The last British Governor of Trinidad and Tobago left as his legacy a dump and a highway. The dump symbolizes the way in which the British were anxious to get rid of some of the supposedly useless and troublesome bits of their Empire like Trinidad. The highway represents the typical British attitude to negotiations, “My way or the highway.”
This is why the sun never set on the British Empire. God would never trust an Englishman in the dark but would He trust the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)?
The FCO exists to promote British interests overseas, supporting its citizens and businesses around the globe. One of its responsibilities is to build Britain’s prosperity by increasing exports and investment, and opening markets. The FCO claims that its recent priorities were “organised around increasing security and prosperity and developing our consular presence.”
Its priorities included reducing the risk to the UK and UK interests overseas from international terrorism, contributing to the success of Britain’s effort in Afghanistan, helping to build a stable and increasingly prosperous Pakistan, playing a central role in international efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Iran and elsewhere, promoting the British economy and lobbying for British business overseas and inward investment into the UK.
Reading all these highly laudable pursuits of the FCO the reader would be forced to say, “Bully” for England which has done its share of that to Indians and Africans (and many of its own people) over the years. But when I encountered an FCO online document titled “Global Conversations” featuring an Article or Blog titled “Down In The Dumps” by Arthur Snell, the British High Commissioner (BHC) to Trinidad and Tobago, I wondered what aspect of the FCO’s remit was being fulfilled by Mr Snell.
I could not understand what an article about the Beetham Dump had to do with Britain’s national security and countering terrorism. I wondered about the link with building a stable and prosperous Pakistan or Afghanistan, or preventing the proliferation of mass destruction in Iran.
“Did the dump smell so bad?” I asked myself. I know I ran from the smell but Iran? Ah! Could it be that the FCO and the BHC to Trinidad are promoting the British economy and are lobbying for British business overseas? This makes more sense so that far from being down in the dumps the BHC and the FCO might really be elated at the prospect of selling British recycling technology to Trinidad.
The Beetham dump has never been too young to smoke and all its smoking since I was a schoolboy travelling into the city of Port of Spain has not stunted its growth. It has grown much bigger over the years. The dump is on the left of the Beetham highway as you head into the town and on the right is what we called “Shanty Town”. It is the “Beetham Gardens” now, notorious for its criminality instead of any form of botany. You have smoke on one side, Beetham in the middle, and gunsmoke on the other. Or put it in the context in which the BHC was down in the dumps, fire on one side and gunfire on the other with Mr Snell as the man in the middle or, if we stick with the FCO’s priorities and the historical behaviour of the British, a middle-man.
The High Commissioner starts the blog by talking about a fog in Britain in December 1952. He says that because of regulations to enforce clean fuels in urban areas combined with the widespread use of central heating, this kind of smog has now become a thing of the past in the UK. Is he trying to sell us central heating? No, he is blowing smoke. This is not the first time that Britain has sold the equivalent of a fridge to an Eskimo or a snow plow to an Arab.
Mr. Snell talks about the long-term effects of the fires in the Beetham Dump and the toxic waste. What he does not mention is a report from “Waste Management World” which claims that “Landfill fires are a common problem for municipalities across the world, with estimates suggesting the U.S. suffers from around 8,300 a year and the UK between 280 and 300 a year. An investigation has been launched … into how 500 tonnes of waste caught fire at a landfill site in Hampshire, UK, according to local newspaper the Southern Daily Echo. Reports cited how four fire engines and more than 30 firefighters were required to tackle the blaze and a high volume pump was being used to supply water. Traffic controls had to be brought in and part of a neighbouring road cordoned off.” Sounds familiar?
Then there is the BBC story about birth defects linked to toxic sites. “The environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) called for immediate action to assess the full extent of the landfill danger, and to reduce the amount of toxic waste the UK produces. FoE said there were about 8,000 landfill sites in Britain, of which 2,000 were still having material dumped in them. FoE senior waste campaigner Mike Childs said: ‘This research is extremely worrying. Friends of the Earth has warned for a number of years that landfill sites are toxic time bombs. There are thousands of landfill sites around the country, and no-one has a clue what toxic chemicals are dumped in many of them.’
What worried the High Commissioner is not the 300 or so fires a year or the many English children in danger from thousands of sites. He was worried that you cannot recycle anything in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). What he is advocating is a recycling industry and virtually promising that T&T can be a world leader in the field. Cutting edge no less! It is apt advice coming from the British whose ability to divide and conquer worked so well against Hindus and Muslims, Blacks and Indians, one African tribe against others, that separating paper from plastic and organic waste from bottles would be mere child’s play.
In this the High Commissioner was supported by a bunch of Trinis who commended the man for his perspicacity, all behaving as if this topic of recycling never came up before and the man is a genius for thinking of it.
But wait! Is there an FCO connection with all these boasts that Britain is a world leader in recycling technology? MBA Polymers, a British firm, has a plan for Britain to be a world leader in recycling plastics. There are a lot of British companies peddling recycling plants all over the world so for cynical people like me the poor visibility and pollution at the Beetham Dump can be seen as a smokescreen designed to sell recycling technology to the natives – just the usual British smoke and mirrors. If there is a moral to this sordid tale of smarmy salesmen and deceptive diplomats, it is that if you can’t fog it, blog it.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that a diplomat can be described as a man who says, “Nice doggie” while reaching for a rock. This Brit is the only one who says, “Bad doggie” while reaching for a bottle.