No provision has been made or contemplated for the establishment of a military base in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the United States and Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar assured yesterday.
The Prime Minister’s office issued a press release yesterday confirming that Trinidad and Tobago has ratified the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. The release said the agreement governs the temporary presence of US military/defence personnel in Trinidad and Tobago for mutually agreed activities.
“This SOFA cannot be the basis for the establishment of an American military base in Trinidad and Tobago because it contemplates the temporary presence of US personnel in Trinidad and Tobago. No provisions are made or contemplated for the grant of facilities and areas to be utilised by the US military on the territory of Trinidad and Tobago,” the release stated.
The release said the agreement was intended to strengthen the existing excellent relationship between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States in matters of national and regional security.
Many political observers believe the US wanted a SOFA with this country, because of its proximity to Venezuela. Venezuela is increasingly becoming a transshipment point for illegal drugs to get to the Caribbean and Central America. There is not only the issue of drug-trafficking, but there are also terrorism concerns. Venezuela’s relations with Iran is a source of concern for the United States.
The question being asked locally is to what extent the SOFA would affect our relationship with Venezuela.
Former national security Minister Jack Warner yesterday declined comment on the decision to ratify SOFA. Warner had stated three weeks ago that he had serious concerns about SOFA.
“I did say (at Pierre Road) that SOFA was to recolonise Trinidad and Tobago and that Eric Williams (first prime minister) must be turning in his grave,” he confirmed. But he said yesterday he did not wish to say any more on the matter.
The Prime Minister’s release announcing the ratification of SOFA, came one day after the Express reported exclusively the same information, which had come from a question and answer format with Biden.
Biden told the Express: “Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) are international agreements clarifying co-operation with US armed forces deployed to a partner’s country. Such agreements are important so that we develop a shared understanding of how armed forces will interact with a host nation’s government, even in the absence of a base.
“These agreements not only strengthen, they promote our already well-developed cooperation.”
The US has SOFAs with over a 100 countries.
The Prime Minister’s release said the terms of the agreement will only become operative and applicable to particular exercises in which both governments mutually agree to engage.
“Mutually agreed activities are defined in the SOFA as “such activities for which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago shall transmit its approval in writing through diplomatic channels to the United States Authorities”, the release stated.
It added that in accordance with international practice, a determination on whether an action occurred during the course of official duties is customarily made by the relevant authorities of the sending state’s force who are in the best position to define what constitutes official duties of the members of that force.
“There is a provision in the current agreement that permits the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to become involved in such a determination. This enhances the scope of involvement by Trinidad and Tobago and diminishes the scope for unilateral action by the United States,” it stated.
As is the case with the previous SOFA (which was done for the Summit of the Americas in 2009), for the purpose of mutually agreed activities, US forces will be designated under the Trinidad and Tobago Visiting Forces Act, (Chapter 14:04 of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago), the statement noted.