The United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Joseph Mondello broke protocol yesterday, issuing a statement in which he all but accused National Security Minister Stuart Young of lying about a conversation which they had on May 6 about the visit of Venezuela Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez’s visit to T&T.
Mondello, via a press release, said he did, in fact, discuss T&T’s breach of the Rio Treaty with Young during the meeting. Mondello said he expressed his “concern to the Minister in that conversation about the consistency of (Venezuelan Vice-President) Delcy Rodriguez’s visit to Port-of-Spain” and the country’s obligations to the Rio Treaty.
The US Ambassador acknowledged the rarity of such a public response from an Ambassador on a matter discussed with host governments.
“Normally, I do not comment on private conversations with host government officials,” Mondello said.
However, he “affirmed” that he and Young did, in fact, discuss the Government’s March 27 meeting with Rodriguez and that T&T had breached the Rio Treaty when Rodriguez was allowed to land in the country.
But in a response to Mondello’s statement last evening, Young said his comments in the Upper House were “misconstrued.”
“I never said that the Ambassador did not raise the visit of Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez nor did I say that the Ambassador did not raise the Rio Treaty,” Young said.
“What I said was the breach of treaty was not raised.
“The Ambassador did speak to me and I did not indicate what we spoke about. I do not believe it was proper to provide the details of our discussion.”
Young said that the “only thing I said, in response to a question raised in Parliament, was that no breach of the treaty was raised; meaning that it was not positively put to me that Trinidad and Tobago has breached the treaty.”
Young reiterated that the United States of America remains an important ally and Trinidad and Tobago continues to have a good working relationship with mutual benefits to our two countries.
He also noted that an extract of his statement on the issue was available on Hansard.
The Rio Treaty, otherwise known as the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, is an agreement between countries in the Western Hemisphere as part of a mutual defence system.
“Article 20 of the Rio Treaty makes it unambiguously clear that all measures imposed by the Organ of Consultation—like the travel restrictions on Ms Rodriguez—are binding on all treaty parties, whether or not they voted in favour of such measures,” Mondello said in the release.
On May 12, Guardian Media reported that the United States Embassy had said that Government had violated the Rio Treaty by allowing the Rodriguez visit.
According to that statement from the US Embassy, “Delcy Rodriguez is subject to travel sanctions that are binding on all Rio Treaty parties, and Trinidad and Tobago is a party to the treaty.”
The treaty provides for mutual assistance if an act of aggression threatens the peace of the Western Hemisphere.
Back in September, the signatories met to discuss and vote on whether to employ the regional treaty to impose sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
In that meeting, convened by the Organisation of the American States, 16 of the 19 signatories agreed to abide by the Rio Treaty and supported using the agreement to collaborate on law enforcement operations and economic sanctions against Maduro and his associates. T&T abstained from voting at that meeting but the country is still bound by the agreement. Uruguay voted against it and Cuba was absent.
Speaking to the media after that abstention, Prime Minister Dr Rowley said that the vote was an attempt to put pressure on Venezuela by use of military intervention.
Last Wednesday (May 13) in the Senate, in response to a question from UNC Senator Wade Mark, Young said he had spoken with the Ambassador and that there was no issue arising out of the meeting with Rodriguez.
“As I have said, Madam President, we continue to have open channels of communication. In fact, last week the United States Government’s head and top diplomat in Trinidad and Tobago, that is, the Ambassador, not any underling who may or may not be speaking to the media, the United States Ambassador had a conversation with me, as a representative of the Cabinet level of the Government, and there were other conversations had and there was no raising of the breach of any treaty.”
Young then accused people of engaging in mischief when they suggested otherwise.
Guardian Media sought a response from Rowley about Mondello’s surprise media statement.
“Were the details of the meeting communicated to you?” and “if this meeting happened on May 6, why did you, on May 10, say that there was no official word that the US was investigating T&T? Was this concern not communicate to you?”
There was no response.