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Professor sees PetroCaribe backlash
Unrest in neighbouring Venezuela can have consequences not only for T&T but also for neighbouring Caricom states involved in Petrocaribe and oil energy arrangements with Venezuela, says UWI Professor Anthony Gonzales. He spoke about the situation after unrest in Venezuela in the last two weeks. UWI’s Institute of International Relations will assess the situation across the Gulf at a panel discussion at noon tomorrow at UWI. Speakers will include Gonzales, Dr Mark Kirton, Dr Michelle Scobie and Dr Armando Garcia.
Gonzales said there were implications for T&T and the region arising from the Venezuelan unrest, including whether Venezuelans flee to T&T. He noted that since the last Chavez administration several Venezuelans had come to T&T and it had shocked him that some middle-class affected by the policies there had started to flee to T&T. He said if it continued and there was more repression and Opposition supporters were jailed, more would likely look to come this way.
Gonzales did not anticipate any increase in trade with Venezuela and T&T due to lack of foreign exchange there. Of great concern, however, he said, was how the unrest could affect neighbouring regional islands who depended on Venezuela for oil, via the Alba (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas) and Petrocaribe arrangements.
“They in Venezuela have been under pressure to change it. The subsidy from the Venezuelan source is very crucial and several islands, including Jamaica, St Vincent and recently Grenada, have joined the arrangement, so one needs to watch that and the fallout from it,” Gonzales added. He told the T&T Guardian Venezuela was facing a crisis such as it never faced in the last 15 years since the current Government came to power.
He agreed deceased president Hugo Chavez, formerly that Government’s dominant personality, was gone and with that, various things have been falling apart, including causing division in the Chavez movement and a further deteriorating economic situation even more than it was in Chavez’s time.
“It’s now causing even independent Venezuelans to ask questions, particularly because the economic situation is very bad along with high inflation rates, lack of basic foodstuffs, insecurity, lack of access to foreign exchange and other woes.” he said. He added: “I think those who govern should try for consensus- building if you don’t have a majority in this situation.
“The Government has not reached out to the Opposition and needs to take them into account,though we notice they have now invited the Opposition to a meeting but the detention of one of the Opposition leaders (Leopoldo Lopez) may affect that.” Gonzales said he felt Chavez’s personality might have made a difference. He said: “He had charisma and held them all together despite shortages and other issues affecting Venezuela.
“But it’s a ticklish situation as the government has a fair amount of power and won’t yield this. One may ask if the situation may occur as it did recently in the Ukraine but they need to start somewhere.” Gonzales said the government needed, for instance, to try and accommodate the opposition in government somehow and show it is moving things forward. He noted: “The Government is elected until 2019. If the economic situation deteriorates further, they are likely to see more of these crises occurring.
“There are many unknowns in the equation, including how the military may react. Any split in the army could be very dangerous. “Chavez built the army as a very united unit and its leaders were influential in government, so it remains to be seen how they hold together, particularly if disorder continues.”