Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Gonsalves backs call for CARICOM team to Venezuela

Published:Thursday | July 6, 2017 | 7:00 AM
St Vincent & the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves
Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit
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Ralph Gonsalves, who leads a CARICOM group of countries wary of attempts at a "regime change" in the unfolding Venezuelan political crisis, is backing a proposal for the regional bloc to send a mission team to the South American country to help resolve the problems.

"Yeah, yeah, I support that," the St Vincent and Grenadines prime minister told The Gleaner as he left the main conference venue yesterday in Grenada for Calvigny Island, where he and the other leaders of CARICOM were due to caucus over the Venezuela situation that has divided the 15-member group.

Jamaica's Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, said that the issue was added to the agenda during the first business session.

Dominica's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, suggested that CARICOM set up the mission team, which, observers believe is likely to bridge the divisions besetting the regional bloc.

"We (Dominica) certainly condemn any form of violence. We would like to see a peaceful resolution to the situation," said Skerrit.

Gonsalves has warned against "attempts" at intervening in the situation that has seen over 80 people dead in anti-government protests.

 

GROUP OF FRIENDS

 

St Vincent and the Grenadines was among three CARICOM countries that voted against a failed United States-pushed resolution at a June Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting. Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, and St Lucia voted in favour, while Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago abstained.

The resolution, which proposed a 'group of friends' for mediation, failed because it did not get enough votes.

According to Gonsalves, the display in Mexico by CARICOM, which he warned to be careful of a "handful of powerful countries" pushing regime change, was a shift from a unanimous position articulated in May.

Skerrit said that CARICOM should use the opportunity of the Grenada meeting to agree on a fact-finding mission to Venezuela from which 12 CARICOM states get oil at cheap loans.

"What I would like to suggest is the possibility of a CARICOM mission going into Venezuela, meeting with the government, meeting with the opposition, and seeking to provide a greater sense of leadership to finding a resolution to the current challenges confronting Venezuela."

That delegation, he said, could include some leaders and other senior officials and would be the region playing its part in "assisting the nation".

"Of course, that would have to meet the approval of both the government and the opposition of Venezuela. [But] that offer should be considered."

...CARICOM needs first-hand report on Venezuela

A CARICOM mission team to Venezuela has emerged as a practical approach for some in the region wary of United States (US) influence in the trouble-plagued country.

Ralph Thomas, a former Jamaican ambassador to the US, China, and permanent representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS), told The Gleaner ahead of this week's talks at the 38th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM now under way in Grenada that "CARICOM should seek to arrange a fact-finding mission to Venezuela to determine first-hand the actual and not the reported situation".

Doing that, he said, would ensure that at the next OAS meeting, CARICOM could "make proposals that are more credible and with a unified voice".

At the opening ceremony for the meeting on Tuesday night, CARICOM Chairman and Grenadian Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell warned his colleagues against allowing "suspicions" to lead to "inaction" over the political crisis in Venezuela.

"We must find the resolve to commit to a unified position on the current political challenge in the neighbouring Venezuela. We cannot ignore what is taking place," he said.

Mitchell said that he understood the concerns, given the "shared history of anti-colonial struggle" and "whispers of regime change", which, he added, should make the region "pause". "But pause must not result in paralysis. Our inaction must not be a consequence of our suspicion," he stated.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com