“Passing the buck” is a phrase that essentially means handing responsibility to someone else.
In a totally different sense, “buck” has emerged as Trinidad and Tobago’s word of the season, in light of the titillating story of nocturnal visits to a working class family by a sinister character associated with folklore legends.
People are feasting on the provocative tale, with journalists being happily distracted from the mundane stories of the ever-soaring crime spree and manifestations of poor governance and failing institutions.
But “passing the buck” is also relevant with respect to a major developing story, one with international political and diplomatic implications.
There was a long period, you see, when Trinidad and Tobago was the acknowledged Caribbean leader in international affairs.
First Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams, a renowned historian, was an advocate of what was then termed “the non-aligned movement”, and, in the independence era, shared notes with influential leaders from Kwame Nkrumah to Indira Gandhi.
A confirmed statesman, Dr. Williams promoted regionalism and, in his extensive travels, he extolled trade and pleaded a case for these small island States.
Successive prime ministers provided leadership through their own perspectives and in their unique manner.
George Chambers sparked the revival of Caricom talks in 1982, following Williams’ death, while Basdeo Panday named a veteran politico as Caricom ambassador.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar signed to a United Nations anti-terrorism campaign and argued the importance of the Commonwealth family.
A.N.R. Robinson saw the crucial need for regional harmony.
A mere decade ago, Patrick Manning hosted shining-new United States President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at a talk shop of the Summit of the Americas.
Manning briefly led the Commonwealth and energised that group with discussions in Port of Spain.
Maybe inspired by Williams’ ambition, Manning saw tiny T&T playing an important role in geo-politics, with Cuba in our region, and Latin America in our backyard.
At the Americas’ talks, Obama and then-Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez shook hands and spoke briefly.
A generation earlier, Williams had gone to Parliament with a visionary motion asserting “the right of smaller States … to support all efforts for the achievement of lasting peace for solidarity and stability in the western hemisphere…”
How times have changed!
Trinidad and Tobago has passed the political and diplomatic buck.
Our Foreign Affairs Minister must be the most ham-fisted on earth, the supermoon and mars, characterised by gaffes, an absence of leadership in an increasingly borderless world and a stony personality.
Along with that, T&T has played a series of bad cards on the Venezuelan political and economic impasse.
Instead, of being neutral and offering a negotiating sanctuary, this country openly cuddled Nicholas Maduro and rebuffed Juan Guaido.
Then we publicly spurned the US, our largest trading partner, political ally and single largest direct foreign investor.
Don Quixote-style, we chased after diplomatic windmills in New York and in Montevideo, Uruguay, which expectedly yielded nothing.
By the time T&T was attempting a centrist position, the US had hardened its stand on Caracas and had courted new hemispheric allies, through hard-driving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo famously met Latin leaders at Brazil and Colombia, while Marco Rubio galvanised Venezuelan exiles.
US President Donald Trump hosted Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro at the White House this week, and their “mutual priorities” included Venezuela.
The US has placed Venezuela along with Nicaragua and Cuba, which it considers to be other hemispheric hotspots.
Our passive support for the Venezuelan tyrant and our diplomatic waffling have cost us our historic Caricom leadership – and a seat around the table with Trump at Mar-al-Lago this weekend.
Notably, US envoy Joseph Mondello met Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the day the Trump rejection became public.
Washington would have received crucial intelligence briefings on T&T’s declining regional impact and the vapid indecision of Port of Spain.
Note that all of US’ international initiatives are strategic and calculated and are designed with a purposeful end goal.
This is a huge fall for a country whose first leader was once mooted to be Secretary General of the United Nations, who commanded international respect and hosted powerful leaders.
The rapid turn of diplomatic shuffling reflects a startling and blatant truth: Trinidad and Tobago has passed the leadership buck!