CARICOM endorses need for dialogue and neutrality on Venezuela

Against a background of rapidly changing events, external pressure and inter-regional acrimony, Caribbean governments have begun to develop a more unified response to recent developments in Venezuela.

After initially being divided over the deteriorating internal situation in Venezuela, most Caribbean nations have now recognised the dangers inherent to a complete breakdown of law and order in the country, the danger of a civil war or invasion and an ensuing refugee crisis.

To this end, St Kitts-Nevis’ Prime Minister, Dr Timothy Harris, as pro tempore chair of CARICOM, led a regional delegation to Uruguay to participate in an international meeting on 7 February which aimed at trying to achieve a single, neutral position on dialogue. The meeting, which was convened by Mexico and Uruguay, agreed to create a basis for dialogue involving all Venezuelan forces with the objective of restoring stability and peace.

The other CARICOM leaders participating were the Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, and the Trinidad Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley.

Their decision to identify a basis for dialogue followed a lengthy and at times difficult video conference held on 31 January, to discuss a regional position in the light of pressure from the US, Canada, the EU which have recognised the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s President, and other countervailing representations from Russia, China and Cuba support President Maduro.

Participants in the CARICOM meeting included regional leaders from Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St Lucia, St Vincent, Suriname, and Trinidad. Haiti, however, did not participate.

Despite this, comments and statements in public and private suggest the region remains divided on the detail and how to react to the position of the US Administration.

Speaking to the Miami Herald on 25 January, the Prime Minister of St Vincent, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, accused the US of “carrying out a coup d’état,” while Antigua’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, reportedly described US recognition of Guaidó as President as “setting an extremely dangerous precedent … which has absolutely no basis in law”. The publication also quoted him as saying that it was “an affront to democracy within the hemisphere.”

In contrast, Haiti, which recognised Guaidó as the legitimate President of Venezuela in an Organization of American States (OAS) declaration, continues to do so while St Lucia and Jamaica, which originally took the same position, now endorse CARICOM declaration on non-interference and non-intervention, highlighting the danger of “increasing volatility” in the region.

In his remarks to the Miami Herald, Antigua’s Prime Minister suggested that many CARICOM leaders had been operating out of fear.

“If we are going to continue to aid and abet these excesses by powerful nations, then the cycle will continue” …. “In fact, we may even see more brazen interventions into other countries in the Caribbean because it seems to me that the standard we are setting now is, ‘If you do not agree with a regime and you have sufficient power, you can literally appoint a leader.’ I can’t see how anyone can support that principle,” Browne told the publication.

CARICOM has also been highly critical of the position taken by the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro in relation to recognising Guaidó.

In a 31 January letter, the St Kitts Prime Minister as chair of CARICOM instructed Almagro to express its “disapproval and grave concern” … “that you, in your capacity as Secretary General, have adopted, by recognising the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó as interim President of (Venezuela)”. “This type of unilateral action by a head of an international organisation, whose membership comprises sovereign states, is a clear departure from normal practice and cause for great concern,” Prime Minister Harris wrote.

The letter followed a meeting involving the Prime Ministers of St Kitts, Barbados and Trinidad with the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, at which Trinidad’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, criticised Almagro for “advocating, virtually the overthrow of the Venezuelan Government”. In New York the three leaders also met with the permanent representatives of Canada, Russia, the EU and the African Union to discuss the political situation in Venezuela.

Unlike most of its CARICOM neighbours, the Dominican Republic formally endorsed Guaidó as interim President of Venezuela, in a 24 January OAS statement.

Meanwhile, there are indications that the next flash point may come over attempts by the US and its allies to deliver humanitarian assistance to Venezuela, possibly though the country’s self-declared interim President.

Reports from Curaçao and Aruba suggest that supplies may be prepositioned there as well as in Colombia and Brazil and possibly Puerto Rico for shipment into Venezuela, an action that the Venezuelan military and the Maduro Government oppose.

Reports in the Dutch media say that the situation on Curaçao and Aruba is being closely monitored by the Dutch Government which has responsibility for Foreign Affairs and Defence, although the islands have an independent status within the Kingdom. The reports suggest that the Netherlands has drawn up contingency plans to address a refugee crisis or an internal conflict in Venezuela. At present there are about 1,100 military personnel on the three Dutch speaking islands mainly engaged in counter narcotics activities.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.