CARICOM sends delegation to New York to discuss Venezuela

Bert Wilkinson | 1/31/2019, 12:11 p.m.
Current Chairman and Prime Minister of St. Kitts Timothy Harris led the delegation to the talks at U.N. headquarters in ...

Caribbean Community nations rushed a high-level delegation of prime ministers to New York this week for talks with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the worsening political, economic and humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela as concerns about the negative fallout on the region increase daily, officials said.

Current Chairman and Prime Minister of St. Kitts Timothy Harris led the delegation to the talks at U.N. headquarters in the city after a string of worrying developments in the South American nation in recent weeks.

Alarm bells rang out in the region last week when the U.S. decided to back opposition figure Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly, as a self-declared interim president while declaring the latest five-year term of controversial President Nicolas Maduro to be illegal.

Worried that the chaos might reach new levels, CARICOM convened an emergency heads of government meeting in Trinidad late last week and immediately offered to play the role of a good offices mediator among international community nations that have sided with the so-called interim president, the U.S. and Venezuela. Successive American administrations have made no political bones about wanting to see the back of the Maduro regime. President Donald Trump just last week said all options, military action included, remained on the table in dealing with the removal of Maduro, who Washington sees as a brutal dictator.

The regional delegation also included prime ministers Mia Mottley of Barbados, Keith Rowley of Trinidad, Grenadian Foreign Minister Peter David and CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque. In a statement after their Trinidad meeting last week, the 15-nation grouping said that CARICOM had “offered their good offices to facilitate dialogue among all the parties to resolve a deepening crisis.” The statement continued, “They expressed grave concern about the plight of the people of Venezuela and the increasing volatility of the situation, brought about by recent developments which could lead to further violence, confrontation, breakdown of law and order and greater suffering for the people of the country. Heads of government reiterated that the longstanding political crisis, which has been exacerbated by recent events, can only be resolved peacefully through meaningful dialogue and diplomacy.”

But just as the statement was being issued, the American ambassador to Trinidad, Joseph Mondello, bizarrely tried to chide the government in Port of Spain for still recognizing Maduro as president, describing the government’s position as “deeply concerning” and the Maduro regime as “undemocratic and illegitimate.”

But Rowley stood firm, calling for mediation while defending his administration’s stance. After all, Trinidad is just 7 miles across open water from Venezuela. Guyana also neighbors the finance-starved country. Trinidad is currently playing host to almost 40,000 mostly Venezuelan refugees, and the figure in Guyana is climbing closer to 5,000, with daily visits by people in border region seeking medical and other forms of assistance. Trinidad has several oil and gas agreements with Venezuela and appears to be protecting its national interest rather than siding with the U.S. and other nations that oppose Maduro.

Despite the unified effort by CARICOM to mediate in the dispute, the region was split three separate ways during a recent vote at the Organization of American States in Washington on Venezuela. Trinidad voted to recognize Maduro, whereas others such as Guyana, which has a simmering border dispute with Venezuela, voted against Maduro. Several other nations abstained.

The regional delegation will head to Washington for talks with congressional and other leaders about the situation. Several member states have close relations with Venezuela and depend on it for oil and petroleum product supplies. They fear current arrangements could fall through if there is a drastic regime change there.