Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continued its descent to a new low, having lost all pretense to regional unity. CARICOM’s shame is visited upon the organization by the actions, and in some cases inactions of its members. The issue which has laid bare many of the weaknesses inherent in this regional organization is the Venezuela crisis. Most importantly, CARICOM members are split on who is the legitimate president of Venezuela – Nicolás Maduro, elected president, versus Juan Guaidó, ‘interim president’. Guaidó who, as president of the General Assembly, was designated ‘interim president’ by the Trump administration which, determining that the Venezuelan presidential election won by Maduro was fraudulent, invoked provisions of the Venezuela constitution to unilaterally justify designation of Guaidó as ‘interim president’. Some 49 like-minded countries out of the other 192 sovereign states around the world soon followed the Trump administration’s lead. Many of the remaining 142 sovereign countries continue to either recognize Maduro or have not made a choice. Some of the fence-sitters do so because of fear of retribution from the Trump administration should they overtly recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
It is not within the remit of this article to re-litigate the legitimacy of elections in Venezuela, nor in my opinion is it a legitimate exercise by powerful countries to determine unilaterally whether any other country’s elections are legitimate. There are multilateral bodies with the requisite authority to do so. Suffice it to say, having led a ballot boycott of the recent Venezuela legislative elections, Guaidó is no longer a member of the General Assembly – the position on which authority the constitutional provision was applied to designate him ‘interim president’. It will be a difficult stretch for most of the other 49 countries to justify that Guaidó is still entitled to continue being recognized as ‘interim president’.
I am not opining on the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the conduct or outcome of the recent elections. My focus for this article is the disorganization, disunity, distrust, and perhaps betrayal within and among CARICOM member states.
In the interest of transparency, let me be clear! I have been critical about the way the government of Trinidad and Tobago recently handled Venezuelan immigrants-refugees who landed on the shores of Trinidad and were within the jurisdiction of the T&T government. Refugees have rights under international law and illegal immigrants have rights, even if lesser rights than citizens and legal residents, in any country which adheres to the rule of law and has jurisdiction over them. The right to protect persons within a country’s jurisdiction is an obligation of all United Nations Member States. But, that’s a completely different issue blaming the government of Trinidad and Tobago for the recent tragedy which befell the 25+ Venezuelans who lost their lives within the territorial jurisdiction of Venezuela. It matters not which country was their presumed destination. Trinidad being the presumed destination bore no responsibility. None!
Juan Guaidó, the so-called ‘interim president’ of Venezuela, was way out of line when he levelled blame on the government of Trinidad and Tobago for the deaths of the Venezuelans within Venezuela’s jurisdiction. It was loathsome for him to take his baseless vitriol to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, and given the opportunity to do so, shamefully aided and abetted by three CARICOM member states – The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti. While it is highly questionable the rationale and the legality of giving Guaido’s agent/representative access to the Permanent Council in the first place, it is shameful that three CARICOM member states would support giving him this opportunity to unjustifiably vilify a sister CARICOM member state. These three CARICOM member states voted in favor of giving Guaido’s agent the opportunity to falsely accuse the government of Trinidad and Tobago of culpability in the tragedy visited upon these hapless Venezuelans.
It’s difficult for me to understand, much less find justification, for why Jamaica, the sitting chair of the OAS Permanent Council at the time, failed to rule on whether to allow Guaido’s agent to level unfounded charges directly accusing the T&T government of culpability in the Venezuelan tragedy. This failure to rule by the Jamaica chair of the Permanent Council was a slap in the face of other CARICOM member states who raised timely objections. By ignoring the objections raised by the Representatives of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the chair implicitly gave Guaidó’s representative the imprimatur to attack the government of Trinidad and Tobago. This was yet another example of the governments of Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Haiti doing the bidding of the Trump administration, or being directed what to do, in the OAS. This is no longer a matter of debate. This has been the trend for almost two years.
In defense of the honor of Trinidad and Tobago, the government’s Representative in the OAS gave a robust defense dismissing any culpability of his government in the deaths of the Venezuelans, which should have been obvious to all. He firmly placed Guaidó’s representative/agent as a non-member of the OAS without any legal authority whatsoever to be recognized, or to speak as a representative of a sovereign state in the Permanent Council. In contrast, the governments of CARICOM member states who aided and abetted this travesty, and who continue to follow Trump administration’s Venezuela policies, further weakened CARICOM by their inexplicable actions – betrayal of a fellow CARICOM member state.
The shambolic foreign policies pursued by these and other Caribbean governments, marginalization of their countries’ sovereignty and independence now seem to be the norm. Their actions deepen the political divisions in the regional organization, thus making it progressively difficult for cooperation on critical issues facing the region.
Undeniably, the Venezuela refugee crisis places a significant burden on the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago. Why isn’t this a collective CARICOM concern? Shouldn’t Trinidad and Tobago’s burden be all CARICOM members responsibility? Dealing with the Venezuelan refugees flooding T&T should have been on CARICOM’s agenda and all member states should be seeking ways to assist. This includes speaking with one voice in regional and international organizations and using whatever diplomatic influence available collectively and individually to garner assistance to ease T&T’s burden.
A missed opportunity is the failure so far of the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, outgoing chair of CARICOM, to use its membership in the United Nations Security Council to advance the region’s interests, offer a robust defense of the Trinidad and Tobago government, and ensure T&T receives adequate UN and other international assistance to alleviate the burden of the refugee crisis. CARICOM lacks a permanent voice at the United Nations. I hope T&T’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, who assumes the chair of CARICOM in January 2021, makes changing these dynamics a priority.
The issues surrounding the situation in Venezuela are the most divisive I have seen in CARICOM. This disunity has been fueled by a series of actions by the Trump administration and used to play one against the other. It will be quite interesting to see how these governments pivot away from Trump when President-elect Joseph Biden takes office on January 20 2021. The dance should be entertaining.
© 2020 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
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