T&T must demonstrate leadership in Caricom with regard to Venezuela policy

Dear Editor,

Once again this Keith Rowley government has shown no leadership, no courage, no vision and no strategic plan in dealing with our foreign policy challenges especially those dealing with our relations with to Venezuela.

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding was right when he said Caricom’s response was weak and its neutrality on Venezuela has been compromised as various leaders have already expressed support for opposing positions and the mission was compromised. Prime Minister Keith Rowley during a visit to Chile called for the removal of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro given the latter’s apparent dislike for Maduro. As such the opposition forces in Venezuela, would not view our intervention as neutral.

When in April this year, the Permanent Council of the OAS approved a resolution to convene a meeting of Foreign Ministers to discuss the situation in Venezuela, The Bahamas, Barbados, St Lucia and Jamaica supported the view of countries like the US, Canada, Chile and Colombia that such a meeting was necessary. On the other hand, St Vincent and the Grenadines led a group within the OAS which vigorously opposed the resolution.

Trinidad and Tobago, as usual under Rowley and unable to make up its mind, abstained saying that it upheld the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

That policy reversal of non-interference, as announced the evening before last by Dr Rowley given our new-found policy of direct engagement, demonstrates the weakness, reactivity, hollowness and ineffectiveness of our foreign policy under a totally weak and incoherent Dennis Moses who, for reasons unknown, has been given this important portfolio by our Prime Minister.

Our country must demonstrate leadership in Caricom. Apart from possibly Guyana, our country has the most to lose in Caricom if Venezuela degenerates into failed state status.

We have an unregulated influx of guns and illegal immigrants from Venezuela which this government appears unable to handle. We have piracy on our waters as our fishermen are increasingly being robbed by pirates presumably from nearby Venezuela while earning their livelihoods. We have drugs being brought in from Venezuela via our many unprotected ports while our expensively acquired Coast Guard vessels remain inexplicably tied up at Chaguaramas.

But our greatest problem with Venezuela is a perception by opposition forces in that country that we have been too close to Maduro given our positions at the OAS, our supplies of foodstuffs and our various agreements with Maduro regarding energy supplies from the Loran Manatee and other oil and gas fields in Venezuela. The likelihood of a new government in Venezuela must figure in any of our foreign policy calculations about our future relations with our neighbour. And a new government may reverse the arrangements already arrived at if they feel that they worked to prop up the Maduro regime.

That is why our country should have led the way in Caricom to be an honest broker attempting to help our neighbour resolve its issues by bringing all contending parties to the table. That way all sides of Venezuela’s political divide would have seen us and Caricom as seeking their best interests.

As it now stands our foreign policy towards Venezuela, as indeed all our domestic policies towards crime, economic diversification, failing health care and increasing poverty, appears visionless, entirely reactive, senseless and lacking in strategic intent and direction.

Trinidad and Tobago must recognize its leadership role in Caricom and use that body to craft intelligent regional policies that protect our interests in crime and violence, climate change, economic growth, de-linking of our banking sector and most importantly our policy towards Venezuela.

Failure to do this will result in us drifting towards a future of uncertainty and hopelessness, constantly reacting to crisis after crisis bereft of leadership and vision.

Yours faithfully,
Rodney Charles, MP (T&T)
Naparima, Trinidad
Former T&T Ambassador to the United Nations

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