Outgoing Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) Sir Louis Straker of St Vincent and the Grenadines is confident CARICOM will stand behind the embattled Nicolas Maduro government in Venezuela, despite concerns raised by his own prime minister that the regional grouping was divided over the issue.
Speaking with reporters Thursday on the sidelines of COFCOR’s 20th meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Sir Louis gave the assurance that CARICOM would not abandon Venezuela in its time of need, adding that the South American nation had been “very good” to the Caribbean over the years.
It was the same assurance that the head of the Venezuelan embassy here Francisco Manuel Perez Santana said Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had given to Maduro, while assuring the Venezuelan leader he “will never act against the Venezuelan people”.
It was not clear if Stuart had given these assurances before or after Barbados, along with the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guyana and St Lucia, had broken ranks with the remainder of CARICOM and voted with the big countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) that want to kick Caracas out of the hemispheric body.
However, St Vincent and the Grenadines has been a staunch Maduro supporter, and Thursday Sir Louis repeated the very words used by the Vincentian prime minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves that some within the OAS were pushing for regime change in the oil producing country, something Sir Loius said the 14-member regional grouping would not tolerate.
“There are others who might have ulterior motives in trying to get regime change in Venezuela . . . There are those who want to impose their will and stir up strife in Venezuela and we will not support that kind of thing, and no amount of pressure can be brought on St Vincent and the Grenadines or on CARICOM. There might be one or two countries [that may not go along with the grouping], but overwhelmingly, CARICOM is in support of Venezuela,” he assured.
In a letter to fellow CARICOM leaders last week, Gonsalves had complained that the 15-member grouping was allowing “a small group of powerful nations” within OAS to dilute CARICOM’s collective strength by dividing the regional states in a bid to overthrow Maduro.
“A handful of powerful countries with an agenda of naked self interest has strategically invited select CARICOM countries to their meetings and ignored the others. In the result, they have succeeded in disuniting and weakening CARICOM countries whose only strength lies in our solidarity,” the Vincentian leader wrote in the letter dated May 10, 2017.
“There is clearly a calculated strategy in place by a group of nations to achieve regime change in Venezuela by using the OAS as a weapon of destruction,” Gonsalves added, while accusing OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro of being a “chosen and willing tool” in the plot.
The Uruguayan had proposed in March that Venezuela should be suspended from the OAS until fresh elections are held, but the proposal received little traction among several members. Instead, in what is being seen as a precursor for more stringent action, Barbados supported a vote in the permanent council on April 26 to hold an emergency meeting of foreign ministers, possibly as early as Monday, to discuss the situation in the Spanish-speaking country.
Venezuela has been hit by growing unrest, with at least 40 people killed and hundreds injured during protests that began in early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign humanitarian aid to offset the economic crisis, and autonomy for the opposition-controlled legislature. Maduro accuses the protestors of seeking a violent coup.
Stating that he wanted peace and stability to prevail, Sir Louis said Almagro’s actions were “totally out of order” and he had insulted Maduro by going beyond “the normal diplomatic channels and the normal diplomatic norms to express his views on Venezuela”.
Earlier this week the Caribbean chapter of the International Network in Defense of Humanity called on CARICOM leaders to send a fact-finding mission to Caracas for “an informed analysis” about the state of affairs there.
However, Sir Louis told journalists Thursday there was nothing happening in Venezuela that required fact-finding. Instead, he said, there was need for “some kind of dialogue between the opposing forces”, but that was becoming difficult because “the opposing forces feel they have the secretary general of the OAS on their side, and some large states on their side who are aiding and abetting the kind of turbulence you have in Venezuela”.
The Vincentian diplomat reminded those “straddling the fence” that the Bolivarian Republic “has been pro-CARICOM and has done more for CARICOM than some of the big powers, and they should stand by Venezuela”.
“It is much to our detriment if we allow ourselves to be manipulated into a situation where we side with the bigger powers who are stirring up things in Venezuela and want regime change. We should not go that way,” he said firmly.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Maxine McClean, who took over Thursday as chair of COFCOR, declined to comment on the matter.