THURSDAY’S vote at the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Venezuela has exposed vulnerabilities in Caricom’s approach that are detrimental to the interests of the region. Instead of presenting a united front, one way or another, the split has weakened us as a negotiating block.
The Bahamas, Jamaica, Guyana, Haiti, and St Lucia supported the OAS resolution not to recognise the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s second term, while Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname voted against the measure. St Kitts-Nevis, TT, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Belize abstained, while Grenada missed the chance to record a vote. By any standard, it was a poor showing.
All of this is in stark contrast to Caricom’s clear and united stance against Venezuela in relation to the Guyana border dispute. Heads of government have consistently rejected Maduro’s attempt to claim all the Atlantic waters off the Essequibo coast of Guyana and have supported efforts to have the matter resolved at the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.
Interestingly, Caricom sent observers to the widely-condemned election last year. That election saw Maduro return to power after a cat-and-mouse game in which the timeline for the poll was shifted repeatedly and opposition parties were banned from participating by the constituent national assembly, a new constitutional body, itself formed in a highly controversial 2017 election which was triggered by mere presidential decree.
Caricom has always had a hot and cold relationship with Venezuela. On the one hand, the block has not been shy to urge Venezuela to return to “the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy”. At the same time, it has acknowledged the need for respect of “the fundamental principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.”
While sovereignty should be respected, the question is how bad must the situation become? How dangerous and unstable must Venezuela get before Caricom is roused to take a clear, principled stance?
Individual nations, including Trinidad and Tobago, may well have reasons for both supporting and condemning the Maduro regime. There are moral, social and economic matters that have to be assessed, in the context of a fragile national security environment.
But in the context of a series of embarrassments for our local Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the infamous OAS vote on Dominica as well as a controversial suspension of a customs officer at the Piarco International Airport, the circumstances which led to Minister of Foreign Affairs Dennis Moses appearing at the show-inauguration of Maduro last week leave a lot to be desired.
Whatever our position on Venezuela is, it is not acceptable is for us to have a secret foreign policy that has not been made clear to voters. Transparency, please.