Independent Senator Sir Trevor Carmichael wants the Freundel Stuart Government to state a clear position on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, even if it is differs from that of the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Speaking Wednesday on the Offshore Petroleum (Amendment) Bill 2017, Sir Trevor said the administration’s apparent silence on the turmoil was simply not good enough, given the relations between Bridgetown and Caracas over the years.
The once oil-rich South American country has been plunged into an economic and political crisis, with reports of food and medical drug shortages. More than 100 people have been killed since the outbreak of protests in early April, with hundreds more injured and scores arrested.
This follows President Nicholas Maduro’s push for an all-powerful constituent assembly, for which voting took place on July 30.
It was reported earlier this year that Barbados had joined the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica and St Lucia in voting with the big countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) that want to kick Caracas out of the hemispheric body. However, the Freundel Stuart administration is yet to clearly articulate its position.
Describing Venezuela as the most destroyed economy in the western hemisphere based on the situation there, Sir Trevor Wednesday told fellow senators Barbados should reconsider its position.
Pointing out that a number of powerful organizations and countries, including the OAS, the European Union and the United States had been opposed to Caracas, Sir Trevor also said the situation called for urgent attention from the international community.
“One might ask why do I raise this. I raise it because we have to reconsider our position, because no position cannot, in these circumstances, be a viable position. We have a history of democracy and we have a commitment to democratic principles and practices. We have a tradition of foreign policy, which is principled and never [about] choosing the easiest question to answer. We have displayed these principles in our own early outright rejection of a flawed PetroCaribe offer,” Sir Trevor said.
Making it clear he was not suggesting what position Barbados must adopt, the attorney-at-law said it was time “we put our heads together” and come up with a position on the turmoil.
He said while Barbados was a member of CARICOM, this did not mean the 15-member bloc could “lead Barbados”.
“If CARICOM begins to lead Barbados we are in trouble. Barbados has to be a member of CARICOM in a strong way in which CARICOM respects Barbados’ views. And I am suggesting that in the area of Venezuela we have to take a position. I am not suggesting what that position will be. I wouldn’t be so bold to say. But I am saying we need to reconsider because we have hard data before us that forces us to do so,” he said, adding that sometimes small countries can make a big difference.
In response, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Maxine McClean did not say if the Stuart administration would state a position on the the crisis in Venezuela.
However, she agreed that Barbados’ foreign policy would not always be in sync with that of CARICOM or the OAS.
“At the end of the day while CARICOM is a community of nations seeking to achieve unity in many areas, we are all independent nations,” she said, adding that “Barbados continues to ascribe to the premise that we are friends of all and satellites of none”.
McClean gave the assurance that meetings were ongoing among CARICOM member states with a view to fully understanding the situation in Venezuela, but added that given Bridgetown’s ties with Caracas “we continue, as we would for any country, to be concerned about the welfare of the people of Venezuela”.
“That for Barbados is the most important consideration,” she said.
Former Chairman of the CARICOM Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) Sir Louis Straker of St Vincent and the Grenadines had said in May he was confident that CARICOM would stand behind the Maduro government, despite concerns raised by his own Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves that the regional grouping was divided over the issue.
Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of the last COFCOR meeting here, where Sir Louis handed over the chairmanship to McClean, Sir Louis had given the assurance that CARICOM would not abandon Venezuela in its time of need, adding that the South American nation had been “very good” to the Caribbean over the years.