Saturday, March 28, 2009

Summit Entertainment

When plans were announced that Trinidad was to play host to the 5th Summit of the Americas and the 21st Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, I thought, at the time, that they weren't inherently bad decisions. I still think that playing host to these summits will have very little downside with respect to the reputation of the country while the potential benefits are there for the picking. The manner in which preparations have been taking place, from $2 billion conference centres to $300 million upgrades to a perfectly functional airport, stripping tints to cordoning off the slums of the city with a wall akin to Berlin, however, leaves one to wonder.

You see, I thought that maybe, they were just caught up, living in ivory towers and completely out of touch with the citizens of the country. That would explain their lackadaisical attitude towards improving basic infrastructure that would benefit the masses, as opposed to concentrated spending in city centres on edifices that require high maintenance costs and that redound few, if any, tangible benefits to the ordinary citizen. But that was completely thrown out the window when they decided to build a wall around the problems of the Beetham. When they started to crack down on tints and PH drivers. When you can't drive more than 500 metres these days without seeing some form of law-enforcement. When painting lightpoles and fixing overhead lines seem to be a greater priority than the drapes at the palace. So, the sad truth is that they really do have an idea. They know what needs to be done. They just don't, unless, of course it's for Barack or the Queen.

There is a sad and frustrating history for the majority of all these summits, be they regional or international conferences or conferences on foreign policy or the economy or the environment and that is that very little is ever taken away. Resolutions are passed and then ignored by the very countries that voted for them. In the end, these meetings end up as glorified cocktail events and a means for banana republic leaders to obtain a much sought after photo-op with the leaders of nations that actually matter in the international community.

The Summit of the Americas is no different. Since Mar del Plata in 2005 the CorporaciĆ³n Participa of Chile estimates that, up to 2008, no fewer than 12 of the 21 countries they tracked actually regressed from where they were at the start of that Summit. On a -3.0 to +3.0 scale, Trinidad and Tobago, led by an eager government effort to host the 2009 edition earned a -0.01 rating, indicating that absolutely no progress was made on the goals set out by the 2005 Summit. Barbados (+0.54), Jamaica (+0.53) and Grenada (+0.14) all fared better than this Southern Caribean, twin island, black goldmine state which experienced unprecedented revenue windfalls within the period.(FULL ARTICLE HERE:

Where, then, does this leave us? It is pointless to argue about what should and could have been in terms of the implementation of resolutions from previous summits and the agenda for this one. No doubt, given the current state of the world's economy, the resurgence of a more belligerent Russia and a compliant Venezuela, increasing international pressure for the US to just do ANYTHING when it comes to Cuba and a more diplomatic foreign policy approach from Clinton and Obama, this 5th Summit can be an unprecedented success. What it will fall short of is the myopic anticipations by many leaders in the Caribbean who seek a saviour in Obama.

It will not address Caribbean poverty, receding Caribbean shorelines and Caribbean crime. These are all issues that the governments of the respective sovereign countries have to deal with by prioritising their people or the people have to deal with by sacking their governments. The whole crux of independence is dealing with your own affairs and not conveniently prostituting your nation to another because you too are inspired by its leader's rhetoric.

But then again, how independent are we when we allow our government to spend billions of our dollars to put a coat of paint on our dilapidated house, just because some guests are dropping by for a couple days? Why is it that nice roads, strict law enforcement, a spruced up South Terminal, beautification of the highways and hiding away the undesirables of the Beetham and downtown Port-of-Spain, among other things, are so hurriedly done for 4,000 visiting dignitaries but a million people still wait for the pipe dream of Water for All, a license and ID that looks 21st century instead of more retro than the Beatles, a DNA Bill that lies fallow and allows child rapists to escape and the breathalyser which is yet to be implemented and allows drunk drivers continue to kill?

I'm just asking, because the answers seem simple enough. Maybe we need to start getting them when we ask the questions, instead of the bullshit replies we continue to accept from Imbert, Enill, Manning and the lot.