Sun | Sep 24, 2017

CARICOM 38 | Leaders all agreed on Venezuela approach - Holness

Published:Friday | July 7, 2017 | 7:00 AM
Dr Keith Mitchell (centre), CARICOM chairman and prime minister of Grenada, provides an update on decisions of leaders following the 38th Heads of Government Conference in St George's. He is accompanied by the Foreign Minister of Haiti, Antonio Rodrigue (first left); CARICOM Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque (second left); President of Guyana, Brigadier David Granger (fourth left); and Andrew Holness, prime minister of Jamaica.
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CARICOM leaders have ended their Grenada summit, declaring unity in their approach to the thorny Venezuela issue as they propose a regional mission team to help mediate the political crisis in the South American nation.

"I believe that the statement that has been issued by CARICOM is a unified one, and all the members agreed. It defines the boundaries as to how far CARICOM would want to be involved in any such issue," Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness said.

Keith Mitchell, the host prime minister, who is chairing the regional bloc for the next six months, followed that by saying that CARICOM's response could not have been "stronger".

However, there are signs that the unity is delicate.

Outspoken Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who leads a group of at least three states wary of 'interventionist' intents, has suggested that the appearance of harmony is delicate.

"You can find a form of language to build a consensus, but that doesn't mean that at the margin, or even beyond the margin, there still are not differences," he told The Gleaner as he left for home.

 

DECLINED TO SPEAK

 

Divisions, coloured by public spats over the approach to Venezuela, from which many Caribbean states get cheap oil, shadowed the leaders into their three-day meeting in St George's. Most declined to speak on the issue.

Other critical issues were on the agenda such as the worsening epidemic of non-communicable diseases and a human resource strategy to, among other things, improve the rate of people accessing tertiary-level education.

However, the Venezuela matter hogged the spotlight mainly because of differing positions on the troubled country with which the region has a historically close relationship.

The splintered CARICOM vote at a June meeting of the Organisation of American States, where a United States-backed resolution on Venezuela failed, highlighted the issue.

More than 80 people have been reported killed in anti-government protests, and this week, fights broke out in the parliament.

Last night, Mitchell confirmed reports throughout the day that he had been mandated to write to the Nicol·s Maduro administration, proposing the region's mission team.

"CARICOM heads of government call for all parties to commit to engage in a renewed dialogue and negotiation leading to comprehensive political agreement with established timetables, concrete actions, and guarantees to ensure its implementation," said Mitchell, who, at Tuesday's opening ceremony, warned against suspicions leading to inaction. "CARICOM heads of government offer their good offices to facilitate this dialogue."

Observers, including former regional leaders, have said that CARICOM countries could be key intermediaries to resolving the crisis linked to suspended polls and economic decline, given the friendly relationships symbolised this century by the PetroCaribe oil deal.

Mitchell said that not much was discussed on the deal that is seeing declining imports.

Representatives from the US State Department met yesterday with regional heads as a Venezuelan delegation led by Raul LiCausi, Venezuela's ambassador to CARICOM, watched on the sidelines of the meeting in Grand Anse.

Belizean Foreign Minister Wilfred Erlington said that the meeting did not address Venezuela. "At the time I left the meeting, the issue had not been raised, [and when I was leaving], the meeting was almost over," he said.

The issues raised, Erlington said, related to correspondent banking, crime and security, as well as the potential impact on the region of US cuts to global aid.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com

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