Is Trinidad the Capital of the Caribbean?

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By Michael W Edghill
CJ Contributor

On Tuesday, United States Vice President Joe Biden met with CARICOM leaders in Port of Spain as part of a regional tour with scheduled stops in Colombia and Brazil.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that the Vice President of the United States is not the most notable diplomatic visit of the week, as the President of China, Xi Jinping, will be making a scheduled visit beginning on May 31.

That two of the great world powers would make such high profile appearances in Trinidad when traveling to the region makes one wonder if Trinidad has become the de facto capital of the Caribbean.

While it may be argued that Trinidad ends up hosting these events on behalf of the other Caribbean states simply due to its infrastructure that other nations in the region may not have, credit must be given to the government of Trinidad and Tobago for investing in building and modernizing these facilities. Those improvements have allowed Port of Spain not only to play host to these current high-profile guests, but to play a pivotal role in hosting the 2009 Summit of the Americas.

Hosting foreign dignitaries for meetings with Caribbean leaders is not the only role that Trinidad plays in the region.

Since its creation in 2001, Port of Spain has housed the Caribbean Court of Justice, which was established to replace appeals to the British Privy Council. The Trinidadian capital also hosts the headquarters for the Secretariat of the 25-member Association of Caribbean States.

Of course, these facts in isolation do not point to an assumption of regional leadership on the part of Trinidad and Tobago. Taken collectively though, they signal a trend in the recognition of the weight and influence that Trinidad has in the region.

Much of that influence can be attributed to the relative financial stability of Trinidad when compared with its neighbors in the Caribbean.

While Jamaica struggles to get its financial house in order and many other Caribbean nations are over reliant on tourism dollars and remittances to support their economies, the energy sector foundation of the Trinidadian economy has helped the nation to avoid some of the financial pitfalls of its regional neighbors.

It has even led Trinidad to be a lender nation to other CARICOM states through programmes such as the Petroleum Fund.

It is widely known that the United States and Canada serve as the destination for many Caribbean nationals in search of better economic opportunities. What may not be as well-known is that Trinidad also serves as a destination for other members of the regional diaspora who seek better job opportunities.

Emigration to Trinidad can also be easier for many other nationals of CARICOM states through the freedom of movement clause in the revised Treaty of Chagauramas.

The influence of Trinidad and Tobago can also be seen in the evolution of state owned Caribbean Airlines, which acquired Air Jamaica in 2011 and continues to aggressively compete with LIAT. That competition, Trinidad -owned Caribbean Airlines versus LIAT; owned by several other Caribbean states; provides a small window into the dynamic of Trinidad and Tobago and the other Caribbean states.

Again, in isolation, each one of the preceding facts do not necessarily signal a de facto recognition of Trinidad & Tobago as the political capital of the Caribbean.

Taken collectively, however, one can see that the influence that Trinidad has wielded regionally over the last decade or so is being recognized internationally by those who wish to, for whatever reason, create a stronger economic and political bond with the Caribbean.

One need look no further than the recent interest shown by both the United States and China.

Michael W Edghill, a Caribbean Journal contributor, teaches courses in US Government & in Latin America & the Caribbean in Fort Worth, Texas. He has been published by the Yale Journal of International Affairs, Diplomatic Courier, the Trinidad Guardian, and others.

Follow Michael Edghill on Twitter: @MichaelWEdghill

 

 

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