US-Caricom meeting on Venezuela postponed

Bert Wilkinson | 3/7/2019, 11:14 a.m.

Washington has asked for a postponement of a meeting with a group of Caribbean Community leaders on the situation in Venezuela, days after the region made it clear that the people of the oil and gas-rich South American nation should be allowed to decide their own future and not be subjected to the diktats of outsiders.

In more than a veiled reference to the Trump administration which has persistently made it clear that military intervention to topple the regime of President Nicolás Maduro remains on the table, regional leaders said they are unhappy with the level of suffering in Venezuela which has been exacerbated by the recent imposition of economic sanctions by the U.S.

“The people of Venezuela must be allowed to decide their own future in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter—non-intervention, non-interference, prohibition of the threat or use of force, respect for the rule of law, human rights and democracy,” leaders said in a special statement at the end of their half yearly meeting in St. Kitts in the past week. “As Caricom has ceaselessly advocated, for this objective to be attained, there has to be a meaningful and internal dialogue between the contending parties. This dialogue must determine how best the crisis can be resolved within the confines of the constitution and the rule of law, whether by referendum, elections or any other agreed mechanism. Nothing short of this will lead to the quelling of this crisis or provide the relief that all Venezuelans desire,” the statement said.

It was issued several days before the U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain informed Prime Minister Keith Rowley at the weekend that a meeting that was planned with a select group of heads of government this week had been postponed at Washington’s request.

Rowley told reporters that the American mission “gave reasons of one kind or another, I don’t really want to get into it if they are not available or they are not available. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. If they wanted to see what they do know we are available to be seen. Maybe their scheduling did not allow it.”

With memories still fresh from the October 1983 American invasion of Grenada, the region remains nervous about the destabilizing and other effects of any military action just across the Gulf of Paria as neighboring countries like Trinidad and Guyana fear being swamped in greater numbers by refugees who would flee if open warfare breaks out.

Trinidad already has more than 40,000 Venezuelans on the island while Guyana is monitoring a steady flow from border jungle regions. Officials have put the tally at about 6,000 and have been forced to beef up medical and other state services to cope with an increasing number of arrivals in mostly native Amerindian communities.

The meeting was scheduled to take place in the U.S. capital Wednesday, March 6, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Washington has been quietly lobbying the region for a softer stance on Venezuela but leaders are maintaining that dialogue rather than political and economic hostility is the better way to handle the crisis given the burdens the current state of affairs has put on Venezuelans.

The leaders also took a swipe at the Maduro administration contending that “there must be a commitment to the delivery of humanitarian aid in a manner that is not politicized but which uses United Nations mechanisms that have been used over the years for the impartial and effective delivery of humanitarian relief.”