Give us back Chaguaramas
GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, September 19 2012
Because a crucial provision of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, under which Chaguaramas was officially returned to Trinidad and Tobago, gives the United States the right to reoccupy the former American naval base in the event that it (the US) perceives its security to be under threat, Government should publish for the benefit of citizens the full terms of the Treaty.
This is necessary in view of successive Governments having spent considerable sums on the development of agricultural farms at Chaguaramas, as well as merely drawing up plans to have the area further developed by both the public and private sectors. In turn, it has long been recognised that Chaguaramas is ideally located, not only to be a key port of entry, but a major shipbuilding centre as well.
Additionally, it has the capacity to be the second most industrial estate in Trinidad and Tobago, outranked only by Point Lisas.
Yet despite these clear pluses Chaguaramas has never achieved its full potential. Chaguaramas, on Trinidad’s North-West peninsula, has the area to accommodate, comfortably, not only a large industrial estate and port and several agricultural farms but housing estates as well as primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
Chaguaramas’ significance, which has been literally brushed aside for more than four decades, significance in terms of industrial and port development, can no longer be dismissed. Several factors, including the need to be increasingly competitive in the ongoing international financial crisis and the long stated aim to make this country the Financial Capital of the Southern Caribbean, demand this.
Although the United States is our largest export market, with the Caribbean Community of Nations (Caricom) our second largest, the need to take advantage of the rapidly emerging South American market for a needed expansion of our non-energy exports cannot be overlooked.
Already there has been a shift in the burden of our liquefied natural gas exports to the United States on to South America. And while up to a relatively few years ago the US was our largest liquefied natural gas export market, averaging some 72 percent of our annual LNG exports, with the shift to South America, this has today been scaled down to some 25 percent!
Perhaps, at this stage, this column should note for the benefit of some of its younger readers that with respect to the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the area in the North West peninsula along with Waller Field, Carlsen Field and other areas in Trinidad and Tobago had been leased to the United States in 1941 for 99 years, under a Lend-Lease Agreement between the United Kingdom (Trinidad and Tobago was then a British colony) and the US. Under this agreement the UK gave the US the authority to set up naval and other military bases in Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica and St Lucia in exchange for 50 old destroyers.
Following on post Independence talks with the Americans, a Trinidad and Tobago team led by TT’s first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, reached agreement with the Americans on the return of Chaguaramas and the other military bases in Trinidad and Tobago.
Unfortunately, there was the uncomfortable provision referred to earlier, in which the United States reserved the right to reoccupy Chaguaramas et al in the event it felt its security threatened.
During the discussions, a senior public servant, who was later dubbed the local Mata Hari, was accused of passing information on the PNM Government’s strategy to the Americans. What is important today, however, is that the clearly outrageous provision should be cancelled.
Failing this, the US will have a powerful lever until the year 2040, the official end of the 99-year Lend-Lease Agreement. The reluctance of the then PNM Administration to develop Chaguaramas, what with the proverbial Sword of Damocles overhead, could be noted in the Government’s financing “the drainage of Tucker Valley” in 1974, earmarking Chaguaramas in 1977 for a National Park and the limiting of development there by the previous Administration to agricultural projects. The US should remove the tacit restrictions, which in effect block industrial development of Chaguaramas and let this country after 50 years of independence from the UK enjoy full sovereignty at last.
The world has changed a great deal since 1967. The Soviet Union is now history and repressive measures replaced by glasnost. China is now a major trading partner of the US, urged along by trillions of dollars worth of US investment, while Cuba struggles to be on better social and economic terms. The battles the Americans face in this hemisphere are for increased trade and market share. Let us have Chaguaramas back, fully, in reality and without strings.