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Venezuela crisis seen as The Iraq next door

Friday, February 28, 2014

Internet images of recent Venezuelan unrest which have gone viral feature the death of Venezuelan student with Trini roots. T&T journalist, Manuel Pantin, spoke about his cousin Roberto Redman yesterday at a forum held by the University of the West Indies (UWI’s) International Relations Department, St Augustine, on the Venezuelan situation. So far 16 have been killed, 140 wounded and about 700 arrested in Venezuela said UWI professor Dr Armando Garcia. A PHd student from UWI described the Venezuelan situation as “The Iraq next door.” Speakers at the forum included UWI international relations experts, Venezuelan scholar Reuben Smith and businessman Austin Agho who has long-standing Venezuelan ties. Agho displayed Internet images of the clashes which occurred recently, including a picture of Redman alive, holding a Venezuelan flag. He then showed a picture of Redman’s lifeless body lying in the street, blood running down the road.

In comments from the floor after, Pantin told the audience Redman was his cousin. He said his relative, Derek, who was born in T&T, had called him recently to inform him that his son, Roberto, was shot dead by motorcyclists in recent clashes. Pantin said Redman Jr, 31, was a pilot and only child and had lived in eastern Caracas. He said Redman Jr had visited T&T three years ago for Carnival and stayed at his (Pantin’s) sister’s Cascade home. “We had a talk about things in Venezuela and at that time he laughed off the situation,” Pantin added.
During the forum, T&T’s regional ambassador Edwin Carrington said T&T’s Ambassador to Caracas Anthony Edghill was now in T&T.He disclosed that after a member of the audience alluded to the ambassador’s presence. Carrington called on T&T’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to make a statement adopting a position of “intelligent neutrality” on the Venezuelan issue.
Carrington said he had seen ambassador Edghill yesterday morning as he was here for talks. He said the situation was a little difficult as Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran was in China with the Prime Minister’s delegation.

However, Carrington said Edghill had not come for Carnival but was here in light of the developments in Venezuela and in respect of T&T. Carrington said T&T’s Foreign Minster chairs Caricom’s Foreign Minister’s team and T&T therefore, had a wide responsibility to examine the impact of the situation apart from the fact that many regional states were involved with Venezuela’s Petrocaribe arrangement. He said the Venezuelan issue was one of certain sensitivity hoped to keep responses sensitive to all aspects.

UWI IR expert Dr Michelle Scobie had said it would be difficult for the region to take strong action as small states were sometimes dependent on others and that may cause reticence among leaders to make statements on such issues. UWI’s Dr Mark Kirton, saying the situation was “important for us all” said Latin American groups particularly could play a role in de-escalating the crisis. He said the situation was particularly important for Guyana and T&T which were closer to Venezuela distance-wise and where people had relatives. “There’s need for continued consciousness and dialogue on the issue regarding Venezuela,” Kirton said, adding Caricom should have started to deal with the humanitarian aspect of the situation for “our brothers and sisters who may be moving to safer ground” from Venezuela.

On concerns that the issue of fleeing Venezuelans be handled properly by T&T, professor Anthony Gonzales said historically T&T had dealt with that and so far there was no exodus of flotillas of Venezuelans headed to T&T nor had the situation reached the point of national outcry here. Gonzales noted how the absence of late President Hugo Chavez had affected the situation. He said Chavez had exercised more control over militia and similar groups and was uncertain such control existed now.

He said while the Maduro administration still had support, one could not write it off though protests have underscored the Government’s declining support. Gonzales said he did not think protests would reach full disorder in all states since the army was united. UWI’s Dr Armando Garcia said President Nicholas Maduro could not use the same path as Chavez since the generation involved was a new one. Smith said there was no easy solution to the Venezuelan crisis, save by dialogue and consensus.


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