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Kamina Johnson Smith | Mediation, not muscle, will save Venezuela

Published:Friday | May 26, 2017 | 12:00 AMKamina Johnson Smith
Johnson Smith

Having just returned from the Meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations in Barbados, May 18-19, I thought that it would be useful to publicly share the position adopted by Jamaica during that meeting, having regard to discussions on relations within the hemisphere and, most specifically, on developments in Venezuela.

You will also be aware of the letter by our prime minister, Andrew Holness, of May 18, in response to a letter from Dr Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, sharing his perception of discussions within the OAS on Venezuela.

The deteriorating situation in Venezuela, including increasing violence, significant loss of life, damage to public and private property, severe economic hardships being experienced by the people, and a hardening of deeply entrenched positions between government and opposition forces, has given cause for grave concern, both regionally and internationally.

Historically, Jamaica and Venezuela have maintained a very strong friendship. The ties that bind us are as long as they are strong, and at every opportunity, we have reaffirmed this highly valuable and long-standing friendship, partnership and solidarity with the people and state of Venezuela.

Based on the principles of respect for democratic institutions, the rule of law, promotion of democracy, and respect for human rights, as well as non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, Jamaica has consistently  encouraged  a process of national dialogue within Venezuela as a means of resolving the crisis facing the country. These principles are not mutually exclusive and are enshrined in the Charter of the OAS and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to which Jamaica and all members of the OAS, including Venezuela, subscribe.

Jamaica values its relations within the OAS, an institution that provides an opportunity to collaborate with member states on a range of issues of common interest. We attach great importance to the various areas of cooperation under the framework of the four main pillars of the organisation - democracy, human rights, security, and development.

When the essential elements of democracy such as the separation of powers, periodic, free and fair elections, access to, and exercise of, power in accordance with the rule of law are not adhered to, the OAS is an appropriate forum for deliberations on such matters, in order to help to peacefully resolve the situation. There should be no disagreement, therefore, that the OAS has been given this role by our respective countries and should be allowed to play its part. 

There is full justification for Jamaica’s attendance at meetings of the OAS and we will continue to do so and to consult with member states so as to make our contribution to the formulation of well-informed decisions.

As small countries, the multilateral system is essential for safeguarding our interests. Therefore, as an institution for deliberation and discussion, the OAS should be supported in this regard. The OAS Charter makes provisions “to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest to the American states” (Chapter X, Article 61).

While there are differing views among CARICOM member states, at our recent COFCOR Meeting in Barbados, we were united in our view that respect for certain fundamental values and principles, including the maintenance of the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy, as well as non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, were valuable and pertinent in addressing the grave concerns we have about the situation in Venezuela. We were all in favour of dialogue and rejected any attempt at international isolation of Venezuela. It is regrettable that Venezuela has decided to withdraw from membership of the OAS.

Indeed, CARICOM is persuaded that Venezuela should engage with its stakeholders through inclusive national dialogue, supported by a mediated process, to resolve its domestic challenges. This is consistent with Jamaica’s principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries.

Jamaica stands ready to assist Venezuela, through the pursuit of any peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral processes that would be helpful to the resolution of its grave challenges and the growing humanitarian crisis that attends those challenges.

- Kamina Johnson Smith is minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade. Email feedback to