US threatens to scrap Antiguan military aid over unpaid loan row

Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne

Prime Minister Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne says a high-ranking United States diplomat in the region has threatened to withhold assistance to the Antigua & Barbuda Defence Force over an unpaid loan.

Browne said that some countries continue to press the twin-island state for money “even though we not in a position to pay them.”

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday (June 3), Browne recalled a telephone conversation he said he had with American Ambassador to Antigua Linda Taglialatela, in which she demanded EC$ 25 million owned for a port loan several years ago.

“Up to last week, I had a call from the US Ambassador telling me that we owe them for the port loan and they want their money,” he began.

“In fact, she reckon the arrears is about US $9 million plus or 25 million…so I asked the distinguished Ambassador how do you expect us to pay that 25 million dollar debt, in terms of the arrears, at a time when we cannot even pay salaries and wages…..and I said it not because we just don’t want to pay but we don’t have the resources. The irony about it too is that they owe us for the WTO debt and even though we asked them to do a set-off against what they owe us they are not looking at us,” Browne added.

US Ambassador to Antigua, Linda Taglialatela. (Photo: YouTube)

It was at this point of the conversation, Antiguan PM noted, that he was informed by the US diplomat of a threat to withhold assistance.

“In fact, you what they have done, during this time of covid, the Ambassador said to me the US will withdraw all the military support they give to the Antigua & Barbuda Defence Force,” Browne said, contending that at the same time the US questioned the country’s relationship with China.

“These are the challenges we have to deal with as a small nation. And then the very ambassador will ask me why we are so close to China. Now I don’t know if they want us to be self-sacrificing allies and to take a hostile position against China and to eliminate that source of support,” he said.

“We have to work with those who help us to build capacity,” the prime minister insisted.