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Grenada says Taiwan out to cripple economy

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 11/4/2011, 5 p.m.

In a week when the people of Grenada observed the 28th anniversary of the collapse of the southern Caribbean nation's then-leftist government and the subsequent American invasion, authorities there say Taiwan is doing all in its power to cripple the island's economy as payback for switching diplomatic allegiances to Mainland China.

Back in 2005, the administration of then-Prime Minister Keith Mitchell decided to follow the lead of most of the other members of the 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc and maintain relations with Mainland China, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway renegade province.

Taiwan has made no secret of the humiliation it felt from the diplomatic about-face, since it had pumped millions into various agricultural projects in the country and even helped finance and build a brand-new stadium in time for the Cricket World Cup in 2007.

Now, Finance Minister Nazim Burke says Taiwan is in a rush to force the island to repay $28 million in loans all at once. He claims the country appears not to be interested in negotiating a payment program over time and has been trying to sully the island's name by badmouthing it with cruise ship operators, tourists and even airlines flying to Grenada.

"It has nothing, really, to do with getting the money per se, from what we can tell," Burke said in a recent interview with the Caribbean Today newspaper. "What we have observed is that every time something happens that points in the direction of an improved relationship with China, Taiwan flares up."

He even claimed some cruise liners have already dropped more than broad hints that Grenada could be toast as a destination in the coming months if Taiwan continues. The country is threatening to go to court to seize monies owed by airlines and cruise lines that service Grenada as a means of forcing the island to pay.

"They went so far as to issue subpoenas in September of this year to all of the airlines that we are doing business with. They issued to Carnival Cruise lines, Princess Cruise lines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines and Caribbean Airlines, saying, 'Any money you have for Grenada we are going to seize,'" Burke said. "They continued to just press and press, and no matter what we said or what we did, it was quite clear that they were not prepared to work with us."

Most of the loans date back to the mid-'90s and were made by Taiwan's import-export bank. Relations are so sour and tensions so high that Burke claims that the Taiwanese have even attempted to seize the Grenadian diplomatic mission and were stymied only because it has diplomatic protection.

He maintained that a negotiated settlement was off the table because the Taiwanese are demanding a one-time full payment. As for cruise operators, he said that two have already told authorities Grenada will be scrubbed if the impasse is not settled in decent time. Cruise liners are an important part of the country's tourism setup. Thousands depend on almost-daily calls in the peak season for their livelihood.