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Author Topic: Diplomatic, Economic and Political History: US Reflections on Trinidad & Tobago  (Read 1946 times)

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The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project: Interview with Ambassador Richard K. Fox, Jr.

Initial interview date: March 8, 1989

Q: You became [US] Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago from 1977 to 1979. How did that come about?

FOX: I don't really know. I wasn't in Personnel at time. I had been told in 1974 when I was still in
CU that I was the Department's candidate for the post in Barbados. My name had actually gone to the White House. Unfortunately, the White House had a political appointee in mind. By 1974, I had been a Class 1 Officer for several years and presumably I was being considered for appointment to Ambassadorial assignment. I think it would have been just a matter of time before I would come up for consideration again. After the job in Personnel and the Senior Seminar, I was on a couple of lists.

Q: What were our interests in Trinidad and Tobago in 1977?

FOX: Back in 1977, the Carter administration had indicated that it wanted to strengthen our relationships with the Caribbean, and particularly with the Eastern Caribbean. We had come through a period of time in the latter part of the Kissinger era and during the Ford administration when it was felt that we had tended to over-look the countries in the Eastern Caribbean. We had not really supported them and yet they were our closest neighbors. They supplied a large number of immigrants to the United States--I am referring primarily to Jamaica and Trinidad and Barbados--. I had done a paper when I was in Personnel pointing this out and suggesting that we had made a mistake in assigning non-career people to the Ambassadorial positions in that area when ideally we should have career officers there who could recognize the importance of the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States. That may have surfaced at some point and may have led to me being considered for one of those jobs.

Back to your question concerning our interests in Trinidad. The Carter administration had announced at its beginning, the "Caribbean Initiative". The idea was to try to strengthen our relationships with those countries through some direct support and through multilateral assistance as well. They needed help because in 1973 the oil prices had skyrocketed and all of these countries were facing very serious debt problems. They needed some means of servicing their debt as well as some funds for internal economic
development. The Secretary had gone down to the Caribbean in early 1977, had visited each country and had stopped in Jamaica for a conference at which he agreed that he would propose an Caribbean initiative which would have the United States attempt to persuade a number of Western European governments to form a consortium of donors, that would make funds available to these countries for debt servicing and internal economic development. Trinidad was the only country in the Caribbean that did not need this kind of assistance because it was an oil producing nation. Trinidad had profited from the increase in oil prices. Our interests therefore in Trinidad in those days was to get it to agree to be a donor. I went there with instructions to try to move Trinidad in that direction to the extent possible and to do all we could to keep it supportive of the Caribbean initiative.

We had some problems because one of the countries that had been identified as a major donor was Venezuela. The relationship between Venezuela and Trinidad historically has been very poor. Eric Williams who was then Prime Minister in Trinidad had always looked on Venezuela as an extremely racist country. He was very critical of Venezuela. One of reasons for this attitude was that the Venezuelans would allow Trinidadians to enter Venezuela but they could not become citizens, even if they married Venezuelan nationals. He thought that this was typical of a racist government and so when we began to talk about donor countries and mentioned Venezuela among them, Mr. Williams was offended by this idea. I had to keep the Trinidadian government aware of our interests in proceeding with the initiative and to persuade them that Venezuela would not be the prime mover. The United States would be chief sponsor of the proposal and we hoped that the British and the Canadians and the German and the Dutch governments would provide assistance. We had however to approach others in the area who had enormous of amounts of assets to contribute. We also had some US investment In Trinidad which [we] were to protect. We had a navigational facility, the OMEGA station, was extremely important to us.

Q: How did you find dealing with the government of Eric Williams?

FOX: It was extremely difficult. Eric Williams was a recluse and as a matter of fact, he was characterized as being manic-depressive. He had periods when he was very visible and socially active, but then there were long periods when he would seclude himself in his residence and would only be available to his Cabinet. He was a very difficult man to deal with. He developed the idea that he as Prime Minister would not be available to any foreign Ambassadors. We would have to work through his Foreign Minister. However, I did see him on a couple of occasions when he was interested in discussing an issue with me. When I had instructions to get in touch with the Prime Minister, he was never available.

Q: Your main dealings were therefore with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

FOX: Main, but not solely. Trinidad had in addition to their oil production large amounts of natural gas-- a by-product. In those days, we were concerned about having an adequate supply of natural gas. The Trinidadian government decided that they had a sufficient supply of natural gas to export it and the United States was the obvious market. They began discussions with us about developing a facility for gas liquefaction. They also began negotiations in the US about sales. They quickly found out that liquefaction is an extremely expensive venture because you not only had to be build a plant in Trinidad, but also had to have tankers for transportation and then you had to deliquify it in the United States off-shore and pipe it to terminals on the mainland. The brunt of those costs would have to borne by the Trinidadian government. In addition, they had competition from natural gas from Canada as well as from Alaska and it appeared that the US would have an adequate supply. So I had long discussions with the Minister of Petroleum about this proposal. We also discussed with the Trinidadians their foreign reserves which at that time amounted to two-two and half billion dollars. They wanted to start a very ambitious development program, at the center of which would stand an iron and steel mill. When the people in
Washington heard that Trinidad was considering building an iron and steel mill, it caused a great deal of concern because our steel industry was in the throes of a down-turn at that time.

Q: That was period also which lasted till today during which steel was in surplus--it is one of those products that looks wonderful and employs a lot of people, but the product is going begging.

FOX: They had done a very quick survey and they found that there was a shortage of construction wire rods in south-east US They considered that situation as an ideal market.

They had talked to a number of wholesalers who had indicated a willingness to handle the product. But they had not done an adequate survey of the market and had not really looked very carefully at the potential costs and at the long-range market before committing themselves to this plan. They came to Washington to talk to the Export-Import Bank about credits and loan guarantees in order to build this plant. They got a commitment from Ex-Imp that it would support the plant; subsequently, the Bank backed down. This generated another long series of discussions about the US government reneging on its promises.

Q: The problems then were primarily economic?

FOX: Almost entirely.

Q: And almost all technical?

FOX: Yes. Technical in the sense that I had to learn quite a bit about the oil and gas industry, which was relatively new to me. I had a very good economic officer and had good support from Washington.

Q: Did you treat Trinidad and Tobago as a whole or as two separate entities?

FOX: I treated it as a whole, but the [Trinidad & Tobago] government did not. The government treated Tobago as a separate entity. The government had very strong ideas about their own counties. Tobago was separated by about forty miles of water--beautiful island--but poorly developed, very inadequately developed. There were several hotels. It was largely a tourist area for the people of Trinidad. Had the government decided to go into tourism, it could have been another Jamaica, it could have been another Virgin Islands, it had beautiful beaches, with shallow waters and a sand-bar that goes about fifty yards offshore. A lot could have been done with natural resources, but Mr. Williams did not want all these people, particularly Americans, turning his country into a tourist haven. He therefore refused to consider any tourism development in Tobago. The government in Trinidad felt that the people of Tobago were always critical of the central government and were not very supportive. So they didn't treat them very well. This generated internal political disputes that occurred frequently.

Continuation of interview: June 13, 1989

Q: When you were in Trinidad-Tobago, did you have any trouble with American tourists or businessmen?

FOX: No. I had no problems with either. The number of American tourists was not great. The travel between the US and Trinidad is usually the reverse--Trinidadians going to the United States. Therefore the tourist problems were minimal. US investment was not large at the time I was there. The largest US firm was Amoco and they enjoyed very good relations with the Government of Trinidad because they were extracting oil.

Q: Did Amoco have its own international relations experts to take care of any problems that might arise?

FOX: They had that office in Chicago which was available to all of their overseas operations. In addition, the Trinidadian Government was cordial to the American oil firms. They had their own network and their contacts within the government. That system operated very effectively. They didn't need any assistance from the American Embassy.

Q: How would you describe the staff of your Embassy?

FOX: Given the state of relations at that time between the two governments, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the staff. We didn't have a lot of economic activity with the Government of Trinidad. Yet we had a solid and competent economic officer. Political problems were minimal and we had a very good staff to handle that area. I thought we were quite well off.

Q: You dealt in those days with a figure who had been in the foreign affairs establishment for a long time, Terence Todman. He was Assistant Secretary for American Republics Affairs (ARA). What was his operating style?

FOX: I did deal with Terry because he came to Trinidad once for a visit to the Caribbean. He had a deep interest in the Caribbean because he was born there--in the Virgin Islands. He had a personal interest in the Caribbean affairs. His operating style was to give the Chiefs of Mission as much support as they needed. There was not great interference out of his office with what we were doing. Yet we knew if we needed to get to him on a particular issue or to get some support either within the Department or outside, we could. I did spend quite a bit of time with him, discussing one specific issue: the tariff on rum
produced in the West Indies. We spent some time trying to develop a strategy for attacking that problem.

The issue was that the tariff on rum produced on the West Indies was considerably higher than on rum produced in Puerto Rico. The reason for it was that the funds that were derived from the tariff on West Indian rum was used for a federal payment to Puerto Rico. So the West Indians always complained about the difficulties they were encountering to win their share of the market, in light of the high comparative cost their rum. That was a problem which I was aware of when I went to Trinidad. I began to try to
solve it, but after looking in to it for some months--talking to people on the Hill-- it became apparent that because of the federal payment, there was little inclination to change the system.

Interviewed by: Charles Stuart Kennedy. The content above is an excerpt of a broader interview that extends beyond topics pertinent to Trinidad & Tobago.

Richard K. Fox, Jr. was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Trinidad & Tobago on July 8, 1977. He presented his credentials on July 21, 1977 and ended his tenure in the post on July 16, 1979.

« Last Edit: June 10, 2015, 06:45:59 PM by asylumseeker »

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Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History, A Quiet Coup in the Caribbean: The Takeover of T&T

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project: Interviews with Sally Grooms Cowal, then Deputy Assistant Secretary for Latin America (2001 interview), Lacy A. Wright Jr., then Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Port-of-Spain, Trinidad (1998 interview) and John Allen Cushing (initial interview September 2009), who was the Chief of the Political Section at Embassy Port-of-Spain.


On July 27, 1990, a Muslim organization called Jamaat al Muslimeen instigated a coup against the government of Trinidad & Tobago. Forty-two insurgents stormed Parliament, taking Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson and most of his cabinet hostage in The Red House, Trinidad’s parliamentary building, for six days.

At the same time, another 72 rebels attacked the offices of Trinidad & Tobago Television. When instructed to order the army to stop firing on The Red House, Robinson instead instructed them to “attack with full force.” At 6:00 pm, Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr appeared on television and announced that the government had been overthrown and that he was negotiating with the army. He called for calm and said that there should be no looting.

Instead, widespread arson and looting took place in the capitol of Port-of-Spain, causing millions in property damage. Twenty-four people died during the coup attempt before the Jamaat al Muslimeen members surrendered on August 1 after receiving a promise of amnesty from the government.

This account was compiled from interviews conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy with Sally Grooms Cowal (initial interview August 2001), who at the time was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Latin America and later became Ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago in 1991; Lacy A. Wright Jr. (interviewed January 1998), who was the time Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; and John Allen Cushing (initial interview September 2009), who was the Chief of the Political Section at Embassy Port-of-Spain.


“When this attempt coup took place, the ambassador wasn’t anywhere around”

COWAL: Trinidad had its little political moment. That was just about the time of the Gulf War. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which led to Operation Desert Storm, was taking place about the same time, so — not that Trinidad would have gotten much notice anyway, but it got none — because it was totally overtaken by events. I went down [to Port-of-Spain].

The ambassador before me had been a political appointee, and I must say, a real mixed bag: good in some ways, not good in other ways.

Trinidad… was equally divided between the two major ethnic groups, and suddenly in about ‘89, a “middle way” political party called the NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) had sprung up. [It was led by] an Afro-Caribbean leader who had defected from the major African party, a guy named A.N.R. (Arthur Napoleon Raymond) Robinson…

They (the NAR) were this African party, and although they were very rich, their philosophy was more or less socialist. They saw government as the answer to most problems and believed the government should run most things. They pretty much squeezed out any opportunity for the private sector to do very much in Trinidad and also protected the little bit that there was by establishing very high tariff rates and non-tariff barriers to the importation of foreign goods…

[Charles] Gargano was my predecessor, and he paid almost no attention to the running of an embassy whatsoever, or doing the traditional things that ambassadors do. Still, he had a pretty good relationship with that government, and he was quite supportive. I think [government officials] were unusual enough and not tied so much to the past that he was able to establish a pretty good relationship with them.

The highest point of criticism might be that when this coup attempt took place, he wasn’t anywhere around, and nobody knew he wasn’t anywhere around. He just sort of disappeared on weekends and people assumed he disappeared to the quiet of his lovely residence.

But in fact, I guess most weekends he went back to his family and friends in suburban New York, which is from whence he came, from Long Island. At the time the coup took place, he was actually in Long Island, and nobody knew that.

“By far the most dramatic event ever to have occurred in Trinidad”

WRIGHT: The big event that occurred while I was in Trinidad was the attempted coup of mid-1990, in which [Jamaat al] Muslimeen took over both the radio station and the entire Parliament with the Prime Minister and much of his cabinet inside and held them for five or six days. That was by far the most dramatic event ever to have occurred in Trinidad and it was one which really shook the country to its foundations.

They were a very tiny sliver of the population, although I think they mined a rich lode of resentment among the poorer people in Port-of-Spain; witness the burning down of part of the city. They had no real power. They came from a group which had long been well known in Trinidad…

They had squatted on land and the government was in a constant quandary as to whether to throw them off of it. They had just taken over some land that belonged to the government and built on it. So Selwyn Richardson, Minister of National Security, it was his job to figure out how to deal with them. Eventually, he did not throw them off this land, but he made them stop building, earning their wrath.

They had a bunch of grievances against the government, some of them, I guess, valid, and most of them not. The way this happened, however, it could never have happened had they not received guns from guess where — the United States of America.

They had a guy, it turned out afterwards, who was the number two person in the organization. His name was Bilal [Abdullah]. He had taken a trip to Miami. He had made contact with an individual who was able to get him a cache of weaponry.

This was sent down to Trinidad disguised as something else, stashed in some other kind of container. There was a sympathetic customs guy who had been paid off to look the other way when it came in. The stuff was taken off and these were the weapons that were used in this coup.

Tracking militants and weapons — missed connections

It also turned out that — this is very ironic — one of our law enforcement organizations had been on to this guy, the American party, who was in Miami. They were in fact trailing him. They knew he was up to something. They knew he was buying weapons. They knew he was going to do no good with them.

But they didn’t know where he was going to send them. They knew he was going to send them somewhere. But he eluded them long enough to do what he did.

It also turned out that the Trinidadian Government knew that this guy Bilal had gone to Miami and [the government] had put in a request to the FBI to find out who [Bilal] had been meeting with. The FBI treated this, as far as I can tell, as a kind of routine request.

They threw it into a big hopper with lots of other requests and they finally got him an answer about a week after the coup occurred. Had they done this faster, [the coup] would not have occurred. This became an issue in the Trinidadian papers afterwards.

“I don’t know that it was a coup attempt, so much as a hostage-taking”

COWAL: In 1990 there was a takeover, a coup attempt that initially succeeded. I don’t know that it was a coup attempt so much as a hostage-taking. A group of radical black Muslims took over the parliament house and held the prime minister and, I think, 26 members of parliament.

WRIGHT: The prime minister was brutalized during this takeover. Selwyn Richardson, the Minister of Defense, was shot in the leg, very badly treated… One person among the hostages died of a heart attack, but outside even more damage took place.
A fair amount of the downtown was burned down by looters, who took advantage of the situation to wreak havoc. Overall, about 20 people were killed during the whole thing.

So it was a very serious event, and I must say that the reaction of a lot of the Trinidadians, particularly to the Prime Minister, I found shocking. The Prime Minister (seen here) really behaved heroically during the time that this was going on. He was told at one point to go out and talk to the police and tell them to lay off, which he refused to do.

But he got no sympathy from most of the people, certainly from the common people, and instead of being treated like a hero when it was all over, he was the object of lots of criticism for various things.

Probably some of this had to do with his personality: he’s kind of an erudite man who speaks like one. There’s nothing common about him at all, and this clearly worked to his disadvantage as a politician…

“These guys were calling all over the world”

The Muslimeen were being communicated with all the time by the government, which had set up a kind of command center. One of the first things that they did, after a day or so, was to cut off all the telephones to these guys except one.

They found out that these guys were calling all over the world, particularly from the radio station, and talking to the newspapers and everything. Since they owned the telephone system [cutting off phone access] was no problem.

They got in there and fixed it so the Muslimeen could talk to only one person, and that was the government spokesman. So that really contributed to a sense of isolation on their part. They were still making a lot of demands and there were people who wanted to give in to some of these demands. There were emissaries that went in, church people and so on.

COWAL: We [the U.S.] sent a team of FBI and people who specialized in hostage negotiation, and it was ended peacefully in the sense of the hostage takers walking out and surrendering and being arrested and then put on trial. This is now many years ago, but they were finally amnestied after some period of time in jail…

This [coup attempt] happened right after the Fourth of July. And on the fourth of July we had had in Trinidad the USS Eisenhower, our aircraft carrier, which was massive, and we had had our Fourth of July party on this ship.

There were rumors going around that the USS Eisenhower had turned around and was steaming back to Port-of-Spain, which of course was not true. There were also other rumors that we had landed at the airport. There were rumors flying everywhere during this period.

“Either come out and surrender, or we’re going to kill you”

One of the main factors in the resolution of the coup was the staunchness of the Trinidadian military. Trinidad, being a small country, doesn’t have a big military, but it has one, and it has a regiment. Their highest ranking officer is a brigadier general, who was a colonel at the time, and his name was Ralph Brown. Ralph Brown deserves a huge amount of the credit for saving Trinidad, and he did it by being absolutely tough …

It was Ralph Brown and his troops that said, “Forget it. We are not giving in to any of these things.” And since they were the guys on the Trinidadian side with the most guns, they were the guys who prevailed.

In the end, Ralph Brown’s message to the Muslimeen was, “You guys either come out and surrender, or we’re going to kill you.” And they thought that over for a while, and they came out and surrendered after about six days.

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The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project: Interview with John O. Grimes, Political/Labor Officer Port-of-Spain (1968-1970).

Mr. Grimes was born and raised in Alabama and educated at Notre Dame University. After service in the United States Marine Corp he joined the State Department and served as Diplomatic Courier until being commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer in 1962. A specialist in Labor Affairs, Mr. Grimes served in Glasgow, Valetta, Port of Spain, Kinshasa, Brussels, Tunis and Paris (twice). He had several tours of duty in Washington, DC and a year of Labor Studies at Harvard University Mr. Grimes was interviewed by James F. Shea and DonKienzle in 1996.

Kienzle: Then after Harvard, you were assigned to Trinidad?

GRIMES: I was assigned to Trinidad, yeah, that was my first post. There was no political reporting officer there, so my job was partly political and partly labor.

Kienzle: This would have been from 1968-1970.

GRIMES: Right. That was kind of an interesting time down that way because Black Power had kind of swept down to the islands of the Caribbean, and it was an active movement in Trinidad. There was always the fear of conflict between the Indian community and the black community. That was an interesting place to be because you saw two races, neither of them white, and you saw their interaction with each other.

Shea: You were in Port of Spain.

GRIMES: Port of Spain, right. That was interesting.

Shea: Who was your Ambassador?

GRIMES: Symington, Fife Symington.

Shea: How did he regard the position of Labor Attaché?

GRIMES: He wasn't a pro, you know. He was a political appointee. All he wanted to see was that things were covered, so he didn't focus too much on whether you were a labor officer or a political officer, or what you were. He just wanted the job done. He was very much a gentleman, very generous and helpful to me in the things I was trying to do. I was trying to stay in touch with the Black Power movement. There was a group there called the Tapia Group, so-called intellectuals. Really they almost succeeded in staging a coup. A pitiful little thing, it is almost opéra bouffe but at the time it was kind of serious. The government could have been knocked off if we hadn't gotten some material down there to them. The army revolted; the police remained loyal. But they got mortars and stuff down there to them and they were able to contain the army which didn't amount to too much.

Kienzle: This was in Trinidad.

GRIMES: Not in Port of Spain proper, but in Trinidad.

Shea: What year was that, John?

GRIMES: That would have been about '69. We had a little prior official information on this. But because my office was on the ground floor, I often was passed a lot of people that reception didn't know what to do with. I was glad in a way because I got an Army -- he wasn't a deserter –but he was an active Army person, a walk-in who wanted to tell us about a coup that was being planned in the Army. It turned out to be true. We were able to confirm it through our contacts with that Tapia House, the intellectual Black Power wave; we were able to meet some people who were actually the legal representatives of the Tapia group. One was of Irish extraction. She was afraid for herself, so she kept us posted on exactly what was happening and when the coup was coming. She had it within a day. The agency representative down there, the CIA guy, maybe you don't want me to talk about this?

Kienzle: No, go right ahead if you feel comfortable.

GRIMES: It was so long ago, nobody cares. He wanted me to give him the name of the person who was giving the information to me. I told this guy that I wasn't going to do that, you know. So he got the ambassador to call me in. I told the ambassador, “No I just can't do that; he has the information, he can do with it whatever he wants to , but I am not going to put somebody in danger for their life." The ambassador backed me up on that. She was a reliable person. They wanted to know about the source’s reliability; that's a legitimate question, but not the source’s identity. They sure as Hell wouldn't give me the identity of their informants!

Shea: Did you have any regional responsibilities in Trinidad?

GRIMES: No, just Trinidad. I remember the leader of the Indian group the sugar workers. His name was Saigon Badass. He was a bad ass in many ways. He carried a weapon and was on drugs; he was a mess, but he kept the Indian community under control.

Kienzle: When you say “Indian,” do you mean from the south or...

GRIMES: East Indian.

Kienzle: East Indian, you don't mean native American?

GRIMES: No East Indian. These were people imported by the Brits to grow sugar cane.

Kienzle: So the same thing that happened in the Fiji Islands. Anyhow the Agency confirmed there was a coup in the making, and they believed it?

GRIMES: Oh yeah. When they got the request from Eric Williams who was the Prime Minister, they got the request for some military support, and they got it down there promptly. They got it down there within hours. They saved his bacon.

Kienzle: Were the British involved?

GRIMES: No the Brits were not involved. There was a British officer who commanded what they call a fleet. It was really just a gunboat, but he played a crucial role because the Army had started in toward town, and if they had gotten there, they would have succeeded. This guy brought his gunboat up along the shore and he blasted a cliff that overhung the highway. He blocked the highway that way, which gave the police enough time to deploy on top of a hill with their mortars and they were able to stop them.

Shea: It sounds like the Army just gave up. As I recall, the oil workers were pretty strong there.

GRIMES: Yeah, the oil workers were strong. But I don't know, they didn't seem to cause much trouble, not while I was there, anyway. The great fear was that the students and the oil workers would get together. It never happened.

Shea: Who was the leader of the oil workers?

GRIMES: I was trying to remember that, George... It is a British name, but I can't recall it. Another interesting thing that happened while I was down there related to American labor -- the Hathaway shirt company had set up an offshore plant down there to produce these fine shirts. I think they produced them at about a dollar and a half or two dollars a shirt and they brought them into the States. They left a button hole unfinished or something so they could import the shirts virtually duty-free. They were sold in the States for the same price that American-made Hathaways were selling. So, the garment workers … which group?

Kienzle: The ILGW or the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, that must have been it.

GRIMES: Yes, they struck Hathaway in several places and told them you either close down or we are going to keep you closed down. They closed the plant in Trinidad. The head of the TTLC, the Trinidad and Tobago Labor Congress, a guy named Spencer came in one day and said, “Hey, you can't do this to us!” I said, “Well, it is not me that is doing it.” He said, “Let me talk to...” I got the Amalgamated folks on the phone and let Spencer talk to them directly. I forget the guy's name up there who was the head of Amalgamated at the time.

Kienzle: The most recent one is Jack Shenkman.

GRIMES: No, that wasn't the name.

Shea: Morty Findlay or even before that Jake Potofsky.

GRIMES: That is it, Jake Potofsky. He said, “Well tell me, if you were up here in my shoes, what would you do?” That did it for Spencer. He said, “I guess I'd do the same thing.” He said, "But don't worry too much. I hear that Hathaway's parent company is going to keep that plant down there and produce women's girdles or some damn thing.” That is what happened. Those guys in Trinidad didn't lose their jobs.

Kienzle: Any other notable labor issues there?

GRIMES: No. That was the only thing. There wasn't that much going on, actually.

Shea: Did the AIFLB have a representative there?

GRIMES: No, there was a traveling representative based in Barbados, I think. Anyway, he'd come our way once in awhile; that's about it.

Kienzle: Then after Trinidad you went to Paris as the Assistant Labor Attaché.

GRIMES: Yeah. Let's see. After Trinidad I was back here for something.

Kienzle: Oh the international organizations.

GRIMES: Yeah, I had been out so long that I had to have a tour in the States.

Shea: Yeah, for 12 years. I came up against that myself.

GRIMES: They didn't have any labor job for me, so they threw me into this damned international organizations thing doing international conferences. That was a stupid thing. It was a frustrating assignment. It was interesting in a way to see all the damn organizations we belonged to that produced nothing, absolutely nothing. One literally was called the Codex Alimentarius. I looked at that organization; it was in my bailiwick, and I said, “What the Hell are we doing here?” I recommended that we drop out of it because they had been in existence for, I think, 12 years and they had never agreed on a code on anything. When I put in that suggestion, Goddamn, out of the woodwork over at agriculture, came all these clowns, “What are you doing to us?” they demanded. “That is our annual trip to Rome!”

Shea: You had a food and agricultural thing, Alimentary.

GRIMES: I found out then, once something gets a foothold in government, it never disappears.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2018, 11:56:31 AM by asylumseeker »

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The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project: Interview with Lawrence H. Hydle (1983-1985).

Lawrence H. Hydle was born in Indiana in 1940. He graduated from Occidental College in 1960 and also attended Columbia University. Mr. Hydle entered the Foreign Service in 1965. In addition to serving in Ghana, he held positions in Vietnam, Ireland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Kuwait. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy on July 21, 1994.

Q: How did the system respond when you came back?

HYDLE: Because they had first asked me to extend for a third year and changed that, there were not many jobs left so I was just given a few options that happened to be open. I took the one that I thought was best, which was political officer in Trinidad-Tobago.

Q: Where you served from 83 to 85.

HYDLE: Yes.

Q: What was the situation there?

HYDLE: Trinidad-Tobago was a democratic country. However, it had been under one-party rule for all of the years since its independence which I guess was in the 60s. Basically, there were racial politics because the country is divided almost equally between people of African origin and people of East Indian origin. But the Africans had the better electoral situation so they stayed in power. The country was somewhat aloof from the Americans. They always felt--maybe it was the personal experiences of Eric Williams the previous long time prime minister, or some of the officers in the current government had been students in the US during the black power era of the late 60s--so they all somewhat feared US influence, and even influence unconsciously exercised. They were very sensitive about it in contrast to the other eastern Caribbean countries who were very small and wanted to be very close to the US. This showed up in the US intervention in Grenada. Where the eastern Caribbean countries wanted it very much, the Jamaican government wanted it although the opposition in Jamaica didn’t want it. But the Trinidad government was against the killing of Morris Bishop, Prime Minister, by his more radical opponents, but they also were against the US intervention. Trinidad-Tobago was a producer of oil. We had some companies that were US owned that were the oil producers. Texaco, I think, maybe Amoco, I don’t recall. We wanted to have reasonable relations with them, we wanted to have a supply of oil from them. They had refineries that refined oil from elsewhere. Because of the oil, a small population, it was a fairly wealthy country. We had not had US bilateral assistance for some time. There were a fairly significant number of Trinidadians who were citizens of the US or green card holders. Immigration was not a big problem because there was sufficient prosperity there, not everyone was trying to get to the US. Those were our interests, they were not really big at all. The relations were fairly friendly but there were these reservations on the part of the government.

Q: How about, did you find as the political officer, did you have easy access to the various parties and groups?

HYDLE: Yes, I had fairly easy access but I would say that the access was less good to the ruling party, People’s Nationalist Movement, than it was to the oppositionists. This reflected their reservations toward the US. For example, I wanted to attend the convention of the PNM. This was a period, I think 1984, when the US government has a policy of facilitating the access of foreign diplomats to the Democratic and Republican conventions. So I asked to be allowed to go and they dithered and turned me down. So I recommended, in the spirit of reciprocity, that our government not let the Trinidadian ambassador come with all the other diplomats to the convention. But that was vetoed in Washington by whoever. I guess they didn’t think it was important enough to impose reciprocity in this case. Generally the opposition was more accessible to us and they wanted to be friends with us.

Q: These are mainly East Indians?

HYDLE: The official opposition was mostly Hindus, east Indians. Then there was Tobago, you know it’s Trinidad and Tobago. Tobago is a small island and the Tobagonians, although they are all African-American (sic), tended to be different, oppositionists in comparison to PNM which was more based in Trinidad. Then there was another party, I’m sorry I forget the initials, things change over time but there was another party that was more of a middle class party, and which sort of wanted to be pro-American. But they were always being accused of being too proAmerican so they couldn’t overdo it.

Q: This is during this period when you were there, 83 to 85, sort of the high of when the United States, particularly the Reagan administration, was very exercised about what was happening in Nicaragua and El Salvador. This was one of the major focal points of our foreign policy. How did this play out in Trinidad and Tobago?

HYDLE: We had instructions, of course, to go in and make demarches on El Salvador, Nicaragua, and so forth but they never had the slightest impact. To the extent that, first, it’s important to know that really these eastern Caribbean countries, English speaking and African origin people, they really know next to nothing about Hispanic Central America. Their view, to the extent that they had any views, were sort of conventional Third World views about the US and small countries. They generally, the Trinidadians, were opposed to whatever we were doing in Nicaragua against the government there. We were lucky that they didn’t actually come out against us. We would have demarches saying they should support us. Fat chance.

Q: What happened? You just sort of say, “Okay, here’s another one.”

HYDLE: We would all go through the motions. We’d go in and make the presentation. They would thank me for our views and say that they would be taking it into consideration and ask critical questions.

Q: How about the media?

HYDLE: They were okay, they were privately owned. That is, the print media were privately owned. They didn’t, in general, they didn’t give us a very hard time but there was one sort of tabloid style newspaper that published a picture of me and somebody else, at a convention of one of the opposition parties, and that this was yet another CIA plot.

Q: Who was the ambassador when you were there?

HYDLE: Ambassador Melvin Evans. He had been the delegate from the Virgin Islands, political appointee, black Republican. Unfortunately, he died in September 1984. For the next several months Mike Carpenter, the DCM, was the Charge. As I left in 85, Sheldon Krys came in. Q: Were there any problems with drugs? I’m thinking about narcotic traffic.

HYDLE: There were some problems. We had a program, an anti-drug program, with the Trinidadians which consisted mostly of training. I wasn’t directly involved in that. I think we saw Trinidad as a transit point for drugs that were going in the United States, maybe from
Columbi (sic), to try to make an end run against our defenses. And also, the Trinidadians themselves were having a drug problem, cocaine I think, and certainly marijuana was popular among the Rastafarian elements around Trinidad.

Q: But there were no major issues at this time that we haven’t discussed?

HYDLE: In 1984, I think, Trinidad became a member of the UN Security Counciway. They adopted sort of classic Third World non-aligned positions in the UN Security Council, despite our hopes that they might do otherwise.

Q: You left there in 1985 and then where did you go?

HYDLE: For a year I was in what was then called the Program Inspector General, headed by Ambassador Bill Harrop, the Inspector General’s office. We were doing these program inspections of US Missions overseas. I was attached to a team that was led by Ambassador Frank  Kredler, also Ambassador George Roberts was the deputy. While I was there, this turned out to be only a year assignment, but during that time we did inspections of the Office of Medical Services, Saudi Arabia and the other Arabian peninsula countries and then Southeast Asia: Thailand, Laos and Burma.

« Last Edit: March 03, 2018, 07:04:40 PM by asylumseeker »