Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley moved swiftly yesterday to remove retired Brigadier Ancil Antoine as the People’s National Movement candidate for the D’abadie/O’meara constituency in the August 10 general elections.
In a statement, Dr Rowley said Antoine had been removed as a “direct consequence of insensitive and objectionable statements” he made at a campaign launch which did not represent either the views of the PNM or the country. Mr Antoine felt emboldened enough to refer to the United States, one of this country’s closest allies, as a “s…hole country” during the meeting.
What is worse is that Mr Antoine went further to make disparaging comments about not only Americans wishing to visit this country, but Trinidadians seeking to travel between the United States and this country, in an apparent remark about how the two countries were handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is unforgivable that someone representing a duly-elected Government of this country, seeking yet another term at that, could feel it was okay to make such statements. Is this the kind of representation this country could expect from people elected to govern to 2025? Mr Antoine, after all, is an elected MP and served up to senior rank in the Defence Force and had been given the nod the run again, granted not all of the constituency executives fully supported the initial decision.
Mr Antoine subsequently apologised for the comments, saying he did not mean it in the way it was said. Rather, he said, he really intended to praise the Rowley administration for its handling of the pandemic in comparison to how poorly the Donald Trump administration has handled their response.
But surely, in these times when T&T relations with the United States are already tottering on the brink in the wake of Venezuela Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez’s visit to T&T and the Paria Fuel Trading fuel deal with Wilmer Ruperti, Antoine should have known such a statement was ill-advised at best.
One hopes that this incident will not bring more US wrath upon T&T, given that we are already in their bad books. Mr Antoine’s case has also quickly brought home the reality of just how careful politicians, in particular, must be in the handling of matters on the political hustings.
It is to the Prime Minister Rowley’s credit that he took swift action. Dr Rowley himself may want to reflect on how he too handles matters concerning the US when the party intensifies its campaign and realise that while Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign state, without the United States as an ally we would be in a far worse position than we are today.
Dr Rowley must therefore publicly distance himself from any criticism of the US as espoused by Mr Antoine and ensure no one in his party feels so emboldened again.