Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Editorial | Diplomatic schizophrenia on Venezuela again

Published:Saturday | April 13, 2019 | 12:19 AM

The Holness administration’s policy on Venezuela is designed, we suppose, to reach some rational end, which this newspaper is yet to ascertain, and has been made no clearer by yesterday’s statement in the Senate on the matter by the foreign affairs minister, Kamina Johnson Smith.

Mrs Johnson Smith sought to provide the rationale for Jamaica’s vote to seat Gustavo Tarre as Juan Guaidó’s appointee as Venezuela’s permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS). But it turned out to be a hair-splitting treatise, with echoes of ex-party leader Bruce Golding’s famous quip about which skin Portia Simpson Miller occupied, when as prime minister, she suggested that people ask the People’s National Party, of which she was president, when questioned about possible illegal political donations from a Dutch company that conducted business with Jamaica.

Mrs Johnson Smith said that Jamaica’s vote in favour of Mr Tarre on Mr Guaidó’s say-so was not on the basis of his self-declared position as Venezuela’s president, but “in his capacity as president of the National Assembly”.

She also said that Mr Tarre’s position would be temporary until new elections are held and suggested that Jamaica’s decision was also informed by Venezuela’s intention to withdraw from the OAS, which sounds like a pre-emptive strike.

The recent evolution of Jamaica’s relations with Venezuela provides context.

Earlier this year, the Government announced that it would forcibly retake Venezuela’s 49 per cent stake in the Petrojam oil refinery because both sides couldn’t agree on a price for the buy-back. That was followed by a US-inspired vote at the OAS not to recognise Nicolás Maduro’s legitimacy as Venezuela’s president. The claim was that Mr Maduro won his second term in fraudulent elections.

When Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president of the country, claiming a constitutional right so to do, Jamaica didn’t, at least not overtly, join the countries that recognised him – a fact that Mrs Johnson Smith repeated yesterday.

Indeed, Jamaica, despite its anti-Maduro stance, joined the Caribbean Community in warning against foreign intervention in Venezuela, and, according to the foreign affairs minister, is part of the community’s initiative aimed at promoting dialogue in the country.

Yet, there was its vote this week to seat Mr Tarre, which raises other complicated matters related to Kingston’s posture. One potentially logical takeaway from the vote, despite Mrs Johnson Smith’s parsed remarks, is that Jamaica is shedding its chimera with regard to Mr Guaidó and giving his presidency more than tacit support.

Jamaica, however, can’t be unmindful that Mr Maduro still maintains control of most of Venezuela’s institution of state, including the armed forces.

ANOTHER CONCERN

There is another immediate practical matter of concern. Last month, Jamaica closed its embassy in Caracas but did not break diplomatic relations. That decision, Mrs Johnson Smith insists, wasn’t political, but was driven by logistical and security issues.

Venezuela’s embassy in Jamaica remains open, headed by a chargé d’affaires appointed by Maduro. So Jamaica is in the peculiar position of entertaining a diplomat appointed by, and, insofar as we are aware, still loyal to a president who it doesn’t recognise. Mr Guaidó, in the circumstance, with his strong, implicit recognition by Jamaica, couldn’t be faulted for wanting his own man in Jamaica.

The question, therefore, is, what will Jamaica do with Mr Maduro’s diplomat in Kingston if that person doesn’t switch sides? Will he, or she, or they be declared persona non grata to make way for Mr Guaidó’s appointees? Is the embassy to be ordered closed? Perhaps there are other explanations. The Government should say.