Hours after this country’s prime minister on Wednesday insisted a visit last weekend by Venezuela’s Vice President had nothing to do with the US indicting Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro for narco-terrorism, came word that US President Donald Trump was going to double the presence of US warships in the Southern Caribbean.
“Today, the United States is launching enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics,” Trump told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.
Saying the US was cooperating with 22 partner nations, to interdict illicit drug shipments, he said, “We’re deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region,”
Venezuela’s economy has been hit by low-oil prices plus US sanctions over alleged election-rigging, all this sending thousands fleeing abroad including to TT, even as covid19 now adds more uncertainty.
With the US Government having laid drug-trafficking charges against Maduro in the US law courts and offered a US$15 million reward for information leading to his arrest, Trump alleged Maduro was in cahoots with the Colombian FARC rebel group and has set out to flood the US with cocaine during the uncertainty of the covid19 crisis.
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the (coronavirus) pandemic to threaten American lives,” Trump said. Maduro countered that Trump was using Venezuela to try to distract attention from the US Government’s failures to handle the covid19 pandemic, as hundreds die daily in New York.
In a tweet on Thursday, Maduro said, “Trump’s Government in its desperation, has tried to divert media attention to Venezuela. But they haven’t and won’t! The media has turned its attention to the internal crisis that the American people are experiencing because of the pandemic. We’re at peace!”
The two countries brouhaha came into focus in Trinidad at the recent visit to Prime Minister Dr Rowley of Venezuela Vice President Delcy Rodrigues, despite TT’s borders being locked down.
At a briefing on Wednesday, when asked if he and Rodrigues had discussed the US indictment against Maduro, Dr Rowley said the only discussion was on the covid19 outbreak.
The US Embassy in Port of Spain on Thursday sent Newsday a copy of a recent statement by US Southern Command head, Admiral Craig Faller, who alleged a US$90 billion per year drug-trade in the western hemisphere. He said corruption and weak State institutions undermine democracy.
“Recognizing these complex challenges in our neighbourhood, we will see an increase in US military presence in the hemisphere. This will include enhanced presence of ships, aircraft, and security forces to reassure our partners, improve U.S. and partner readiness and interoperability, and counter a range of threats, to include narco-terrorism.”
Dr Anthony Gonzales, retired lecturer of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Institute of International Relations, laid out the geopolitical landscape to Newsday, recalling the US proposal to Maduro (along with Opposition Leader Juan Guaido) to resign in favour of a five-person interim council until fresh elections a year later. “Maduro has not responded positively to that,” Gonzales said.
“The US has their means and methods of doing things. They are probably trying to put pressure on him, by sending the navy.” He said while the US said the navy was sent to the region due to a rise in illicit activities due to covid19, in fact it was likely a way to try to pressure Maduro to the negotiating table. “But he doesn’t seem to be budging. I have doubts as to whether he will concede on that, but I don’t know how things are going in Venezuela right now. What internal pressures are on him? How is the Government functioning and how is the military?
“Maduro is pretty well entrenched and I’m not sure this present move by the US will move him.” However, Gonzales said the US has drafted a clear strategy to oust Maduro, but he was unsure if it will work. He traced the steps taken so far as firstly trying to overthrow him, next imposing sanctions and now bringing fresh measures.
He reckoned covid19 would harm Venezuela, already under pressure, including its medical system.
The pandemic could put even more pressure on nearby nations like Brazil and Colombia by way of migrants, he added. “I don’t now if there has been any weakening of resolve in the Venezuela military. It is a big, complex organisation, and includes a navy.”
He said the Opposition has not been very active recently and seems weakened. That said, he felt the US must have thought now was an opportune time to act, using “a consistent and cumulative strategy.”