VENEZUELA should be seen as a humanitarian crisis that requires urgent action not only for the sake of the people there but also the citizens of this country who have a direct stake in the stability of our nearest neighbour. It is precisely at this moment when the world’s eyes are on Caracas that we should be in a position to make a meaningful intervention to protect our own sovereignty and security.
Instead, what should be a matter of non-partisan foreign policy has degenerated into a shouting match between the Government and the Opposition. Worse, the question of US influence has been raised when neither the PNM nor the UNC has managed to convince the nation that they have done their best to prepare us for the situation we are in now. The verbal tiff with the US Embassy is a red herring. The relationship we should be focusing on now is the one we have with Venezuela, not Washington.
This is a situation that has been brewing for years, long before Nicolas Maduro took over the Miraflores Palace in 2013, back when the People’s Partnership was in office. Yet, there is little sense that governments have made any meaningful headway when it comes to preparing us to deal with the thorny humanitarian, economic and security issues that now arise.
We are not alone in this assessment. According to Refugees International, an independent advocacy body based in Washington, this country’s implementation of its refugee policy has left a lot to be desired.
“While the government approved a refugee policy in 2014, it is failing to implement it,” the organisation states in a report issued on Sunday. The report outlines “very serious concerns” about xenophobia against Venezuelans. They are not given adequate assistance or access to protection and services. Nor are they offered special temporary status, as is now standard in the region. Existing migration law fails to provide adequate rights and assistance. All in a country that prides itself on its ties with its nearest neighbour.
We have called for a peaceful solution – a solution that could be brokered through mediation and that should prioritise the democratic will of the people.
We are of the view this country remains in a unique position to support efforts to bring about a transition to a fully-functioning democracy with free and fair elections and that we should support efforts by bodies such as the United Nations and Caricom.
It should be no surprise that our politicians are dead set on scoring political points instead of accounting for their failure to address the matters that today call for urgent action, such as our dismal record on refugee management. However, no amount of grandstanding on political platforms will paper over fractious foreign policy positions that do not reflect a coherent global outlook.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.