Manning: Govt has offended Cuba

(Trinidad Express) Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning said yesterday the Government has offended one of its allies by not being able to allow Cuban President Raul Castro to stay at one of the nation’s leading hotels which he said was owned by the Government.

Manning said the Hilton Trinidad was subject to Trinidad law even though it is a US-based company.

He was speaking at a press conference yesterday at his constituency office at Coffee Street in San Fernando.

Castro was in Trinidad for the IV Caricom/Cuba Summit and stayed at Kapok Hotel, St Clair during his two-day visit. The two-day summit which began Wednesday was intended to be held at the Hilton Trinidad but had to be moved to the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port of Spain, because the US Helms-Burton Law in the US prevents US-based companies from providing services to Cuban nationals without a special licence.

Hilton Worldwide, which manages the Hilton in Trinidad, said the licence application was declined but US Embassy acting public affairs officer Alexander McLaren told the Sunday Express that the application was received on November 28 (ten days before the summit) and to his knowledge was still pending.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan and Persad-Bissessar said the Government was not late in seeking permission to have the summit hosted at the Hilton.

At Castro’s farewell ceremony at Piarco International Airport, Persad-Bissessar said she was not pleased with the situation but she could not tell the American people what was in their best interest.

But Manning said the Hilton was owned by eTecK which is owned by the Government and “therefore the Hilton is wholly owned by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago”.

He said, “I imagine it should have been clear to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is that the US did not want to find itself in a situation where it was saying to a sovereign independent State that you cannot host a foreign leader in your own country in a facility owned by you. It is a very delicate situation and one of which the US authorities did not wish to engross themselves. What was clear to me is that they did not intend to deal with the application that the Hilton International had submitted and that they would have taken no decision in the matter. In dealing with it that way, they left the door open for the summit to proceed in the Hilton hotel in Port of Spain.”

Manning said, “We can make bad mistakes and that is what happened in the case of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago insisting in the exercise of its sovereign democratic right in hosting the summit in a facility that it owns and in a facility in its own capital. Instead of doing that, it sort to involve the foreign policy of another country and use that to change the venue of the meeting. That was totally out of order.”

The next summit will be held in Cuba in 2014.


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