The return of 33 Trinidadian nationals from Barbados could lead to a diplomatic spat between the two countries. This after Barbados Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Jerome Walcott yesterday said he was “deeply disturbed” by comments made by Minister of National Security Stuart Young over the matter.In a release issued by his ministry yesterday, Walcott said it was “regrettable” that Young had made a public statement referring to countries which had not respected the fact that Trinidad and Tobago had closed its borders in reference to the Trinidadian nationals’ return home earlier this week after they were left stranded in Barbados. He said this gave the wrong impression on the matter.
“Minister Young inferred that the government of Barbados was one of such countries. The reality is that in the absence of a representative of T&T in Barbados, the government of Barbados did no more nor no less than simply convey to Port-of-Spain requests for assistance made by citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who were stranded in Barbados,” Walcott said in the release.“This diplomatic correspondence, issued to the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, was in keeping with the norms of recognised international humanitarian practice.“In this regard, Barbados acted on the basis of a sincere regard for the welfare of the nationals of a sister CARICOM country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados is therefore deeply disturbed that this action has been framed as a national security matter.”
Although Young did not name any countries when referencing the issue during a daily COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday, the day after the Trini nationals returned home, he warned against CARICOM nations letting themselves be used by persons seeking to compromise T&T’s strict border measures.Young said Minister of Foreign Affairs Dennis Moses had been instructed send a letter to CARICOM countries reminding them that this country’s borders remained closed to both nationals and non-nationals. In that letter, Young said Moses would ask that countries respect T&T’s stance, noting he (Young) would not allow other countries who continue to have their borders open to international flights be used as a jumping point into T&T.Yesterday, however, Walcott said it was unfortunate that Young’s public statement came on the heels of T&T Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement to a recent CARICOM Heads of Government Special Emergency Meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic that “if ever CARICOM must speak for the people, it is now. The antidote to the pandemic is CARICOM”.
Despite this, Walcott said Barbados would continue to “treasure the strong fraternal relationship and partnership” it enjoys with T&T.
T&T closed its borders completely on March 22. This left the group of 33 nationals, who had flown from London to Barbados on their way back from a Middle East cruise, stranded and unable to enter the country. However, they were taken in by Barbados government and spent almost a month under quarantine awaiting clearance to enter T&T. They returned home on Tuesday and were immedaitely quarantined at the National Racquet Centre in Tacarigua. (See page 7)
When the T&T nationals were taken in by Barbados, Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar thank the Bajan government for its gesture. At a subsequent press conference, Rowley said T&T had a good relationship with Barbados and did not need Persad-Bissessar to send a thank you on behalf of the country.Guardian Media messaged and called both Rowley and Young for comment on this matter yesterday but got no response from either of them.
Mottley, Rowley’s good relationship
The relationship between T&T and Barbados has not always been the smoothest, especially under former leaders Patrick Manning and Owen Artur.
Back in 2003, the two countries ended up in court fighting maritime demarcations.Fast forward more than a decade and under new leaders, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Mia Mottley and the relationship is far more cordial.In October 2018, Mottley visited with Rowley at his office in Port-of-Spain. The two met to discuss CARICOM and other matters in preparation for the Special Heads of Government Meeting later that year.In August 2019, the two countries signed a MoU which established the general framework for both parties to undertake cooperative initiatives in the areas of energy, energy security and energy exploration, development and production in relation to hydrocarbon resources that extend across their maritime boundaries.In February 2020, the two countries also signed unitisation deal. The agreement allowed for the exploration of hydrocarbon resources which straddle the maritime boundary shared by Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.