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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The 5th Summit of the Americas - Ego vs Cuba vs Rhetoric

By Anthony Maillard
I’ve received several ‘egging / probing’ questions from people abroad trying to elicit my reaction on the just completed 5th Summit of the Americas. As an expatriate having returned to Trinidad and Tobago 7 years ago, I suppose they feel I may have a different perspective on the weekend.
So, you got me! I guess the best place to start would be to say that the new Waterfront in Port of Spain looks spectacular. It’s great to see that we can finally afford to build a beautiful place where we can enjoy the ocean while we are ‘downtown.’ Reminiscent of Toronto, Chicago; et al, the new Waterfront is really tranquil; the water-fountain – spectacular.
The clean-up around the city from Arima to Chaguramas has been mammoth and excellent. The pre-Summit security exercises were exaggerated and served their purpose of ‘putting the fear of God’ into the population so that we would stay home (at least away from Port of Spain and off the highways) on the weekend of the Summit.  This was great psychology on the part of the government causing the public to initiate a self-imposed ‘public holiday.’ The businesses that insisted on opening on the Friday and Saturday were forced to eventually close their doors as there were no shoppers anywhere to be found and staying open was probably costing them more…
Then the children, sorry, the Leaders arrived and started to ruin everything.  At least ruin our vision and expectations of just how Leaders should behave and opening our eyes to the ‘non-expectations’ of
the Summit.
Embarrassment from the Start
Mr. Barack Obama’s plane landed 20 minutes early and rather than wait in the extreme comfort of his Air Force One, Mr. Nice Guy (The Man) decided that everyone else should wait on him while he disembarked, leaving other Leaders in their planes or in the airport while everything within 2 miles of his presence was locked down. No ego there….
Never mind that the Prime Minister of the host country, Mr. Patrick Manning, was already in transit to the airport, albeit, on time, to greet you.
I guess waiting inside Air Force One was out of the question. No, no ego there…
Then there was the failure of the security team at the Hyatt Hotel to control the delegates and press corps (notice I didn’t say angry mob) – delegates and press corps – from mobbing Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez when he exited his limousine. This was immediate notification to the US Secret Service and The Man that they would be entering the Hyatt via the loading dock. No photographs, no handshakes just disappointed fans.
The indiscipline of the press corps seemed to continue throughout the weekend as they were locked out of several Summit sessions.
The Opening Ceremony - Cultural
People keep telling me that Brian McFarlane is a genius. Okay! Pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere. 

Not a piece of ‘Traditional Mas’ represented or even representation by calypsonian Lord Relator to sing a witty but ‘canned’ Extempo verse or two and bring some humour to the function. Pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere.
Even my five-year old asked why there were no blue devils. And he hates the devil mas.’ Pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere.
David Rudder was allotted his two verses and had to leave.  Pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere.
The East Indian Dancers and Parang singers seemed inserted – as an after-thought. Pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere.
Arrow’s Hot Hot Hot was too long and no cameraman could find him among the pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere.
Machel Montano’s We Not Giving Up is a poignant song with lyrics that run out after a minute and fifteen seconds so his five-minute plus rendition of the song was certainly – repetitive. He was surrounded with pretty mas’, pretty mas’ everywhere so I suppose that made everything okay.
All I have to say is – “Where’s Peter Minshall when you need him?”
Who’s Who
Let me get this out of the way – asking why Puerto Rico is not at the Summit is the same as asking why the USVI is not also attending and if you have to ask, please don’t read any further.
We didn’t start cleaning-up the country last week, so I know they didn’t write the invitations three weeks ago.   The Leaders must have known for over a year now that Cuba was NOT invited to the Summit so why make it the hottest issue 2 weeks before the meeting. Smoke and mirrors and rhetoric! Pure rhetoric!
During the Opening Ceremonies, Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) speaks for 55 minutes and blames the US for everything but the kitchen sink. He clearly states his position as representing the Latin American countries (ALMA) and announces at the end of his marathon diatribe that they will not be supporting the Declaration of Port of Spain.  (At this point, I’m thinking to myself – ‘okay, so why are we here again?’)
Cuba, Tourism, Cuba, Poverty, Cuba, Economy, Cuba
As far as the issue of Cuba is concerned, the Leaders at the Summit are to be chastised for their 'b***s*** flinging rhetoric.'  They mentioned Cuba... The Man responded.  (Look at the major strides he has made within the 90 days of being in office regarding Cuba – significantly more than the Bush Administrations have
accomplished in 16 years of power.)  He certainly cannot be expected to wave a magic wand and have the Cuban situation suddenly change overnight.  He has stated emphatically that he is heading in the same positive direction and the changes will take time. So, we’re here for three days – let’s drink some Carib, enjoy Brian McFarlane’s show and move on….   
Even Prime Minister Manning tried pleading with the Leaders and the Press to not allow any one issue to dominate the Summit. HA! Good luck! 

The Leaders and the Press Corp refuse to leave the Cuba issue alone - so Obama decides to ignore them because they are obviously 'playing politics for the world stage.'
President Hugo Chavez's behaviour was at first friendly to Obama but then it turned disrespectful.  I mean, The Man had already shaken your hand and was very cordial with you – especially after all the 'unnecessary' names you called him when he was running for the Presidency. 
Obama turned the other cheek.
You made it a point to try and upstage him.  He turned the other cheek.
Then you further insulted him by publically presenting him with a book on Latin America when you, Chavez could have just as easily sent the book privately via one of your aides...
Then you force The Man to stand up to receive the book and 'another handshake' for the press as if this was a formal presentation and photo-op. Obama takes it all in stride. He obliged and turned the other cheek.
Let's see if I get this right:


Message from Leaders to Obama
  1. Please fix the economic crisis – now!
  1. Please make sure that your tourists come to our shores so my (not our) economy could thrive...
  1. Recognize and remove all sanctions from Cuba... NOW!   Oh, I forgot to stress -- ALL!!
  1. We like the money the IMF gives us but could you make it Interest Free?  And could you stop monitoring what we do with the money, we just want to spend it and not be accountable. As a matter of fact, 'jus' gi we di money and forget about it. We hear dat you have plenty money.’
  1. What are you doing about Haiti?  Whatever it is, it's not enough.
  1. Apparently, you just dropped from a tree and nobody told you about the Contras; the CIA in South America; the killings and kidnappings; the collapse of the Venezuelan economy many years ago; the Venezuelan army encroaching into Guyana; etc; etc; etc.
  1. Did we happen to mention the DRUGS from Latin America?   The puppet dictatorships and the governments that are funded/controlled by the drug lords?
  1. Just in case, they missed anything during your 5 months of Presidential briefings; here's a book to read on what a wonderful place Latin America is.... No, I didn't write it!  It was written by some other 'educated' guy using big words.
Message from Obama to Leaders
  1. Anybody else willing to stand up and take some blame here….??
  2. I’ll ask again: “Anybody else willing to stand up and take some blame? How about accepting some responsibility? No?
  1. Then ‘Bite Me!’ Manning, nice show, I’m off…I’ll see ya’ when I see ya’.
The Declaration of Port of Spain.
What is that....? Exactly?
The last time six of my siblings were at my sister's home, we couldn't agree on any three consecutive things.  We couldn’t agree on where to go for dinner. How in Heaven's name is 34 American Leaders going to magically agree on 63 different issues?   They don't even speak the same language.  (Coming to think of it neither does some of my siblings or maybe I just wasn't listening.)
Have you read the Declaration of Port of Spain?  It's 22 pages of "we pledge to intensify our fight against poverty, hunger, social exclusion, discrimination and inequality...."etc etc etc.
Here are some interesting highlights:
Point #74:    We recognise that violence is preventable and as such, we will formulate or strengthen policies that take an integrated approach to its prevention. (Condensed)
Point #75:    We are convinced that illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives and other related materials are a threat to security, breed violence, exacerbate conflicts and adversely affect the rule of law. (Condensed.)
Point #77:    We also emphasise our decision to address the criminal gang problem, its related aspects and its effects on the social environment, which challenge the progress made by our societies in... (Condensed.)
Point #80:    We will strengthen our fight against all forms of corruption, fraudulent practices and unethical behaviour by increasing transparency, integrity, accountability and efficiency in the public and private sectors. (Condensed.)
Point #81:    Alarmed by the corrupt, illegal and fraudulent practices in the management of some national and transnational private enterprises, which have a negative impact on the economies of our countries and could present a threat to their political and democratic stability, we will continue to enhance legal mechanisms for information sharing, and we will develop and implement policies that foster a culture of integrity and transparency within public and private offices and institutions. (Condensed.)
And My Personal Favourite:
Point #82:    We reaffirm the principles contained in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which recognises that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. We recognise that the universal promotion and protection of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as respect for international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law, are essential to the functioning of democratic societies. We further recognise that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirms, inter alia, the importance of ensuring the universality and objectivity of the consideration of human rights issues.
WHAT???
I think you get my drift.  Anybody else feel like grabbing a Carib and heading to the beach.  I mean, where do I sign up?  This stuff is great!   They actually pay people to write this stuff!!??   Anybody with medium-level experience in writing a press release could have written this document.

Embarrassment to the end
I think that by Sunday afternoon, when Obama politely bid farewell to Prime Minister Manning on the steps of the Diplomatic Centre and rushed off to give the US Press Corp and CNN his live press conference, it was obvious that he had had enough of the 'everything is your fault -- US bashing' rhetoric.
Have you ever tried taking a group photo at a family gathering? With ALL the family members? Just imagine the challenge of getting these 31 Leaders, who just forced you to sign your own Declaration of Port of Spain as the sole signatory, to pose and take a group photograph. HA! Good luck!

My Final Thoughts
The Leaders admit that their record of accomplishment for implementing any of the previous Summit Declarations is not good.  (Now they tell us.) Knowing this and a whole lot more, a team of sub-SUMMIT-ites sat in a hotel for several months writing the Declaration of Port of Spain.
Did you notice that there was no review of the Action Items from the last Summit Declaration and no mention as to any accountability on any items that were defined in that document?  All we know is that, 'people in this region have a poor track record of implementation.' (Now I’ve learnt that this lackadaisical attitude extends to the people in Latin America and not just the Caribbean, I feel a whole lot better….  I thought it was just us in Trinidad and Tobago.)
So, let me go back to the 34 Leaders who cannot agree on 63 points versus my six siblings who cannot agree on three... And I totally understand.  Like totally!! Did I mention the waterfront?
Let’s do this again in 4 years, shall we?
All photos by A. Maillard; © Jet Video

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chuckling at the Mainstream Press on a Sunday Morning

People who know me know are aware of my views on the media, among my pet peeves being the wanton use of the word "alleged" to publish and broadcast scandal.  Indeed, in a number of cases, "responsible journalism" appears to have joined the ranks of "Police intelligence" and "Honourable Member of Parliament".

One would think that in the face of fairly regular media criticism that editorial staff would try to do what was necessary to make sure that media houses didn't end up in further disrepute or, at worst, sued.

I've had my own issues with one daily paper which I wrote about in 2006.  In those days, I'd written a commentary on the Keith Noel 136 Committee's death march.  Some goodly individual sent my piece to the Trinidad Express and managed to get published in the letter's section under their own name.  When I went to Express House myself - not to complain, but simply to ask questions about the press in general, the letters to the editor process, and editorial policy - I was turned around at the Security desk.  The officer spoke to "one of the editors" he'd said, and told me that they had said that the paper picks a few letters at random for publication, that they are not responsible for their content, and that there was no question of retraction.

At the time, I didn't have a leg to stand on but I knew it before I went to Express House.  I'd sent the piece to a few friends via email and it went viral.  In fact, it ended up in my own inbox seven or eight times over the course of the following forty-eight hours.  And it was another friend who advised that it had been published, but under another name.  If someone took my piece to the paper and said that it was theirs, there was nothing that I could really do about it.  I'd never published it myself.

However, I can chuckle when I see the same Trinidad Express print a letter to the editor whose content is almost a wholesale copy of a commentary published by one of their competitors nearly three weeks earlier.

Somehow, I doubt that Paolo Kernahan is using the pseudonym "Imran Daniel" to get his work printed in both newspapers.  And truth be told, if the editor who passed the letter had done as little as a Google search for "summitification", they would have picked up on a clear case of plagiarism; as of today, Paolo's piece is still the first item in the search results.

A case of rushing to press at the expense of quality?  It might be said that the Opinion section of the paper is one of the least critical, but I wonder what else might have been overlooked over time...

That said, may all have a blessed and holy Easter and a relaxing long weekend.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Keira Knightley's Anti-Domestic Violence Public Service Announcement

London-born actress Keira Knightley has been cast in several tough girl roles, from bounty hunter Domino Harvey, a re-imagining of Queen Guinevere in Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur, to pirate captain Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  But none of those can really prepare you for the gut wrench that you will feel watching this public service announcement bringing light to the issue of domestic violence against women.

According to the friend who sent me the link to this video, it's not for the faint of heart.  And I agree with the blogger on whose site I viewed it when they say that they cringe every time Knightley says, "Sorry we didn't agree to that. It wasn't in the script..."

The video is chilling and far too real, and has apparently stirred some controversy.  But it seems apt in these times where shock value seems to provide the most weight in getting a message out.


Domestic violence is not a problem in the United Kingdom only though, and its prevalence right here at home is "alarming", as admitted by the Minister of Social Development Amery Browne recently.  But there is help.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-SAVE (800-7283) provides 24-hour telephone counselling, support and access to safe accommodation.  There is more information to be found on additional services available, including community-based drop-in centres, at the GoTT's TTconnect site.

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