BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Friday May 19, 2017 – The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has served notice that no amount of pressure will lead the regional grouping to turn its back on troubled Venezuela, even as at least four member states break ranks on the matter.
The issue is a key talking point for regional foreign ministers meeting at the 20th meeting of the CARICOM Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) underway in Barbados.
Speaking with reporters yesterday on the sidelines of the two-day meeting, outgoing COFCOR chairman Sir Louis Straker played down dissent raised by St Lucia, Guyana, Jamaica and The Bahamas, saying CARICOM would not abandon Venezuela in its time of need.
“There might be one or two countries [that may not go along with the grouping], but overwhelmingly, CARICOM is in support of Venezuela,” said the St Vincent and the Grenadines Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.
He reminded those “straddling the fence” that the Bolivarian Republic “has been pro-CARICOM and has done more for CARICOM than some of the big powers, and they should stand by Venezuela”.
“It is much to our detriment if we allow ourselves to be manipulated into a situation where we side with the bigger powers who are stirring up things in Venezuela and want regime change. We should not go that way,” he said firmly.
Sir Louis charged that some within the Organization of American States (OAS) were pushing for the Nicholas Maduro government to step aside, and CARICOM must take a strong stance on the matter.
“There are others who might have ulterior motives in trying to get regime change in Venezuela . . . .There are those who want to impose their will and stir up strife in Venezuela and we will not support that kind of thing, and no amount of pressure can be brought on St Vincent and the Grenadines or on CARICOM.”
He specifically condemned the actions of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, charging that his actions were “totally out of order” and that he had insulted Maduro by going beyond “the normal diplomatic channels and the normal diplomatic norms to express his views on Venezuela”.
Just last week, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves blasted moves by what he called a “a small group of powerful nations” within OAS making attempts to dilute CARICOM’s collective strength by dividing the regional states in a bid to overthrow Maduro.
“There is clearly a calculated strategy in place by a group of nations to achieve regime change in Venezuela by using the OAS as a weapon of destruction,” Gonsalves said, while accusing Almagro of being a “chosen and willing tool” in the plot.
Since April, Caracas has been gripped by violent protests that have resulted in the deaths of some 40 people.
Opposition forces have been demanding early elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid to offset the economic crisis, and autonomy for the Opposition-controlled legislature.
Sir Louis told reporters he was anxious for peace and stability to return to Venezuela, but he strongly condemned the pressure being imposed on the democratically elected Maduro government.
Recently, the Caribbean Chapter of the International Network in Defense of Humanity called on CARICOM leaders to send a fact-finding mission to Caracas for “an informed analysis” about the state of affairs there.
However, Sir Louis told journalists there was nothing happening in Venezuela that required fact-finding. Instead, he said, there was need for “some kind of dialogue between the opposing forces”, but that was becoming difficult because “the opposing forces feel they have the secretary general of the OAS on their side, and some large states on their side who are aiding and abetting the kind of turbulence you have in Venezuela”.