Editorial | Jamaica in the spotlight on Venezuela
While we are disappointed about the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) inability to arrive at a consensus on an approach to Venezuela's political crisis, we are encouraged by the Community's reiteration of the principle of "non-intervention and non-interference in the affairs of states".
But even more important, from a national point of view, we welcome the signal from the Jamaican Government that it won't be drawn, inadvertently or otherwise, from this convention. What Jamaica does later this week at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization of American States (OAS) will indicate how deeply this holds.
While the current iteration of Venezuela's situation, with its daily demonstrations and increasing death toll, is months old, it's really a problem nearly two decades old, since the 1999 election of the late Hugo Ch·vez as president and his efforts to place the country on a socialist path. Mr Ch·vez, who died in 2013, was not able to resolve the political and social tensions that he unleashed. But he was charismatic, immensely popular, and able to use Venezuela's oil wealth to finance programmes in favour of the poor. Mr Ch·vez kept on winning elections and referenda, including those aimed at changing the fundamental nature of the Venezuelan state. His opponents, however, accused him of being a dictator.
Nicol·s Maduro, Mr Ch·vez's hand-picked successor, has none of his predecessor's talents. Nor does he have the oil income to shore up a badly faltering economy.
And, as the results of the December 2015 legislative election when the Opposition won 64 per cent of the seats in the assembly, indicate, Mr Maduro's socialists no longer enjoy majority support in the country. But that does not mean they are without a substantial support or that Mr Maduro still heads the constitutionally elected government.
VICTIM OF DESTABILISATION
The Opposition wants to change the latter, insisting on presidential elections before they are due in 2018, and accuses the government of frustrating its efforts of gaining the required signatures to force a recall referendum. They also complain about the jailing of opposition politicians and the use of the courts to stymie the work of the legislature. The Maduro government says that it is the victim of destabilisation efforts by external and internal forces, directed primarily by the United States.
This newspaper is clear that it does not support Mr Maduro's economic policies, which continue to impoverish the Venezuelan people. We have, in the past, suggested that they might learn lessons from Jamaica's reform efforts. But from this distance, it seems to us that neither side is totally innocent of the accusations levelled against it.
Indeed, we have previously suggested to Jamaica and others in CARICOM, who have long-standing friendly relations with Venezuela and have benefited from its PetroCaribe oil facility, to talk frankly with President Maduro about their concerns and to offer the Community's good offices in mediating an internal dialogue. We are clear, as was exhibited in Jamaica's firm stance when powerful external forces orchestrated Jean-Bertrand Aristide's overthrow in Haiti in 2004, that constitutional order and legitimacy must prevail in the country.
The Venezuelan government, however, perceives efforts at regime change by its opponents in the hemisphere, and sees the recent vote, which Jamaica backed, for this week's consultation as part of this effort.
Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith's statement in the Senate last Friday, as well as her guest column in today's edition, articulates Jamaica's perspective on the issue. And we take our cue from Prime Minister Andrew Holness' recent letter on the issue to his Vincentian counterpart, Ralph Gonsalves, disagreeing with this week's meeting. Mr Holness said: "CARICOM should maintain a unified position, reaffirming that Venezuela should engage with its own national stakeholders through an inclusive and mediated national dialogue to resolve its domestic challenges. This is consistent with Jamaica's principle of non-interference in the domestic space of foreign countries."