While most of the world refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro-led regime, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dennis Moses attended the Venezuelan President’s second inauguration on Thursday as an official representative of the TT government.
Moses was among international delegates from countries like Russia, China, Cuba, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, as well as Caribbean nations, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda. Conspicuously absent were the US, the UK, the European Union and several of Venezuela’s South American neighbours.
The minister had apparently left early on Thursday to attend the inauguration. The public, however, was not informed. Instead, journalists and activists watching the broadcast on Venezuela’s state television, Telesur, happened to notice Moses among the audience. Maduro, in his inaugural speech, even mentioned TT among others in his welcome remarks.
Asked about the decision to have the country represented at the swearing-in of the controversial administration, Communications Minister Stuart Young defended the government, saying it had long been TT’s policy to recognise the legitimacy of Maduro’s regime.
“We are a sovereign nation. The minister going to represent TT at the inauguration today speaks for itself. We have consistently said as an administration that we recognise the government of Venezuela and we stand as a neighbour ready to assist in any way we can,” Young told reporters at the post-Cabinet media briefing on Thursday, adding that this country continued to have good relations with Venezuela.
Maduro won Venezuela’s presidential election last May with 67 per cent of the vote, although voter turnout was less than half those registered. Election watchdog groups in Venezuela and abroad suggested evidence of fraud during the electoral process, and the majority Opposition refused to participate, all but guaranteeing Maduro’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the win.
The UN Human Rights Commission said the vote “does not in any way fulfill minimal conditions for free and credible elections.” Most western countries do not recognise the legitimacy of government, nor does Venezuela’s legislature, the National Assembly, which is made up primarily of Maduro’s political opponents. In a special meeting on Thursday, the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) voted “to not recognise the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro's new term." In a statement, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said, “The US condemns Maduro’s illegitimate usurpation of power today (Thursday)… the US remains steadfast in its support of the Venezuelan people and will continue to use the full weight of US economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.”
Young said Thursday that the US was one of TT’s good friends and allies and understood that TT was a sovereign nation.
Venezuela was TT’s closest neighbour, he said, and what happens there directly affects this country. “We are very careful. We have commercial arrangements with Venezuela and we have commercial relations with the US. At the end of the day we have great relations with both countries.”
Last August, TT and Venezuela signed the Dragon Gas deal, brining Venezuelan gas for the first time to Trinidad. This country also refuses to acknowledge the economic crisis in Venezuela, although as a result, an increasing number of refugees and economic migrants seeking to escape hardship, starvation, unemployment and hyperinflation have been fleeing to TT, often entering illegally.