Caricom upset with OAS for recognizing Venezuela’s interim pres

Bert Wilkinson | 2/7/2019, 12:02 p.m.

Staying in an active role in the ongoing situation in neighboring Venezuela, Caribbean Community governments this week chided the Organization of American States in Washington for recognizing Venezuela’s self-declared interim president without consulting the region, one of the largest voting blocs in the 35-nation grouping.

Bloc Chairman and Prime Minister of St. Kitts Timothy Harris told OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro that he has been ordered by the 15-nation grouping to formally record the region’s displeasure with the OAS for unilaterally moving to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president without garnering the opinion and views of the bloc, which has 14 of the 35 votes in that organization. Montserrat, still a British colony, is not allowed to vote.

In his missive to Almagro, the region head contended “this action on your part without the authority of the member states of the organization is considered inappropriate.” Harris noted, “Heads of government consider it imperative that you publicly clarify that you do not speak on behalf of all member states.”

The decision to write and rebuke the secretary-general followed a special emergency leaders meeting on the deteriorating situation late last month, when the region decided that it is in everyone’s best interest to closely monitor the situation there and to offer itself as a good offices neutral mediator between Venezuela and countries that are gunning for the ouster of a regime led by discredited President Nicolás Maduro.

Caricom has a vested interest in ensuring tensions are decreased and that the situation is settled without full-scale mayhem as several of its members, Trinidad and Guyana in particular, could be overrun by hungry, desperate refugees seeking shelter, food, medicine and protection across their borders. Trinidad already has 40,000 such refugees and Guyana’s numbers are swelling by the week and were up to 4,000 at the beginning of February.

More than a few Caricom member states depend on daily oil supplies from Venezuela under a 2005 PetroCaribe Initiative, which allows countries to barter for oil and petroleum products and benefit from delayed payments. Opposition parties in Venezuela have already said they would scrap such a deal if the situation changes, and this could leave many Caricom nations in the lurch for supplies. The bloc, meanwhile, has not hidden its disdain for the action of the secretary-general.

“This type of unilateral action by a head of an international organization, whose membership comprises sovereign states, is a clear departure from normal practice and cause for great concern. Disapproval and grave concern with regard to the position that you, in your capacity as secretary-general, have adopted, by recognizing the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela,” the letter stated.

As an indication of its ire at the OAS, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad also recorded his displeasure, noting that “Trinidad and Tobago as a country under the rule of law and a long standing member of the OAS and knowing the OAS Charter had objected to that because we always knew that if the situation worsened, or even before it worsened, that the OAS was our first port of call to have this matter dealt with through dialogue and negotiations. But the secretary-general without reference to us in the Caricom, we don’t know who else he had referred to, but without reference to us here in the Caricom, taking on from his office an attack on a member government—that created a problem for the OAS. Now that this new parallel government was declared in Venezuela, once again without reference to us here as members of the OAS, the secretary-general went ahead and recognized the new interim president,” he said.

Rowley was part of a team of prime ministers who went to New York in the past week to meet with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterras, offering the region’s services as a mediator and rejecting calls for military intervention in the region’s backyard.

A regional team including Chairman Harris of St. Kitts, Rowley and Mia Mottley of Barbados is scheduled to head to Uruguay later this week for a hemispheric conference on the situation.