Sun | Nov 19, 2017

Where's your principle, Golding? - Antiguan leader hits back in Venezuela spat

Published:Tuesday | June 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Bruce Golding
Gaston Browne
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Antiguan PRIME Minister Gaston Browne has said that given Bruce Golding's insistence on Jamaica's sovereignty in the 'Dudus Affair', he is surprised the former head of government is condemning him and Vincentian leader Dr Ralph Gonsalves for their "foolish" opposition to interference in the Venezuelan crisis.

The bickering among the region's politicians comes as news yesterday filtered out of the Organisation of American States (OAS) general assembly in Mexico, that the host country, the United States (US), and Canada lobbied member countries to adopt a watered-down resolution criticising Venezuela's government, after resistance from allies, including CARICOM members.

Last night, Browne issued a statement to The Gleaner, saying, "The claim by Mr Golding that Venezuela's generosity to several Caribbean states controls the decision-making of the prime ministers of St Vincent and Antigua is poorly conceived and shamelessly undignified in its public pronouncement. The diplomacy practised by any state is a factor in its relations with its neighbours, but never the only consideration. Venezuela's generosity is peripheral, and not vital, in Antigua and Barbuda's calculation."

UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES

Earlier, he told The Gleaner: "The issue of non-interference and respecting the sovereignty and independence of all states - those are universal principles."

According to the prime minister, he and Gonsalves "are standing on principle".

"As far as I'm concerned, Bruce Golding, when he took his position with 'Dudus' Coke, spoke about the sovereignty and independence of Jamaica. I want to say that the position now that he's [now] taking is totally incongruent to that.

"So, at least, he ought to show some level of consistency," added the head of government, who noted that he supports dialogue on the issues, but remains wary of the intentions of some of the powerful members of the 35-member OAS.

Golding's premiership was cut short in 2011 when he resigned over his administration's handling of the extradition process involving Christopher 'Duds' Coke, who is now serving time in the US on drug and gun convictions.

"I am not defending the wrongdoing of any person but, if I have to pay a political price for it, I am going to uphold a position that constitutional rights do not begin at Liguanea (US Embassy)," Golding told Parliament on March 3, 2010, in accusing the US of using illegal methods to obtain evidence on Coke.

Jamaica, he said at the time, would not authorise the extradition.

Browne: 'It's a form of disrespect'

Bruce Golding rebuked Gaston Browne and Dr Ralph Gonsalves for their warnings against countries like Jamaica participating in certain talks at the OAS, which they claim could be used to support the removal of President Nicol·s Maduro, whose socialist country provides oil to CARICOM states under favourable loan terms.

"Venezuela has been good to us, but the Government of Venezuela has proceeded in a direction that we cannot condone. [And] I think that this argument that is being advanced by Dr Ralph Gonsalves and the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, about non-interference, is foolishness," Golding said.

"And, I say it's foolishness because the same argument could have been advanced for apartheid South Africa - 'Why are you interfering in our domestic affairs?' - and, we (Jamaica) jolly well had to interfere."

But Browne said: "I can't see how a former prime minister could take issue with those principles. The very act of condemning Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent of the Grenadines is a form of disrespect."

DEADLY PROTESTS

Dozens of people have died in recent months in violence related to anti-government protests in Venezuela, which is battling deepening economic and political turmoil.

Mexico and Peru, the Reuters news agency reported yesterday, have led the push with the United States for a resolution at the General Assembly that defends representative democracy in Venezuela.

"Both Mexican and US officials were negotiating with a bloc of countries from the Caribbean, many of which are grateful to Venezuela for soft oil loans," it added.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com