Claude’s Comments: When CIA plotted to remove Dr Williams; and how USA is violating Rio Treaty

I couldn’t resist beginning by paraphrasing from calypsonian Bally’s 1987 masterpiece ‘It’s party time again’: five years nearly done, so let’s ramajay… if you see ram goat, join the bacchanal, just to get your vote.

I intended to sit this one out, but for the statement by US Ambassador Joseph Mondello that: ‘Article 20 of the Rio Treaty makes it unambiguously clear that all measures imposed by the Organ of Consultation… are binding on all treaty parties, whether or not they voted in favour of such measures’.

True, but like so many select quotes and diplomatic paraphrasing, not the whole truth.

Photo: United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Joseph M Mondello (left) greets Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in an undated photo.
(via US Embassy)

The Rio Treaty of 1947 was amended in 1975 to become the ‘Protocol of Amendment to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty)’. New Articles were added and several amended; for Articles not amended, the initial Rio Treaty remained in force.

Article 20 of the Rio Treaty is now Article 23 of the Amendment. The fundamental value of the original Rio Treaty was the legitimising of US self-assertion of the right to police the Americas.

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 included this assertion, but lacked the consent of subordinated states. The Doctrine was premised on the notion that any foreign aggression against the hemisphere would be against Latin America or the Caribbean.

Since 1823, the US had consistently been the aggressor as it expanded and consolidated its empire overseas, and continentally westward and southward of the original Republic—driven by its white-supremacist ‘Manifest Destiny’ ideology. Imperial arrogance became intrinsic to America’s national character.

In 1941 this smugness was jolted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Although continental USA retained its clean record, the possibility of an invasion had never become more real and so imminent.

The US was not unmindful of the threat of enemy nations prior to Pearl Harbour. Accordingly, in 1940, it established the Office of Inter-American Affairs to coordinate activities in Latin America and so reinforce security.

Photo: USA president FD Roosevelt (centre) prepares to go to war with Japan.
Roosevelt was president when USA established the Office of Inter-American Affairs.

In order to cement this new relationship after the War, these states were summoned to Rio de Janeiro in 1947. The Rio Treaty came into effect in 1948—the same year as the formal establishment of the OAS.

It was no coincidence that the CIA was also established in 1947. Declassified confidential documents reveal that the CIA has been engaged in assassinations and attempted assassinations of heads of state and popular political leaders, as well as destabilisation of countries around the world.

With respect to the Americas, similar unilateral interventions in member states clearly violate the Rio Treaty.

The standard MO of the CIA is to cultivate ‘rational elements’ within a target country to disguise its operations. The English-speaking Caribbean has been a target of the CIA even before independence.

In Guyana, Cheddi Jagan was ousted twice from office—first when Chief Minister in 1953 on order of Winston Churchill, in collusion with the US; and in 1964, by order of President John F Kennedy, before his death. On both occasions, Forbes Burnham, one-time political partner of Jagan, was the chosen leader of the ‘rational elements’.

The British justified the first ouster on the ground that Jagan’s wife, Janet, was a communist. Kennedy justified the second ouster because he could not afford another ‘Castro-type regime’ in the region. Accordingly: ‘It follows that we should set as our objective an independent British Guiana under some other leader’.

Photo: Former Guyana president Dr Cheddi Jagan.

In Jamaica, the CIA’s ‘rational elements’ were Edward Seaga and his JLP, co-opted for a ‘protracted campaign of destabilisation’ against the Michael Manley regime.

We must not be fooled by the assurances of Minister of National Security Stuart Young and the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley: rapprochement with the US Embassy is not an antidote to US perception of T&T as inimical to its ‘national, economic and strategic interests’.

The US has no friends—only useful allies.

The status of the last elections in Venezuela is objectively unrelated to the pursuit of regime change, just as it had nothing to do with the coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002. Elections is the smokescreen for the US’ principal interest in Venezuela: the acquisition of its oil, a publicly ventilated objective.

Although late former Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams had worked for the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission for several years, as head of government, he openly resisted US imperialist designs in the region. Accordingly, he became an early target of the CIA, more directly than Jagan, because of his determination that the US must leave Chaguaramas.

In 1958, US Consul General to T&T, Walter Orebaugh, advised the US Secretary of State: ‘We must disengage with Williams and work for his ultimate demise’.

Photo: Dr Eric Williams (second from left) at the Desperadoes pan yard.
(Copyright Government Information Services via

Orebaugh called on the US State Department ‘to produce a coordinated plan of action’ for undermining Williams’ authority as Premier. Orebaugh was aware of the need for secrecy and advised: ‘We cannot, of course, get into a program to get Williams without getting into local affairs to a far greater degree than anything we have done heretofore’.

In 1959, Orebaugh became more desperate and more specific in expressing hostility toward Williams, seeing him as a threat to US long-term interest in the region.

He determined it was time for the final solution: ‘To the maximum effect feasible, and within the means, which can be developed, we should work for the weakening of Williams’ political position in Trinidad and his eventual replacement by more rational elements’.

There was no shortage of ‘rational elements’, including Bhadase Maraj, Albert Gomes, and some within his own party, like Gerard Montano. Rest assured, there is also no shortage of these ‘rational elements’ today.
Williams held his ground, determined not to allow Chaguaramas to become the Guantanamo of the southern Caribbean.

There is a lot more to the Rio Treaty than the Article being cited to justify the political assault against the PNM. Article 23 of the Protocol of Amendment (Article 20 of the Rio Treaty) binds states to decisions of the Organ of Consultation in relation to Article 8.

Photo: Venezuela vice-president Delcy Rodríguez.
(via Today Venezuela)

Article 8 is pivotal. It states: ‘The measures on which the Organ of Consultation may agree will comprise one or more of the following: recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; breaking of consular relations; partial or complete interruption of economic relations or of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and radiotelephonic or radiotelegraphic communications; and use of armed force’.

But Article 9 of the Protocol of Amendment (not in the Rio Treaty) acknowledges the right of sovereign states to manage their domestic affairs: ‘No consideration of whatever nature, whether political, eco​nomic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression’.

According to this Article, an attack on Venezuela, whether by the CIA or military forces, will constitute an ‘unprovoked armed attack’, which, logically, should compel signatories to the Treaty to come to the aid of Venezuela, not the US.

It is interesting to read not only the text of the Treaty, but also the declarations and declinations of some of the High Signatories and ratifying governments.

For example, Mexico put on record its unease with Article 8: ‘The Government of Mexico continues to consider that, except in case of self-defense, the collective measures to which Article 8 refers cannot be applied in mandatory form, given their coercive nature, without authorisation by the Security Council of the United Nations’.

Photo: USA president Donald Trump.
(via Dailybeast)

In the current hostility toward Venezuela, the Security Council did not ratify sanctions, invasion or other acts of aggression. The OAS is not a substitute for the UN; neither is the US government.

Imperialist media play to the gullible by perpetually repeating that 66 countries support pretender Juan Guaidó (actually, 65 countries, since they disingenuously include Venezuela). Ironically, by so affirming, they are admitting the illegitimacy of the regime-change conspiracy, since the overwhelming majority, 128 member states, do not support sanctions or regime change.

Well known Indian historian-journalist, Vijay Prashad, shares the view that the current embargo against Venezuela, against the backdrop of Covid-19, ‘is not only a war crime by the standards of the Geneva Conventions (1949) but is a crime against humanity as defined by the United Nations International Law Commission (1947)’.

The Protocol of Amendment defines acts of aggression: ‘Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organization of American States or this Treaty’.

Article 9 continues: ‘The first use of armed force by a State in contravention of the aforementioned instruments shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression’.

Photo: Venezuela soldiers conduct a military drill.
(Copyright Army Recognition)

We should understand that armed force may not only be conducted by national armies, but also by covert agencies like the CIA, mercenaries and other opportunistic proxies.

Interestingly, the current position of T&T in relation to the treaty could be justified under Article 23 (Article 20 of the Original Treaty), which states in part: ‘If the Organ of Consultation takes measures to which this article refers against a State, any other State Party to this Treaty that finds itself confronted by special economic problems arising from the carrying out of the measures in question shall have the right to consult the Organ of Consultation with regard to the solution of those problems’.

Picking sides in a domestic dispute in Venezuela could cripple T&T’s economy, should the ‘wrong side’ emerge victorious. But, why did T&T sign the Rio Treaty?

All three independent Caribbean states signed the Rio Treaty in 1947 and joined the OAS in 1948. In 1967, T&T and Barbados were the first newly independent English-speaking countries of the Caribbean to join the OAS, but only T&T signed the Rio Treaty as well. Bahamas is the only other Caribbean state to sign the Treaty in 1982.

In 2004, Mexico withdraw from the Treaty because it felt that the US convening of the Organ of Consultation against Al-Qaeda in 2001 was inconsistent with its previous alliance with the UK against Argentina in 1982 in the Falklands War.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Cuba, alongside Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua—all with progressive regimes—withdrew in 2012-2013. Venezuela was reinstated as a ‘member’ in 2019 by the Guaidó-controlled parliament, but the Supreme Court quickly struck down that decision.

Before joining the OAS, T&T, Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana were already caucusing with the Latin American Group in the UN. In addressing Parliament in February 1967, Williams outlined the benefits of the Rio Treaty and formal membership in the OAS.

He believed that the OAS was set to play a major role in world affairs, thus: “Membership in the Organisation of American States will complement and strengthen our position in and our influence with the Latin American Nations.”

After quoting Article 15 Chapter 3 of the Charter of the OAS and Articles 1 and 3 of the Rio Treaty, Williams summed up both: “So, Mr Speaker, the Organisation of American States talks in terms of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, condemns war and guarantees, so to speak, collective security against aggression.”

As further justification for signing, he said: “If we are to influence and to guide the deliberations and the progress of the organisation, we can only do so inside and we cannot possibly ignore our own self-interest in the peace and security of the Western Hemisphere.”

Williams was also in need of new financing for his mega schemes in livestock farming, fisheries, and the expansion of the education infrastructure.

Photo: Then Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams (right) is greeted at 10 Downing Street in London by his British counterpart, Harold Wilson in 1964.
(Copyright AP)

Accordingly, he told Parliament: “The Organisation of American States is… the Alliance for Progress and the Inter-American Development Bank.”

He argued that access to both enterprises ‘is open only to members of the Organization of American States’.

In 1962, British High Commissioner Norman Costar informed his Home government that Williams lived in fear of US interference in the internal affairs of T&T. At that time Williams had seen Britain as a counterpoise to US aggression.

Ironically, by 1967, Williams sought to buttress T&T’s sovereignty against US aggression by trusting in the promised ‘collective security’ of the OAS and the Rio Treaty.

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About Claudius Fergus

Claudius Fergus is a retired Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at UWI’s St Augustine Campus who specialises in the abolition of British colonial slavery and its transatlantic slave trade. His major work on the subject is Revolutionary Emancipation: Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies (2013). He has other extensive publications in peer-reviewed journals and edited books.

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  1. Interesting article however President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and could not have ordered Jagan’s removal in 1964. Perhaps President Johnson.

    • You’re quite right. I will adjust on the author’s behalf.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan, but the fact is he did. A Commander-in-Chief does not have to live to see his order through in order to be its author. Here are two pieces of information from declassified National Security and CIA archives.
      1.“President Kennedy held in place for the moment, more impressed by the case put by London than by Foggy Bottom. On March 8, 1962 he issued an order on British Guiana which he sent as a memo explicitly addressed to Secretary Rusk and the Director of Central Intelligence John A. McCone. He also issued the same directive as National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 135. It was highly unusual for a covert action instruction to appear as both a NSAM and a directed missive, and suggests the president was trying to stop something he felt was out of control.”
      2.“Cold War concerns about another Communist Cuba in Latin America drove President John F. Kennedy to approve a covert CIA political campaign to rig national elections in British Guiana…”
      “U.S. intelligence concluded that Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan, one of the main presidential candidates in the upcoming 1964 elections, was a communist, although not necessarily under the sway of Moscow. Nevertheless, Kennedy decided Jagan would have to go and urged London to cooperate in the effort.” SOURCE: “CIA Covert Operations: The 1964 Overthrow of Cheddi Jagan in British Guiana. National Security Archive: 30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

      3. And this one from a peer-reviewed journal. Note the name of the Journal
      “The British were assisted by Eisenhower’s skepticism about the navy’s anti-Williams
      agenda, which contrasts markedly with Kennedy’s implacable determination to
      remove Jagan from British Guiana a few years later.” [SOURCE: Spencer Mawby, “‘Uncle Sam, We Want Back We Land’: Eric Williams and the Anglo-American Controversy over the Chaguaramas Base, 1957–1961,” in the Journal, Diplomatic History, vol. 31.1 (2012)

      I hope this adds some more light to all the readers. All comments are appreciated.

  2. Excellent discourse as always.
    It would be great to have Professor Claudius continue his informed knowledge and analysis to include Dr Williams’s establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and both the Republic of Cuba and the People’s Republic of China by 1972 and 1974 respectively.

    Selby Browne

    • I would be interested in analysis of the perceived ‘value’ of T&T to the Superpowers given that Guyana is becoming the new energy capital within the Caribbean and will likely develop downstream industrial capacity to rival T&T. T&T’s ‘fortunes’ appear to be on the wane economically, geopolitically & logistically.

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