Dr Raymond Mark Kirton, senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies Institute of International Relations, says the relationship between T&T and Venezuela is not likely to change if re-elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez completes his next six-year term. He spoke in a telephone interview yesterday after Chavez, who has been in power for the past 14 years, won Sunday's presidential election with 54 per cent of the votes.
He added: "I will say there will basically be a level of continuity while there are concerns in the region about whether his health would allow for a complete term. If something were to happen to him, it could mean changes to the foreign policy of Venezuela." For the past year, Chavez has been battling cancer which some believe is terminal.
According to Kirton, Chavez has been at the forefront of the regional bloc Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in which T&T has actively participated. He believes this is a good sign of a continuing stable relationship. However, Kirton said T&T and other Caribbean countries should take a closer look at the potential of the Bolivian Alliance of the Americas, an international trade organisation.
He added: “We have to look at the situation of the Caribbean in the absence of a Caricom energy policy. Countries continue to develop a strong energy policy so they don’t become dependent on Petrocaribe, which could come to an end if something happens to Chavez.” Petrocaribe is an oil alliance between many Caribbean states and Venezuela.
The Venezuelan embassy in Port-of-Spain recorded a high number of expat voters yesterday according to attache officials. However, Kirton said whether or not expats supported Chavez would have no bearing on the T&T/Venezuela relationship.He added: “There has been a strong cultural link over the years between Venezuela and Trinidad, regardless of who was in office and I don’t see any change in terms of preference for the opposition. I see the emergence of a stronger cultural link which does not have a political dimension.”
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon agreed that there was no threat to the cultural links between T&T and Venezuela and congratulated Chavez for winning democratically. However, she told the T&T Guardian during a break in the budget debate at Parliament yesterday there were issues needing urgent attention. She said: “There are things that we would like some progress on as fast as possible and we have not always had that. This is with regard to energy matters, joint fields shared between the two countries and outstanding fishing agreements.”