As international pressure continues mounting against Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro’s administration, Caricom leaders are heading to Thursday’s Uruguay summit seeking dialogue to resolve the Venezuelan crisis.
And Organisation of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro has responded sharply to critics of sanctions against Maduro, saying it was a “serious mistake if an official seeks to validate an illegitimate government.” Almagro expressed the sentiments last Friday, a day after Caricom chairman Dr Timothy Harris (St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister) criticised Almagro’s “unilateral” stance in accepting Venezuelan National Assembly head Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.
Maduro and Guaido have been in a standoff over recent weeks after Guaido declared himself interim president following elections which Venezuela’s Opposition branded invalid.
Increasing numbers of international countries—including the US and now the UK—back Guaido and up to yesterday about 13 European states had declared support for him after Maduro failed to heed their call for fresh elections. Maduro also reacted angrily to the European developments.
The UK is now examining sanctions against Venezuela, as the US has already implemented. The US last Sunday warned that military options remain on the table. Russia, China, Cuba and other states support Maduro but Caricom remains neutral and open to being an international broker in the matter.
As pressure has mounted, Maduro’s position has adjusted. His latest position last Sunday—when demonstrations were held by his supporters as well as Guaido’s—was to propose bringing forward 2020 parliamentary elections to this year. But he remained silent on the European Union’s call for presidential elections and demands for his resignation.
On the impact of the impasse on T&T, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who is attending Thursday’s Uruguay conference, spoke to reporters about that meeting following yesterday’s Energy Conference. Rowley also gave an update on T&T’s energy situation, including Venezuelan aspects, assuring local gas production is on the rise.
Rowley’s expected to leave for Uruguay today, Government officials said yesterday. He’s attending along with Caricom chairman Harris and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Caricom last Friday agreed on their attendance after the trio led recent talks in New York with the United Nations on the Venezuelan crisis.
The governments of Mexico and Uruguay have called for the Uruguay conference with representatives from the main countries and international organisations which hold a neutral position towards Venezuela. Its purpose is to lay the foundation for establishing a new mechanism for dialogue that—with the inclusion of all Venezuelan forces—will contribute to restoring stability and peace there.
Guaido last Friday rejected the request to participate in the Uruguay talks. He instead wrote the leaders of Uruguay and Mexico urging them to support the struggle to remove Maduro. Meanwhile, Maduro has supported the meeting. He also wrote to Pope Francis yesterday seeking help “in the process of facilitating/reinforcing dialogue.”
While the meeting Caricom is attending focuses on dialogue, another meeting is also being held in Uruguay on Thursday by 12 European Union and Latin American countries. This is aimed at enabling new elections under democratic conditions - but not to mediate with the Maduro government. They’ve set a 90-day timetable to help resolve the crisis.
Yesterday, Caricom officials told the T&T Guardian, that Caricom states aren’t caving in on the dialogue calls. They explained that Caricom chairman Harris’ recent reference to some islands being already affected by the Venezuelan crisis meant the influx of Venezuelans to T&T and Guyana.
OAS hits critics of its Venezuela stance
Caricom’s January 31 criticisms of the OAS head’s position on Venezuela appeared to have received indirect “reply” from OAS leader Luis Almagro’s subsequent statement of February 1.
Caricom chairman Dr Timothy Harris had expressed Caricom’s “disapproval and grave concern” about Almagro’s “unilateral” stance in accepting Guaido as interim president. Harris said Caricom leaders felt Almagro’s action “without the authority of the member states of the organisation,” was considered inappropriate. Caricom said it was imperative Almagro publicly clarify that he “didn’t speak on behalf of all member states.”
T&T Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also blamed Almagro for “taking on the presidency of Venezuela and was advocating virtually an overthrow of the Venezuelan government.”
The OAS’ local office had no response on Caricom’s criticism. But in Almagro’s February 1 statement he defended sanctions against Venezuela, which he said was the peaceful way to recover democracy. He said he “sharply disagreed with the position of UN experts who speak out against sanctions against the corrupt and human rights violations while they remain silent in the face of the massive crisis created by the (Maduro) regime.”