T&T’s Prime Minister Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the leaders of two other countries who recently sought peace in Venezuela’s crisis aren’t among the five Caribbean leaders who’ve been invited to meet US President Donald Trump tomorrow on issues, including Venezuela.
While Rowley wasn’t on that invitation list, as word of Trump’s meeting was announced by the White House yesterday, US Ambassador Joseph Mondello held discussions with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar at her Port-of-Spain office.
Communication Minister Stuart Young told reporters yesterday the issue of the Trump meeting and other issues will be addressed today. He declined to confirm or deny if Rowley—back from his US health check—will be doing the speaking.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had said earlier yesterday that Trump will meet with the leaders of five Caribbean nations “in an effort to strengthen cooperation on security and trade issues.” Sanders said Trump will “also use will use the meeting to thank the leaders for their support for peace and democracy in Venezuela.”
Invitees are Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Bahamian Prime Minister Dr Hubert Alexander-Minnis, St Lucian Prime Minister Alan Chastanet, Dominica Republic President Danilo Medina and Haitian President Jovenel Moise.
Trump’s invitation was issued to leaders of four of the five Caribbean states which in January supported an Organization of American States (OAS) resolution refusing to recognise the legitimacy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s second term: Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti and St Lucia.
Guyana also supported the OAS vote. Dominica, St Vincent/Grenadines and Suriname voted against, while St Kitts, T&T, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Belize abstained.
Another invitee to Trump’s meeting, St Lucia—part of the Lima group of Canada and Latin states—indicated in February it didn’t support Maduro and called for fresh elections. The five invited leaders will meet Trump at his resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Sanders said Trump will discuss potential opportunities for energy investment with the leaders, adding the United States remains “a good friend to the Caribbean and seeks to build on a proud legacy as the region’s partner of choice.”
But noticeably missing from Trump’s “thank you” meeting are the three regional leaders who played a leading role recently in trying to resolve Venezuela’s crisis peacefully through dialogue: St Kitts/Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris (Caricom chairman), Rowley and Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
Trump’s caucus with the leaders comes two months after Venezuela’s political crisis arose when National Assembly leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president after what he dubbed “invalid elections.” The US and other countries have supported Guaido against embattled President Maduro. While Maduro’s held on, US sanctions against his administration intensified Tuesday. That day, Trump reiterated that “all options are on the table” regarding Venezuela, including military intervention. He said the “toughest sanctions” are ahead.
T&T and Caricom have maintained a non-intervention, non-interference policy on Venezuela. At the height of the crisis, a Caricom delegation comprising Harris, Rowley and Mottley went to the United Nations to lobby for peaceful resolution, also speaking to representatives of various other countries. They further attended a Uruguay meeting with Mexico and held talks with European representatives.
Although Caricom was initially divided on Maduro, the delegation attended the meetings with full Caricom support. Caricom’s input in Uruguay helped produce the Montevideo Mechanism for dialogue.
However, Caricom sources yesterday told the T&T Guardian that Caricom wasn’t snubbed for Trump’s meeting.
“The countries invited were all original members of the Lima Group in the OAS, which includes the US, Canada and other Latin countries. Guyana, also a member of that group, was also invited but the President is ill and couldn’t attend and only heads of government were allowed. Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis and T&T weren’t part of the Lima group,” the source said.
But they agreed the meeting “is an obvious move to divide Caricom on the Venezuela issue at least. At the OAS, Caricom’s 14 votes constitute a serious bloc which can determine how votes go, as only three more votes will give a majority. So not for the first time, the idea is to split the vote at the OAS for an initiative that’s forthcoming in support of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, whom Caricom has strongly lined up against. There’ll no doubt be an attempt for the five countries to emerge in support of Guaido and they’ll get some goodies.”
Caricom has been urged by some - including T&T’s Reginald Dumas- to propose a candidate to replace Almagro.