She Said What? Trinidad PM Takes Heat Over Relief Aid Comments

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Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister-elect Kamla Persad-Bissessar

U.S. politicians aren’t the only ones who suffer from foot-in mouth disease. As it turns out democracy affords elected officials from all over the world the right to have embarassing gaffes.

Case in point: Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who in May was elected Prime Minister of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago,  said the twin island nation stood ready to give aid to nations affected by Hurricane Tomas, but her country needed to reap some benefit from it.

“So if we are giving assistance with housing for example…then we may be able to use Trinidad and Tobago builders and companies, so that whatever money or assistance is given (rebounds) back in some measure to the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” the Trinidad Express newspaper reported.

Needless to say, Persad-Bissessar’s comments lit up the global blogosphere, with criticisms and calls for boycotts on goods made in Trinidad. Others throughout the Caribbean criticized the prime minister and demanded an apology. All this comes as Hurricane Tomas makes landfall in Haiti and Cuba.

Now, NewsFeed has actually been to Trinidad a few times and learned that Trinidad itself, a major oil and gas exporter, is among the wealthiest of the Caribbean islands, and is well known for its annual Carnival celebration. It sits in a geographic area just off the coast of Venezuela, where it is not typically affected by the weather patterns that have devastated other islands.  (See a slideshow on Carnival in Trinidad.)

But Trinidad is not immune from natural disaster. The country sits on the same fault line whose earthquake severely damaged Port-au-Prince, Haiti earlier this year, meaning others are ready to take the prime minister to task over her comments.

Among those who find the prime minister’s “what’s-in-it-for-us” attitude bizarre is opposition leader Keith Rowley, who said in a statement that he “totally rejects this backward, colonial policy.”