Blunder after Blunder

By Raffique Shah
December 11, 2011

Raffique ShahFIVE weeks ago, in my column titled “Diplomatic Blunders”, I wrote, “…The US has the right to decide what countries it has relations with, so excluding Cuba as a trade or investment partner is not the issue. What is criminal is for the US to use its might to deny other countries, as well as all corporations, their right to have relations with Cuba…”

I was referring to America’s unjust trade embargo against Cuba, but also to the People’s Partnership Government’s seemingly confused foreign policy positions. Trinidad and Tobago had abstained at a UNESCO general meeting at which Palestine was granted full membership, with an overwhelming majority of nations voting in favour of the motion.

Ambassador Rodney Charles, a PR spin doctor, responded, gleefully pointing out that he had not attended the UNESCO meeting in Paris, hence he could not be the person who abstained. Rodney failed to address the substantive question: Why did T&T abstain? I shall add only that the response-letter purportedly came from some academic whose language and style mimicked Rodney to the “PR”!

But back to my prescient quote above, in which I accused Washington of wielding the big stick against sovereign states that have relations and conduct business with Cuba. How was I to know that the US would rub its “bumsee” in our face a few weeks later? Or, put a different way, that we would voluntarily, not to add meekly, bow to a policy position that was not even invoked, and in the process embarrass ourselves?

What are the facts—at least, as far as we know them? The dates and venue for the fourth Cuba-Caricom Summit were agreed upon three years ago. So an alert Foreign Affairs Ministry would have done all the preparatory work to host the meeting in Port of Spain. Minister Suruj Rambachan might not have had adequate forewarning of President Raul Castro’s attendance, although, because it evolved into a state visit, suggests otherwise.

A head of state does not just “ups” and visit another country; there is protocol to be observed in such matters. Whatever the facts are surrounding Castro’s visit, what is not in dispute is that our government decided that the Summit venue (and accommodation for delegations) would be the Trinidad-owned, taxpayers-funded Hilton hotel.

On the eve of the meeting, the hotel’s manager, Ali Khan, read a Hilton Worldwide statement to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar: you, Madam PM, will not be allowed to use my hotel for your conference, nor will we accommodate Castro and his Cuban entourage!

To compound the insult, the PM, rather than quietly telling Khan that he could hop on the next flight to Karachi, bows to the man’s effrontery. She shifts the conference to NAPA. She mumbles something about “not wanting to meddle in affairs pertaining to the sovereignty of the USA”, or words to that effect.


Madam PM, in case you did not notice, it is our sovereignty that’s at stake here. That hotel is our property. Hilton International may have a management contract to operate it, that’s all—and I bet we pay them a hefty fee for their services. But they ought never to dictate to us, to our government, what functions we can hold there, or what guests the hotel would accommodate.

You, Madam PM, should have told them to “shove it”! You would have had all of your citizens behind you had you adopted such a stance. Instead, you buckled. And you know what is worse? It seems that Khan’s letter in which he sought “permission” may not have even reached the relevant US authorities. Maybe he had no directive from the US. He simply waved the embargo document, and that was enough to justify embarrassing all nationals of this country.

This is nonsense. I am offended. No! I am outraged. And this has little to do with Castro or Cuba. I feel sure Raul would have taken the jab in stride, and would have settled in at Kapok quite nicely. Also, NAPA seems to be a great venue for such conferences, certainly better than the Hilton.

But it’s the insult, the “bottom in we face” that I cannot take. As I wrote in my column referred to above, the USA is entitled to choose its friends and to make enemies. For example, communist China is one of its biggest trading partners. Last year, the US exported $91 billion in goods to China, and imported $364 billion—a $273 billion deficit. China holds US$2.85 trillion (and counting) in foreign exchange reserves.

Washington dare not tell Beijing anything about its system of government, about alleged human rights violation…nothing! You don’t mess with “Chin”. Recently, China vetoed a UN Security Council vote on intervention in Syria. Analysts project that China will replace the USA as the world’s largest economy within a decade. And it is moving apace with sophisticated, not to add deadly, armaments.

Don’t mess with “Chin”!

The USA also has been strengthening ties with Vietnam, a country that humiliated the US armed forces between 1968 and 1975. Vietnam is also a communist country.

So why continue punishing Cuba? Not even Washington knows the answer to this seemingly stupid question. Cuba poses no threat to the USA, except for its stellar achievements in the fields of health, education and technology—in spite of the blockade.

I wish I could end this column with, “Don’t mess with Kamla!” I can’t. So disappointing.

16 thoughts on “Blunder after Blunder”

  1. Another good article. When you write that:”The USA also has been strengthening ties with Vietnam …..” I suppose you mean North Vietnam. Please clarify.

  2. Another poorly written article design to embarass a popular government. The PM strategically allow the meeting at Hilton only to realise the U.S. upmanship. This only HELPED the meeting because Cuba’s biggest obstacle is the US and the on going embargo against a Caribbean nation. By the US grandstanding against Raul the meeting obtain a higher bit of attention from all concern. If the meeting was held elsewhere it would not have really matter and it would not have made many headlines. But this venue for the meeting did not embarass T&T rather it expose the American long reach into the sovereign affairs of smaller nations. It made many headlines and it reveal US, hypocracy. The result of this fall-out would see Caribbean nation moving strongly in favour of Cuba and conducting more business with the Castro lead government.

    So what is deemed to be embarrasing by this writer is really an exposition on US/Cuba relations and US/Caribbean relationship. All hail the Queen, she struck another blow for democracy and Caribbean unity… And down with Hilton.

    1. Mamoo: Man, are you predictable?!

      And if, as it is, that wasn’t bad enough, regarding your ideas, you’re also upfront and unsightly … like untrimmed nose-hairs!

      1. I always have problems trimming those nose hairs. But I remember a bajan/trini having virtually a bush growing out of his nose, it was very unsightly.
        Back to the point. The rule in life is that you will always at some point be thrown a few lemons instead of complaining Neverdirty, just take it make some lemonade.

        I remember staying at Varadero, Cuba. The water was crystal clear and the coconut man attended to my every needs. The next day a Cuban took me for a ride with his horse and cart. I asked him for some mangoes. He went to visit his girlfriend and about 35 minutes later returned with some juicy mangoes. I am sure she prepared a “meal” for him. Then I visited Havana and fell in love with old Havana. I was taken back to the 15th century Cuba and visited a place where Christopher Columbus stayed for awhile. The highlight of my visit was the square where Castro made his famous 5 hours speech. On one side Ministry of Defence building on the other side a large artist rendering of Che. No statues of or picture of Fidel.

        Yes, Neverdirty, the Cubans have been given many sour lemons by the Americans in form of all kinds of viruses to kill the Sugar plantation and many attempts on Castro’s life. Instead of being always angry about it they have made the best of it. (1) Best health care system in world. (2) Safest place to live in the world. (unless Castro decides you time has come). (3) Nice people. The Afro Trinis in T&T could learn a lot from Cuba’s example instead of demanding more money via unions etc.

        1. Mamoo, we could at least agree on two things.

          One is the classy and resilient people the Cuban people and leadership are.

          The other is the unsightliness of uncouth nose-hairs.

          By the way when I was in Cuba it was not mango season, but a visit to a Babalao, an African spiritualist brought us face to face with a five hundred year old Baobab tree, utterly magnificent and so vast it reminded me of an eclipse.


          Speaking about unions, and Occupy T&T shut down protest.’ Aren’t these -now outraged- business blokes ,the same ones ,who where conveniently silent , as is if their tongues were chopped off, during the undemocratically orchestrated curfews , and state of emergency, but somehow are today , most vociferous in condemnations of people , merely exercising their hard fought ,and obtained rights?
          Let democracy therefore prevail , and in the words of the wise ones ,’where it hang , let it swings .’

  3. Mr. Shah, I see your outrage and yes we all, Trinbagonians, should be outraged. But some of your outrage, I believe, is misguided. Even if we have shares in Hilton and the majority shares it wouldn’t matter if an agreement was signed stating that the management of Hilton has the authority to deny or accept, whatever ………
    We as a country should now look at this and any agreements we sign in the future. We can also refuse to provide support to this idea of Hilton’s by not holding conferences or putting any delegations visiting T&T in that hotel until the agreement is renegotiated or ended.
    Whethere China become the world’s largest exporter or the world’s largest economy is a matter for intensive debate. The Chinese population is still in its infancy with regards to economic might as you agreed, but, will the Chinese people have the disposable income needed to drive the world’s largest economy if the USA falls??

    1. (will the Chinese people have the disposable income needed to drive the world’s largest economy if the USA falls?)Is the above question just curiosity or a Statement of wonderment-we’re all condescending the idea that consumerism loaded with gadgets & trinkets are what economics are all about.USD 14trillion in debt and a cancerous armada eating away at a nations gains and good will above all the worlds human resources home & abroad is as sure as post chemotherapy-that is with no money and cells multiplying with a vengeance.
      China is building homes-US is foreclosing.China have 300 Billionaires and that’s documented and it has more millionaires than the population of the Caribbean -respectively that’s more than 1% of 300 million people. China has by far less enemies than the State of Florida “alone” therefore its economy has a two way street unlike Gun-Boat and coerce relationships the US calls friendship.
      The US has to spend billions in military hardware and manoeuvrings (Bases) just to sell a car.
      China and India have taken their time developing their indigenous know-how after centuries of orchestrated occupations wars and similar boycotts and both have ballooned into powers to big to fail for all humanity sake and it is only the confrontational anarchist US-of-A Rednecked pride which seeks check this imminent phenomenon through Warcraft hyped by vengeance and violence.
      Cuba like any form of life -born to be free; are causing the US problems just by staying alive.
      That fictitious Great Britain once vowed China will sleep for a Thousand years thus the US took the baton ruining its multi-dimensional greatness to a mere but fatal warmonger. On the other hand China have grown in strength with charisma sheer competitive power and National pride.
      China have and is conceding losses through America’s belligerency often violent subversions of China’s more friendly economic achievements like its investments in Libya yet China remains patient in cutting is losses though unjust.
      History have recorded GB selling its colonized possessions for military hardware yet most of its hardware like its welfare healthcare education are costing the UK all its historical pretences bordering on an imminent indefinite social upheaval and its spreading like a wildfire throughout the North Atlantic Tribal belt- China can only grow not to mention Africa and Southern America compare to NATB where they are all sliding down that economic slippery pole constantly wiping out gains & privileges way back from their colonial chest. Soon they’ll be relegating their ‘sponging’ parasitic Monarchs with the economic guillotine of the welfare state.
      America would like to see every nation fall if and when its turn comes to scraping the dregs.

      1. Just one point. Whether the US of A fails is not relevant. What is relevant is T&T. If China does not have the disposable income to drive the worlds economy then we have nowhere to sell our oil. Then China does not have the market to sell all the goods flooding into T&T and a further grinding down of the world’s economy. So like I always do end with a question. Who will take the mantra to enable T&T to not grind to a halt??

  4. Mr. Shah’s outrage is understandable and yes, the situation has shed light on exposing certain hypocricies on the part of the US and how we should go forward. In the case of the US competing with China, it’s a delusional few in the US who keep mouthing that. Those are the few who every decade or so need to create a targeted enemy to keep the profits of the military complex flowing. Had the US really wanted to compete fairly then it would have leveraged its diverse population. Instead, it has maintained a culture of discrimination in many of its institutions. For example, education system, healthcare system, judicial system, etc.

  5. Mr. Shah,
    I take issue with your observation that our masses would have supported the Prime Minister if she had exercised the option that you highlighted. We are not a Nationalistic population. We are and will continue to be subservient to the whims of the United States well into the future. The matter was bungled by those who were responsible for it’s arrangements. Enough said.

  6. Good idea Mr. Shah. Let`s kick out Hilton and make it an all Trini operation. That way the service,food and courtesy can suck just like almost every other hotel in Trinidad. Why not aspire to the abysmal service tourists get in Tobago.

  7. Interesting analysis guys . A bit curious , but is cuz Errol F. Hosien saying, that the poof de la pudding , that we aren’t a Nationalistic population,is as he claimed ,that revolting ,continued subservience to the whims of the United States- the sole remaining Super Power, and maybe, still global , world police , a la hegemonic , big enchilada?
    Let me guess Errol, you too ,do not consider our leaders blindly holding on to the British Privy Council,as opposed to recognition of the Trinidad based CCJ,as our final Court of Appeal ,a display of subservience as well, huh?
    When papa England decided to demanded, that T&T citizens get a Visa to visit their country, due to some typical opaque reasons , you did not mind as well ,I assume?
    In short , you and naive others, think that the USA is the evil bullies , whereas their Europeans cousins ,led by England and France are fine.
    You and similarly misguided , would not mind if ‘Her Majesty Queen K,’members of her cabinet, those specialist , objective , foreign experts,visionary policy wonks , and adoring fans ,chain themselves into a locked room , and sign on to any dotted line, with America’s more civilized rivals, led by China, and Russia , yes?
    Here we have a country where our ex PM Manning ,unlike any of his less fortunate citizens, can jump on helicopter, and fly over to Havana , for medical attention ,any day of the week he , and Hazel ,gets an upset stomach, without anyone across the globe, daring to tell him not to.
    It is well known ,that most of our doctors across our health service , are from Cuba. Speak to any honest Jamaican , and they would tell you ,that for most of their independence , 90 % or more , of their social services, were subsidized by Castro ,along with a platoria of scholarships obtained from him,and yet, today we have leaders , and fans alike, bellyaching about how terrible America is, for not allowing them to use a Hotel?
    How pitiful indeed!
    We must find a way to enlighten our people , including leaders ,as to the ways of the modern world, as too much is at stake.
    Almost 50 states in America , close to half of Europe, and now Japan, knows about steel pan , Socq , Mass, and therefore ,our intriguing Carnival as a whole , and it’s due primarily ,to the efforts of one country ,Trinidad and Tobago.
    This art form brings more into the coffers of all such countries, than anything they can produce otherwise, one might add.
    Has T&T, been able to politically , and economically , capitalize on this in any way , to the benefit of it’s people , our nation, and the world at large? You know the answer.
    A people get the treatment they deserves.


      To my point , if we wish to be viewed as relevant ,then our leaders,via embassy officials , or others forms ,would not hesitate to speak out on this , and the reasons are simple.
      It was the people of T&T that gave America , and the world carnival as we know it. Then , maybe they won’t – because the majority naively think , some of the racist commentators, can make a distinction, and so share …., well you fill in the blanks. Here is an opportunity to sell to the world , what we are, but who am I kidding.
      Ex beauty queen ,Runnaway project winner ,with suspect morals /credentials, and country despising , non patriotic Literature Nobelist, are the heroes.
      We wish our country well.

  8. Fighting over a venue (franchise) does not worth it and I believe good diplomacy was rendered by T&T. Some good came out with a United Front of Caribbean nations supporting Cuba i.e the call for the US to remove that embargo on Cuba and berating the interference showed by the US here but there is some history on this issue. When Fidel and his cohorts were successful in removing the Batista regime, the playground for the US playboys came to a halt when Castro occupied the Hilton Hotel (Havana) and renamed it Hotel Libre. There was no compensation for this seizure of asset which is a bitter pill for the US to swallow. At the same time this would have repaid itself since Cuba refused to accept any leasing fees for Guantanomo.

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