Friday, September 16, 2011

Political plain speech

Political plain speech9/17/2011When the Wikileaks website started to release thousands of diplomatic cables belonging to the US State Department, more than one pundit warned that the decision would have repercussions throughout the world. A gradual release of countless diplomatic documents belonging to the world’s most powerful country – a country that has diplomatic dealings on some level with nearly every place on earth – is bound to have consequences. These were confidential documents, never intended for the knowledge of the general public.Now it’s our turn to deal with the revelations in these cables. Some of us may have thought that because most Americans can’t tell the difference between a Jamaican and a Bajan that our politics would be of no interest to the State Department. The cables show just how wrong that assumption was. US diplomats in the region have been taking notice of what goes on in the region, and in their missives, minced no words when it came to Caribbean politics. Former US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean criticised the decision to budget money for revamping Barbados’ sugar industry, calling it “imprudent”. The cables refer to the leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent as “a singularly uncharismatic and uninspiring figure who is unable to translate his technocratic expertise into any kind of viable or sustained political activity”. In some cases, the diplomats were merely passing on the information and opinion they gleaned from local sources.Still, whether giving a personal opinion or quoting a local source, US diplomats in the region have managed to upset a great many people in our region, especially in political circles. Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana have expressed their displeasure with the way the region has been portrayed in these dispatches. On the other hand, other leaders have declined to comment.In a way, the veil has been lifted – all the dirty laundry politicians in this region try to conceal has now been hung out to dry in the Caribbean sun. If you’ve always felt that your politicians were lying to you, these cables will give you proof. If you’ve always felt that half of what goes on in regional politics goes unreported, the cables confirm this. In truth, the US diplomats have confirmed many rumours and assumptions which we in the region have discussed in the rumshop or at the salon. For example, it was always believed that disgraced American businessman Allen Stanford used his money to gain significant political power in Antigua and Barbuda, and the cables confirm this.Furthermore, we now know what US diplomats really think of our leaders, their policies and their characters. The cables have provided a rare chance for us in the region to hear plain words about our countries, not just the clichéd rhetoric we hear at speeches and functions about friendship, co-operation and partnership. In that respect, these leaked cables have been invaluable.But in the midst of the controversy and furore caused by the Wikileaks cables, some of us have missed a key point. The cables may be scandalous and upsetting for our leaders, but there is very little new information in them. We have discovered that our politicians are just as we imagined them, but no worse. It may be hard to believe, but this is a good thing. Now we see our flaws, we can begin to fix them. Especially now that the extent to which money is playing a role in our political elections has been made plain. Instead of focusing on the less than flattering tones used in the dispatches, we should focus on the content of the cables and what it says about us. Is our democracy secure, or will money corrupt the process entirely? Do we need greater transparency in government? Will the decisions our leaders make now help or hinder our development? These are the questions we should ask after reading the Wikileaks cables.

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