Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Minister: No outside influence in vote against Maduro's presidency

Published:Tuesday | January 15, 2019 | 12:17 AMSyranno Baines
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith (left) holding discussions with Fayval Williams, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service at a press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith
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Jamaica came under no undue pressure from the United States (US) or any other member state of the Organization of American States (OAS) to vote in favour of a resolution not to recognise the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro's new term as Venezuela's president, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has stressed.

"There was no specific request or pressure brought to bear or any quid pro quo sought in respect of the vote by Jamaica," Johnson Smith declared in responding to questions posed by journalists at a press briefing yesterday at the Office of the Prime Minister.

The government has come in for strong criticism over its decision to side with 18 other members of the OAS in supporting the resolution which was passed in Washington last Thursday, minutes after Maduro was sworn in for a second term in Caracas, Venezuela.

Among the critics of the move is the parliamentary opposition which has termed the vote as a betrayal of a longstanding friend in Venezuela, while many commentators hinted that Jamaica, like other countries, may have acted at the behest of the US, who have outright condemned Maduro's presidency as dictatorship.

However, Johnson Smith rejected these claims and has termed Jamaica's vote at the OAS as one of principle.

"I have not been lobbied in respect of support. Certainly in these matters, there are always general discussions with countries pressing their views and their perspectives with a view to ensuring that other member states vote with them, and that happens on all sides because that is part of the process," Johnson Smith reasoned.

"It (Jamaica's vote at the OAS) was, as has been the case in global environment since we achieved independence, that Jamaica votes in favour of human rights, democracy, law and order and the principle of non-intervention. These principles we hold in great regard and that the People's National Party (PNP), in particular Miss (Lisa) Hanna seeks to continuously forget all but one, that is the principle of non-intervention, is of concern."

MATTER OF URGENCY

Jamaica's vote at the OAS came just two days after the government had announced its decision to introduce legislation to retake the 49 per cent stake held by Venezuela in the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam, a move the opposition described as hostile and unnecessary.

Johnson Smith had explained that the decision to retake the shares was premised on Venezuela not fulfilling its obligation in upgrading and expanding Petrojam's plant, which, she said, posed a risk to the economy.

However, Shadow Minister of Energy Phillip Paulwell further labelled the move premature, arguing that no apparent effort was made to use any international arbitration organisations to settle any dispute which may have arisen between the two governments.

But, Johnson Smith, in responding to the assertions yesterday, described as lengthy and expensive, the international arbitration process, stating that is was not pursued simply because the matter is one of urgency for various reasons.

"Time is not our friend," Johnson asserted.

"There was one Government of Jamaica arbitration process which took place recently, an expedited process that took a year without including expert witnesses and it cost US$1.8 million. That's expedited arbitration and this is what the opposition is saying the government should do before it considers taking action to protect interest that we have been discussing for 12-14 years, depending on where you want to start counting. It is outrageous that this position would be put forward to the people of Jamaica as legitimate choice or action."

syranno.baines@gleanerjm.com