Opposition Leader condemns Rowley’s ostrich-like approach to the gathering storm in neighbouring Venezuela
For decades, our nation has had fraternal and cordial relations with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Not only are they our neighbours, but many are also family of some of our citizens. In this context, we condemn the Rowley government’s ostrich-like approach to the gathering storm in neighbouring Venezuela.
The gathering storm is demonstrated by, inter alia, the following:
(1) The Numerous Challenges of the Venezuelan People
There is no doubt that the people of Venezuela have been faced with growing challenges due to economic decline, international sanctions, poverty, political instability, and human rights concerns, all of which have undermined the basic quality of life of the average Venezuelan.
Energy Minister Franklin Khan has claimed to be unaware of the growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela while at the same time trumpeting the secret Dragon Gas Field deal.
The crisis has reached such a critical point that international media has reported a new wave of pirates is sweeping the Caribbean in their effort to escape poverty in Venezuela.
(2) The Increasing Isolation of the Venezuelan Government both Regionally and Internationally
We have taken note of the growing isolation of the Venezuelan government both regionally and internationally.
The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) has voted to not recognize the legitimacy of the Nicholas Maduro’s new term of office which began 10 January. The OAS General Assembly had previously declared that the May 20, 2018 election in Venezuela was illegitimate for not meeting international standards, for having the participation of all Venezuelan political actors and for being carried out without the necessary guarantees for a free, fair, transparent, and democratic process.
Sanctions have been placed against the Venezuelan government not only by the US but also by Colombia, Canada, Panama, Mexico and the EU.
In particular, the Lima Group (which includes Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Guyana) has strongly condemned “the use of the Venezuelan state security and justice apparatus to persecute political opponents …and the continued violations of the Venezuelan Constitution….”
(3) The Growing Military and Economic Presence of Foreign Powers in Region
To further complicate the above pressing challenges, there are indications of a growing military and economic presence of Russia in Venezuela, including the provision of nuclear capable bombers.
Additionally, Iran has signaled its intention to send 2-3 warships on a mission to Venezuela armed with anti-aircraft and anti-ship guns, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and electronic warfare capabilities.
These developments have serious National Security implications for our twin island Republic as potentially destabilizing factors have been introduced into our geo-political situation. Yet, the Government has been silent on the matter.
(4) The Need to Fulfill CARICOM Obligations
These matters are of great concern to CARICOM especially in light of Venezuela’s non-participation in a case filed by Guyana with the International Court of Justice to clarify boundaries between the two nations.
The silence from PM Rowley is deafening especially as our country is in charge of the security portfolio within CARICOM.
We are faced with the risk of diplomatic isolation given our ambiguity on Venezuela with consequences for our citizens’ long-term interest and economic survival.
At this historic juncture in the evolution of hemispheric geo-strategic policy articulation, our nation demands forthright and unambiguous leadership. I am committed to this objective.
We must avoid diplomatic isolation at all costs. Our primary concern must be to protect the future of Trinidad and Tobago.
In this regard, the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago deserve a Government which operates transparently mindful of the need to preserve our relationships with all regional and international trading partners. Instead, we have an Administration whose incompetence has led to a plethora of diplomatic errors and embarrassments
We must nudge Venezuela in the direction of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Rowley and his regime are clearly out of their depth in managing this crisis, the strategic implications of which they appear not to fully comprehend.
We sympathize with the People of Venezuela and condemn all acts of human rights abuse inflicted on them that undermine their freedom.
Our country needs a Government dedicated to our traditional foreign policy of neutrality and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries as well as one which recognizes that our interests will be best served by being an honest broker, bringing both sides to the table in an effort to achieve a lasting peace. This requires a level of maturity, focus and diplomatic adroitness which does not at present exist in our foreign policy.
Traditionally we have worked with CARICOM, where our country holds the security portfolio, to achieve some of our foreign policy goals. CARICOM therefore provides a forum for dealing with the Venezuelan issue but this requires leadership on our part which Keith Rowley long surrendered within that institution.
I am calling on Dr Rowley to stop playing games with our future, level with the population, understand the geo-political, economic and socio-cultural importance of our relations with our large but now impoverished neighbor. We will pay a significant price in the future if we do not manage our relations with Venezuela today. Our foreign policy towards Venezuela must therefore be characterized by long term strategic considerations, must survive whatever changes occur, and must represent the best interests of the citizens of both Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
If for whatever reason Dr Rowley is not capable of providing the required leadership, he must do the honourable thing and resign forthwith.
Trinidad and Tobago deserve better.
K. Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP