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Manning in CARICOM's 'firing line' *LINK*

Manning in CARICOM's 'firing line'
-- for provocative speech at summit opening

By Rickey Singh in St Lucia

CASTRIES -- Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning is expected to face some sharp criticisms from fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government at a caucus session today for his address at Sunday's ceremonial opening of the current 26th CARICOM Summit in St Lucia.

"Right speech, wrong occasion" was how one Foreign Minister summarised a prevailing sentiment as expressed by representatives of at least three delegations to the summit that got under way with its first working session yesterday morning.

One regional technocrat said Manning seemed to have "walked into a firing line".

Of specific concern to dissenting delegations that declined to be on record, is the "surprising manner" in which Manning linked Trinidad and Tobago's economic aid to CARICOM partner states with his government's expressed reservations over the recently signed accord in Caracas to launch the Venezuela-initiated PetroCaribe to supply oil on concessionary terms to Caribbean nations.

Manning, who spoke "off-the cuff", and without a customary prepared text, admitted that aspects of the accord signed by some CARICOM states for cheaper oil from Venezuela under the PetroCaribe plan, offered "a very attractive package" and were "difficult to walk away from..."

At the same time, he argued, it would ultimately undermine Trinidad and Tobago's position of a traditional and regular supplier of oil to CARICOM partners, among them those that have significantly benefited over the years from economic aid packages from administrations in Port-of-Spain.

However, Manning who has himself been engaged in talks since last year with Venezuela President Hugo Chavez on closer cooperation in the exploitation of their oil and natural gas resources, steered away from making any criticism of PetroCaribe.

It was his subsequent comments in identifying the list of CARICOM states that had benefited, or continue to benefit, from financial aid from Trinidad and Tobago that provoked surprise and later criticisms from colleague Heads of Government as well as some Foreign and Trade ministers.

CARICOM Prime Ministers at the launch on June 29 of PetroCaribe, in addition to Manning, were those of Grenada (Keith Mitchell), Jamaica (P.J. Patterson), St Vincent and the Grenadines (Ralph Gonsalves) and Guyana (Samuel Hinds).

Cuba's President Fidel Castro, with whom President Chavez has developed a special relationship, also attended the historic occasion.

One CARICOM Head of Government said that Prime Minister Manning had "a point" in expressing surprise over the signing of the PetroCaribe accord without any prior consultation within the context of the Community's evolving common policy on energy resources.

But he said, apart from "wrongly confusing" international debt cancellations with debts to Trinidad and Tobago, he "compounded the problem with his unnecessary boasting" (at the opening public ceremony of the summit) in pointing to aid provided to named CARICOM states.

Now, some of his Community partners plan to raise for discussion in caucus the implications of Manning's public assessment and the "significant and dominant advantages" Trinidad and Tobago has for years enjoyed in intra-regional trade and in offering oil supplies to CARICOM partners at prices higher than sold to extra-regional states.

Jagdeo's response

The Community's chairman and host for the summit, which concludes tomorrow evening, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, could be faced with the unenviable task of having to "referee" what may be a difficult moment over issues raised by Manning.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo, said in separate brief remarks to the media, that Prime Minister Manning should be aware that Trinidad and Tobago was also a "beneficiary" in the two-way trade and aid process with its Community partners.

Jagdeo, who is among leaders expected to comment on the matter in today's caucus session, also noted that the estimated US$532 million original debt Guyana had for Trinidad and Tobago was incurred during the government of the late President Forbes Burnham and it was the PPP/Civic administration that had honoured the debt obligations, long before the recently announced debt cancellation decision by the Group of Eight Finance Ministers.

Barbados was represented at the Caracas meeting but did not sign the PetroCaribe instruments as it has an oil facility arrangement with Trinidad and Tobago that differs from the rest of CARICOM and includes refining Barbadian crude by T&T's state-owned oil company, Petrotrin.

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Messages In This Thread

Manning in CARICOM's 'firing line' *LINK*
CARICOM unity?
PJ: No problem with Manning's speech
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