Trinidad-Tobago government registers disagreement over terrorism comments in latest US travel advisory

Keith Rowley

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The Trinidad and Tobago government on  Saturday said it “must register our disagreement and concerns” at the decision of the United States government to include the twin island republic in its latest Level 4 Travel Advisory.

Trinidad and Tobago’s borders have been closed for more than a year and in a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said that Washington had issued the same travel advisory urging  its  nationals not to visit more than 130 countries globally.

“We also recognise and respect that the United States of America, like other sovereign nations, must take measures to guide and protect its citizens during these unprecedented and unpredictable times, especially in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

But it said “notwithstanding, Trinidad and Tobago must register our disagreement and concern with some of the statements made in the current advisory, particularly as “terrorism” is not a specific feature of any current threat within our shores.

“We would expect that the United States, which is not unfamiliar with the face of home-grown terrorism, would reconsider the association of such a term with Trinidad and Tobago as it certainly does not accurately reflect the local realities.”

The US Embassy here said Washington had “recently adjusted our Travel Advisory system to give more weight to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” and that “following this update, approximately 80 per cent of countries worldwide have a Travel Advisory Level of 4: Do Not Travel. “

It said that the naming of specific neighbourhoods in the travel advisory “comes from a specific provision of US law that provides there can be no double standard for US citizens versus employees of the Department of State.

The Trinidad and Tobago government said that it had also taken note of the public exchange on the travel advisory resulting in the “complete unmasking” of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) here and “its determined agenda against Trinidad and Tobago.

“By its highly reckless and irresponsible public utterances and publications, the UNC leadership has made it abundantly clear, yet again, that they are never prepared to defend the interests of Trinidad and Tobago.

“On the contrary, in their obscene haste to seize upon any opportunity for political mischief and misinformation, they have sought to make political benefit out of another serious national issue and not surprisingly it has backfired spectacularly and has drawn the appropriate condemnation.

“Incapable of sober and mature reflection on any matter of national importance, the Opposition again leapt into the fray with the most trite and ill-conceived media releases, and they have now deservedly found themselves in the unfortunate position of scrambling to save face, after attempting to confirm anything negative being said or portrayed about our nation, with no regard whatsoever for accuracy or context.

“One would have expected that, if only out of a sense of duty and knowing the facts as they relate to Trinidad and Tobago’s situation, any responsible Opposition, regardless of how they feel about the Government, would have seen it fit to come to the defence of the country, but they prefer instead to gleefully attempt to confirm any misconception or misinformation about Trinidad and Tobago,” the Office of the Prime Minister said in its statement.

On Friday, the US Embassy here distanced itself from a statement issued by the main opposition party in which it sought to use the travel advisory to attack the government.

“The Embassy is aware of the UNC’s response to the Department of State’s travel advisory to US citizens.  The Travel Advisory for Trinidad and Tobago is now Level 4, do not travel, due to restricted travel options put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The Department’s Travel Advisories are apolitical in nature, and in no way reflect our relationship with any country or with any specific political party within a country,” the Embassy said in a statement.

The UNC, had in its statement signed by its public relations officer, Dr Kirk Meighoo, said that the US travel advisory had warned Americans not to visit several parts in Trinidad and Tobago, which it said were “all areas ruled by the PNM (People’s National Movement) continuously since 1956 up to today”.

The UNC said that the seats including those now held by the current Minister of National Security, Fitzgerald Hinds and his predecessor, Stuart Young.

“Yet the US Government has declared these very seats the most dangerous areas in all of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We need to connect these dots, and correct our actions to save our country. If (Prime Minister) Keith Rowley, Fitzgerald Hinds, and Stuart Young have failed so spectacularly to provide security for the people of Port of Spain and Cocorite after 65 years of rule, then it is impossible for them to now provide safety and security for Trinidad and Tobago as a whole. We witness this truth every single day under the PNM and Rowley’s misrule,” the UNC added.

“It is only a matter of time before the PNM turns the whole of Trinidad and Tobago into the crime hellholes that they have turned their stronghold areas into,” the opposition party said.

But in its statement, the US Embassy said “there are other areas of the country that are dangerous for non-residents to visit as well, including beaches around Trinidad and Tobago, based on police reports of criminal activity.

“We strongly disagree with any attempt to politicise the Department of State’s travel advisory system,” the US Embassy statement added.