Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders Friday vowed to continue their diplomatic efforts aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, where opposition forces are seeking to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
“We will continue to be in contact with other interested parties to encourage efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the crisis,” the regional leaders said in a statement following their one-day special CARICOM summit on security.
CARICOM leaders said that while they would continue to monitor the situation in the South American country, they remain “ convinced that the principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the affairs of states, respect for sovereignty, the constitutional framework, adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights and democracy must be upheld”.
The leaders said that they have “noted with concern, the turn of events in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the potential they hold for the escalation of the political crisis and further violence to the detriment of the people of the country.
“CARICOM remains firmly wedded to the view that the solution to the crisis in Venezuela should be a peaceful internal process that avoids the threat or use of force,” the leaders said in their statement.
At least one person is reported to have been killed and several others injured in clashes between opposition and government supporters in Venezuela, since the Opposition Leader, Juan Guaidó, earlier this week called on the military to support the move to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power.
But the army appears to be remaining loyal to Maduro and during the clashes amid rival demonstrations, they fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.
In January, Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim leader, and he has been recognised by more than 50 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and most of Latin America.
But Maduro, who won re-election last year, is being backed by Russia, China and Cuba.
St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, who is also the CARICOM chairman, said that he would be leading a delegation to Costa Rica next week as part of the diplomatic effort as “we remain fully engaged in this difficult crisis.
St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet defended the decision of some regional leaders to meet with United States President Donald Trump at his private residence in Miami last month where the Venezuela issue was discussed.
But he made it clear that the talks, attended by the CARICOM leaders of Jamaica, Haiti, Bahamas, and himself “was not a meeting to discuss Venezuela.
“That was one of the topics at the meeting, it did not last very long. We actually talked about relationships the US and how we broaden the relationship,” he said, noting that the region was no longer benefitting from programmes such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).
“Since then you have had NAFTA…but CARICOM as a region still has not been able to regain its position with the United States of America,” he said, adding that the CARICOM delegation had spent much time seeking to re-ignite that relationship with Washington.
Chastanet, who takes over the chairmanship of CARICOM in July, said he would be comfortable speaking to the regional grouping’s position on Venezuela and also brushed aside suggestions that Caribbean countries that were part of the so-called Lima Group were in support of the Opposition Leader in Venezuela, who has since declared himself as the interim president.
He said only St. Lucia and Guyana were members of the Lima Group and Castries has always made known that its position on Venezuela has to do with the last general elections which he believes were not free and fair.
“I could say to you that 90 per cent of the conversation was in terms of how we could improve trade relationships, basically discussing other issues in the region,” he said, noting that a significant portion of every dollar an American tourist spends in the region goes back to the North American country.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley sought to downplay the perceived rift among CARICOM countries as it relates to the Venezuelan crisis, with St. Lucia, Bahamas, Jamaica and Haiti all supporting an Organisation of American States (OAS) resolution that accepted the nominee of Guaido as the country’s permanent representative to the hemispheric body.
At least eight CARICOM countries have written to the Chair of the Permanent Council of the OAS protesting the decision of the Council to accept by simple majority, the appointment of Gustavo Tarre, as the new Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the hemispheric body.
Rowley said that based on the statement made during the meeting and at the news conference ““one cannot, but draw from the statements made that…we are first and foremost CARICOM and other excursions into other groupings, for all practical purposes… that is why we must treat our consensus arrangements as very valuable because they are not easy to come by.
“So I trust that when you speak who voted for whom at the OAS that you support the fact that CARICOM members first and foremost deal with the CARICOM interest, retain the CARICOM identity,” Rowley said.