“Trinidad was blighted to have a leader like Eric Williams”
Photo : Eric Williams
The foreign policy of Trinidad and Tobago does not elicit any interest among people except on rare occasions. One such occasion was when Mrs Kamla Persasd-Bissessar supported a resolution on international terrorism in the United Nations during her term of office (1910-1915). Her government position was severely criticised by then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley who argued that such action would generate undue attention to Trinidad and Tobago and open the country to terrorist attacks.
The situation in Venezuela is a current issue where Trinidad and Tobago has to face and address; and given the proximity of the country to Venezuela and to CARICOM countries one is forced to take positions. We are already witnessing a clear division among the leaders of CARICOM. Some are exchanging harsh words against each other. CARICOM has so far failed to take a united position on the Venezuelan crisis; some are supportive of the Madura regime and so couching their position in the non-interference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country while, on the other hand, the United States and a majority of members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) are condemning Madura and his descent into dictatorship. The United States is actively vocal on the Venezuelan crisis, even threatening military action.
United National Congress (UNC) Naparima MP Rodney Charles criticised the PNM government for a “lack of a well thought out foreign policy towards Venezuela and this shows an abdication of its responsibility for foreign policy.” He added that in the light of the latest events in Venezuela with the establishment of a Constituent Assembly “we are now all left hoping for divine intervention.” He claimed that since the PP government demitted office “we outsourced our CARICOM foreign policy to the likes of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines which are pro-Madura.” He was critical of Dr Rowley taking issue with the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro for criticising President Maduro.
The reality of an apparent laissez –faire foreign policy is well entrenched in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in previous and the present government of Trinidad and Tobago. It has now become structural. This is clearly revealed by the writings of Reginald Dumas about his career in the public service and particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His autobiographies are: The First Thirty Years A Retrospective (2015) and Eleven Testing Years: Dissonance and Discipline (2017)
Photo : Dumas
Dumas wrote about the country’s foreign policy: “I have said before in these recollections both quoting Ellis Clarke and citing my own experience to that effect, that our foreign policy missions abroad were hardly ever given instructions on how to carry out their tasks; in fact, they hardly knew for certain what those tasks were…Trinidad and Tobago was in the vanguard of the unserious. Overall, we had no plan, no pattern, no statement, no programme, no policy, adhocracy ruled. Even in the year of disorder in Ethiopia, I received one letter from my minister, one…”
PNM PARTY PARAMOUNTCY UNDER ERIC WILLIAMS
Elaborating on the content of the letter he wrote that the Minister of Foreign Affairs sent to him the PNM sixteenth annual convention address of Eric Williams and the convention documents. The Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to Dumas: “I thought you might like to get this general background emanating from the highest organ of the party which has formed the Government. There was no policy guidance on Trinidad and Tobago, not the PNM.”
The reality was that the PNM and the PNM government under Eric Williams were one and the same – a not so tacit reality of PNM party paramountcy. The Minister of Foreign Affairs since independence in 1962 was Eric Williams and the entire staff and leadership of the Foreign Service were handpicked by Eric Williams, save a few who had a career in foreign service but who anyway had to be approved by Eric Williams. Dumas came into the country’s Foreign Service at the end of Federation and when Trinidad and Tobago became Independent in 1962. He never addressed the issue that had he not been a black man he would not have been given the high position in the foreign-service in the first place. The foreign policy of the country and in fact the entire Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be linked to the Prime Minister Eric Williams.
Further elaborating on foreign policy on Trinidad and Tobago and the dominant role of Eric Williams on the foreign policy Dumas wrote: “I was not alone in seeing our foreign policy as wanting in connectedness. Eric Williams was without peer where enunciation of policy was concerned; similarly he had no equal in lack of focussed attention to its effective execution unless he himself was effectively involved.” Quoting Sahadoe Basdeo and Graeme Mount’s book “The Foreign Relations of Trinidad and Tobago 1962-2000.” The case of a small state in the global arena (2001) that “Williams was very much the chief architect of our foreign policy, no matter who the foreign minister happens to be…” He further added that “in general you received no instructions, you did and said what the country needed, and tried to stay out of trouble…foreign policy was so personalised.” Personalised and dominated by Eric Williams and this for the twenty –five years as head of continuous PNM governments from 1956- 1981.
Ellis Clarke was Trinidad and Tobago’s ambassador in Washington DC and to the United Nations. Dumas revealed that Ellis Clarke was “one of the few who could consistently spoke to Williams and could occasionally tell you, at least in broad terms, what to do and what to avoid.” Even more amazing was his reference to Ellis Clarke’s statement that “more than likely that the Ministry of External Affairs was unaware of the fact that we were being admitted to the United Nations on the afternoon of Tuesday 18th September, 1962.” Dumas was referring to Clarke’s The Origins of the Foreign Policy of Trinidad and Tobago (1988). Quoting Ellis Clarke further he wrote: “…at no time was there any instruction or direction from the Ministry. No consultation of even the most casual character, took place. There were no fetters or restraints imposed upon the utterances of the Permanent Representation or on the voting pattern he pursued.” Dumas quoted this in italics. He commented on this state of affairs: “It was not the way to run a Foreign Service; it was not the way to run anything, if you wanted tangible results. We were doing what we thought was in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago, not (except on rare occasions) what Trinidad and Tobago instructed us to do.” Further was this: “the speech Clarke delivered at the UN on 18th September, 1962 owed nothing to instructions or guidance from Port-of-Spain; He and the Trinidad and Tobago delegation were on their own.” Clarke had to “extrapolate from Williams stances and statements over the preceding six years (1956-1962) of his administration and publicly present a position in harmony with that thought and philosophy.”
HAVING A GOOD TIME
Dumas gave an account of meeting with Prime Minister Eric Williams at his (Dumas ) request to obtain clarification on his assignment in 1965 to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to open a Trinidad and Tobago embassy. He expected “to be briefed on the reasons for the mission’s establishment what the mission was to do, and how it was to do it.” He added “to my astonishment, neither the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs nor the Minister of External Affairs could help.” This is contained in the last three pages of his 2015 autobiography. Williams’ agenda emerged at the very end of the meeting “when I received two directives: One of them I could easily follow: ‘Have a good time.’ The other was ‘Make sure you get the Emperor (Haile Selassie) to visit next year.” The reason for Williams’ second request was purely political “: from what I later understood.” “: There were many people of Williams’ generation and race who held Selassie in high esteem…And the younger persons were voters too. The following year 1966, was an election year. A state visit by the legendary Selassie would certainly satisfy Williams at the personal level; more important it would give a stimulus to his political standing and electoral future, especially among many people of African origin.” Thus the role of the Foreign Service in Ethiopia was to fulfil the personal and party political considerations of Eric Williams – such was the abuse of the Ministry of External Affairs under the PNM and Eric Williams. The conclusion was that “The Embassy in Addis Ababa carried out the Prime Minister’s directive. The Emperor was rapturously received in Trinidad and Tobago between April 18 and 21, 1966.” Regretably, Dumas never commented on the 1966 elections where racial passions were enflamed and states of emergency were declared in Indian inhabited areas – The country was on the verge of racial warfare. But Eric Williams would have won the 1966 elections anyway with the use of the voting machines and the gerrymandered constituency boundaries which guaranteed PNM 24 constituencies.
Having a good time was carried out not by Dumas, but by Ellis Clarke. He had great parties with the purpose of “favourable exposure for Trinidad and Tobago, and his parties for us would receive lengthy and glowing reports in the Washington Post.” The parties even attracted African-Americans who had developed “so effective a party –tracking process that they would call a few days before a function and demand invitations.” Through his stay at Washington DC Ellis Clarke enjoyed his social activities. On his return to the Washington DC embassy after Dumas left Ethiopia he found an embassy staff divided and Ellis Clarke told him to engage in enquiry of that state of affairs. He did and found that Ellis Clarke was the problem with his small group of favourites with who he socialised. One of this circle even left for carnival in Trinidad and lied about the date of leave.
Ellis Clark lived the good life at the expense of the people of Trinidad and Tobago. During the corruption debate in 1990, just before Parliament was invaded, Prime Minister Robinson accused him of corruption in going to Europe to a wine festival at taxpayers’ expense. Having a good time was really living on the fat of the country and Ellis Clarke personified this culture of the PNM.
Reginald Dumas was not alone in what he wrote about Williams’ dominance of the Foreign Service and foreign policy. Long before he wrote his two volume autobiography we had the one by Patrick Solomon Solomon: An Autobiography (Inprint 1981). When Solomon was forced out of office and briefly made Minister of External Affairs and then the country foreign representative to the United Nations he left the Foreign Service in disgust. His ten year experience is documented in his book. He wrote that: “After more than ten years in the Diplomatic Service I finally retired in 1977. And I left not because I felt physically or mentally unable to carry on, but rather because I could no longer continue to serve a Prime Minister whose petty spite and personal animosities were placed before the national interests.” His reports and recommendations in the country interest “because they emanated from my desk they were ignored…”
To work in the foreign service of the country was an immense achievement. Save one or two persons the Foreign Service was the preserve of Blacks of independent Trinidad and Tobago; even educated Indians could not be admitted. This has been a sore issue among Indian activists who constantly complained that the face of Trinidad and Tobago was not reflective of the population of Trinidad and Tobago. Even as recent as the PP administration Dr Rowley took issue with a member of that government loudly complaining that he could not see any Indians at the Trinidad and Tobago embassy in Washington DC and in New York. It was in effect the preserve of blacks. Reginald Dumas does not observe the colour bias and racism practised by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago yet the race factor and afro-centric consciousness dominate his publications and will be a topic of another review by this writer.
The foreign policy of the country from 1962 onwards was dominated by Eric Williams and an account of this by experienced men such as Reginald Dumas, Ellis Clarke and Patrick Solomon underlined the absence of any. This is the legacy of Eric Williams – he was personally responsible for this. He kept back the country. Trinidad was blighted to have a leader like Eric Williams. He was not anywhere like the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who transformed his country to be a business success of international standing.
It is necessary to analyse the great harm Eric Williams did to Trinidad and Tobago as leader in the area of foreign policy, as in other areas. One cannot be like Reginald Dumas when he rejected Williams emissary inviting him to be a cabinet minister: “Tell the Prime Minister to fuck himself.”