are. Sigh!

Sadly, we saw this coming. It began several months ago with LIAT (as per usual) in straightened financial circumstances. As has often been the case, Antigua and Barbuda stepped up with pledges of assistance. The other shareholder governments that came up with any funding seemed to do so grudgingly. Then just before the Covid crisis, we heard talk from one of the shareholder governments that perhaps LIAT was in its death throes. That leader seemed to be eager to write LIAT’s epitaph. Again, our government was quick to speak in noble and courageous terms about the need to save LIAT, what with its critical importance to the movement of our peoples up and down the archipelago. The livelihood of hundreds of Antiguans was also at stake. Of course, the cost of folks moving from one island to the next was unconscionably, but that’s a discussion for another time. (Thank God for ZOOM, WhatsApp, Face Time and other forms of communication and video conferencing, which replaced some of the need to travel) The point is that LIAT was doing a decent job, notwithstanding the greed of the regional governments and the disgraceful bungling by its management.

So, with some of the LIAT shareholder governments shedding crocodile tears about how badly they feel for Antigua, even as they prepared to dance on LIAT’s grave, it is no surprise that our Prime Minister is shocked at what he perceives as a betrayal. Et tu, Comrade? Within a few days of the announcement that LIAT might have to be liquidated, some of the LIAT shareholder governments were gleefully rubbing their palms and declaring that there were some 6 other regional carriers that were prepared to fill the void left by LIAT’s surcease. Talk about stabbing the corpse in a dastardly act of perfidy!

Our prime minister is rightfully peeved at what he sees as disrespect and disloyalty amid the sneaky, behind-the-scenes maneuvering by his erstwhile compadres,and he has railed against their display of bad faith (they wanted to talk about new airline entities to replace LIAT, rather than how best to salvage LIAT). He declined to attend their last meeting. He has also denounced what he describes as ‘rinky-dinky’ aircraft. Moreover, he believes that the shareholder governments should be thinking about waiving monies owed to them by LIAT, and living up to their obligations to make creditors and employees partially whole. (A haircut is inevitable).  He has said that our government has at least US$15 to $20M million available to put towards a leaner and reconstituted LIAT 2020. The reception to these ideas appear tepid, at best, and we may just have to go it alone. How this whole thing turns out is anyone’s guess.

Having said that, perhaps it is useful to take a backward glance at the Mighty Chalkdust who commented on Caribbean integration issues in his enduring classic, SEAWATER AND SAND. We have changed some of the names, but the observations and warnings remain the same. Same problems, different leaders. Then and now, it’s the same foolishness: “Man every Caribbean leader taking laugh at one another / Everyone trying to protect his dollar / Well, countries that are more wealthy / Man, they laughin’ out ki, ki, ki. . . . / Dey can’t see unless there is cooperation / All of them on de same road to destruction / Is time de Barbadians dem understand / You cant sit back and laugh at [Antiguans] / Because without dem tourist boats from Reagan / Sweet Barbados headin’ for starvation / De day you ain’t get bail from Washington / Crappo smoke you pipe Mr. St. John  . . . /  All of dem Caribbean leaders, instead of pulling together / Dey prefer to frien’ with Reagan and Thatcher / But dey want BWIA register as de regional carrier / No way sir, Antigua turned down dey offer / Is time Mottley and Gaston understand / You both need each other in de region / You can’t make treaties with France and Japan / And with your own people you can’t shake hands / Is time you and Gonsalves sit down and start to plan / Because all you have is just seawater and sand / CARICOM leaders does show zest / Dey feel dey country is best / Because dey have more foreign exchange than de rest / Others ridin’ high and mighty / Claimin’ dey have stability / And dey meetin regularly / Drawin’ up all kinda treaty / And when dey done drink dey whiskey / De treaty dead already /  At their heads of government conference / Is more shop-talk and ignorance / Lots of talk, but no action ever commence.” Hmmm!No wonder our PM excused himself from the last meeting of the LIAT shareholder governments.

Folks, there have been references to ‘jealousies’ among the CARICOM leadership. And yes, there has been more than a little “laughin out ki, ki, ki!” (see the unbridled mirth with which the Timothy Harris folks chortled at the fact that their administration was able to provide a meaningful stimulus to the people of St. Kitts Nevis, while the Gaston Browne administration could not come up with a dime in stimulus money. The two administrations have declared their friendship, but there appears to be unhelpful undercurrents between some of our CARICOM leaders. No wonder there are references to being stabbed in the back, a la Julius Caesar by Marcus Brutus.

 We urge all our CARICOM and Caribbean leaders to put aside petty differences and narrow territorial interests in the cause of CARICOM cooperation. Let there be a meeting of the minds on this LIAT situation. We the people deserve it.

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