Wed | Jul 17, 2019

Editorial | Venezuela’s call for foreign policy discourse

Published:Tuesday | February 5, 2019 | 12:25 AM

The need for the Holness administration to clearly articulate, and submit for public debate, its vision for Jamaica’s foreign policy, and the philosophy upon which it rests, has become even more apparent, and urgent, given the inelegance, and absence of symmetry, with which it has approached the crisis in Venezuela.

The administration appears to have no clear end-game and, if it does, its strategies and tactics for achieving its goals seem not to have been fully formulated. The upshot is a sense of uncertainty and second-guessing.

It has long been plain that the current Jamaican administration isn’t enamoured with Nicolas Maduro who, even some regional beneficiaries of Caracas’ oil largess believe, has incompetently managed his country’s economy and has a tendency to authoritarian rule. But in the debate over Venezuela, Jamaica has gone further than most of its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners and many of its colleagues in the Americas.

In 2017, it voted in favour of a resolution at the Organisation of American States (OAS) which would have set the basis, ultimately, for the suspension of Venezuela from the hemispheric organisation. And last month Jamaica announced it would use legislation to take back Venezuela’s 49 per cent stake in the Petrojam oil refinery and followed-up days later by voting with 18 other OAS members – including three from CARICOM – St Lucia, The Bahamas and Guyana – in declining to recognise the legitimacy of Mr Maduro’s presidency, after he was sworn-in for a second term, on the basis of controversial elections.

Jamaica claimed that the decision about the refinery shares, which it said was because of deadlocked negotiations, and the OAS vote, a political matter, were not related, an argument many people find unconvincing. If the actions were the outcome of hardnosed policy analyses, then so be it.

In that event, we would have expected that the Mandarins of the foreign ministry would have anticipated the consequences of the OAS vote, and how it would have influenced the dynamics of Venezuela’s internal politics, especially when the decision to question what is essentially the constitutionality of Mr Maduro’s presidency was initiated by the United States.

SURPRISE MOVE

In that environment, no one should have been surprised when Juan Guaido, the youthful president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim Venezuela president – though most constitutional scholars find no basis to support his action – and was swiftly recognised by the United States, Canada and Latin American opponents of Mr Maduro.

Indeed, Mr Guaido would hardly have made this move without prior consultation with, and offer of support from the Trump administration and other key members of the Lima Group, on whose periphery Jamaica has fraternised in formulating policy towards Venezuela at the OAS.

Against this backdrop, many people will be surprised that Jamaica, in response to Mr Guaido’s declaration, is at one with CARICOM partners, in warning against the further destabilisation of the Venezuelan situation and telling all parties to the conflict, internal and external, to be wary of escalating an already explosive situation.

With fears of civil war deepening, and the Americans hinting of possible intervention to remove Mr Maduro, CARICOM, apparently with Jamaica’s full backing, too, went to the United Nations, to argue against foreign intervention and promote dialogue in Venezuela.

The community, without dissent, meaning Jamaica would have been onboard, has also publicly rebuked the OAS general secretary Luis Almargo, for asserting, on his own steam, the legitimacy of Mr Guaido’s self-declared presidency.

The images of countries such as Libya and Iraq, we suppose, now loom large – superimposed on Venezuela.

The tensions between the unanimous CARICOM positions and the decision by Jamaica, The Bahamas, St Lucia and Guyana at the OAS are stark.

In Jamaica’s case, it follows recent foreign policy actions, including its abstention in the UN vote against America’s decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, which analysts perceive as a realignment of its Middle East policy that is drawing closer to the Jewish state.

We should have an open policy debate of these matters, assisted by old foreign policy hands, who, in the past, demonstrated a depth of vision that hasn’t been on display recently.