FOR ALL the talent Joe Biden perceives in him, the Prime Minister has seemingly been unable to shift the temperature in Washington, DC, when it comes to US policy on Venezuela.
That much is confirmed by Dr Rowley’s disclosure, on Wednesday, that efforts to acquire Venezuelan gas are still being frustrated given the bite of American sanctions, despite the announcement in January of a conditional two-year licence granted by the US.
“We have managed to get Venezuela to agree for the first time to export its gas, and to its neighbour, TT,” Dr Rowley said. “That has been in the pipeline and is still being impeded. As a matter of fact, when I was in Washington two weeks ago, I met with some advisers to the President, and I did tell them that TT is suffering from collateral damage from US foreign policy on Venezuela.”
It was a surprising disclosure given that Mr Biden’s remarks, at a convocation ceremony held at Howard University, had suggested the door might have been open to some sort of progress on this issue.
“Prime Minister, I didn’t know you were so talented,” Mr Biden quipped. “I just thought you were a foreign-policies Latin American guy. We gotta talk.”
But Dr Rowley can hardly be surprised by the nuances of the US position on Venezuela.
Mr Biden, who has confirmed his intention to run for office again in 2024, faces the prospect, yet again, of battling Donald Trump. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has introduced, arguably, a degree of fluidity in terms of the sourcing of key commodities given the potential disruption of key supplies, domestic US politics appear to have remained as divisive as ever, with many on the right suspicious of the socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro.
Dr Rowley cannot bury his head in the sand and pretend such complexities don’t exist. Nor should he hinge this country’s economic prospects on such slender geopolitics which leave us stuck in the middle of the interests of larger states.
The PM is encouraging businesses to look at Venezuela as a potential market. But currently, TT’s largest and most important market is the US to whom US$4.3 billion in goods were exported in 2021, including downstream energy products such as methanol, urea, chemicals and fertilisers.
Top imported products from the US include food products, chemical products and machinery.
Mr Biden and the US, meanwhile, appear to be bending over backwards to underline this country’s importance to it. The very licence granted earlier this year was of great symbolic import.
US Ambassador Candace Bond has also underlined support on the crime-fighting front and this week even offered US assistance in educating Venezuelan migrants here.
How to interpret all these signals? The US wants to help, but TT should also help itself.