“Then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in April 2015: ‘We believe inherently in the sovereignty of nations and so we stand with you President [Nicolás] Maduro for your sovereignty and for the determination of the right of your people to be governed as they choose’…”
The following Letter to the Editor on Trinidad and Tobago government’s commitment to non-intervention in Venezuela and the criticism of that stance by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar was submitted to Wired868 by Terry Walker, the former Chairman of the PNM’s Foreign Affairs Committee:
Underpinning the currently ongoing debate about the Dr Keith Rowley administration’s position on the situation in Venezuela is a lack historical perspective, misunderstanding or maybe, in the case of the Opposition, pure mischief, regarding a cardinal tenet of our foreign policy: non-intervention and non-interference in the domestic affairs of states.
It is galling how ready are some of our Caribbean brethren, Opposition spokespersons, and media pundits, to abandon a principle that has served us excellently since independence—through efforts to deny sovereignty to Cuba, incursions in Central America countries, invasions of Grenada, and now regime change in Venezuela.
The Opposition spokespersons and media pundits—Mr Rodney Charles and my good friend Andy Johnson included—vehemently admonish Dr Rowley as being pro- Maduro when he stoutly defends the long held tenet of our foreign policy. Yet such persons conveniently forget the adherence of successive governments to neutrality.
The surprisingly forthright statement of then Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, at the Summit of the Americas Meeting in Panama in April 2015 underscores this approach:
“Therefore, what I advocate, President Maduro, is that we collectively raise our voices again, and also individually as nations in the region; that we raise our voices against this Executive Order, which you reminded me that there was once such an Executive Order in history which was followed by invasion. So whilst an Executive Order on paper is not an act or declaration of war, it gives us great cause for concern.
“I make these opening comments after we heard from the Presidents of the United States, Cuba and Venezuela. There is a saying in the Caribbean that, ‘when the elephants frolic and play, the grass gets trampled’. We are like the grass in CARICOM—very tiny nation states, but very independent and in favour of democracy and the rule of law.
“We believe inherently in the sovereignty of nations and so we stand with you President Maduro for your sovereignty and for the determination of the right of your people to be governed as they choose. And I ask for us around this table, it is incumbent for us at this time, in the early days of the Executive Order, to speak now and have the Executive Order removed.”
Whilst for the knowledgeable diplomat, the language in the statement may leave a lot to be desired—and in my experience, its forthrightness would have caused a stir around the table and even probably within the Trinidad and Tobago delegation—the underlying theme is clear: support for non-intervention and non-interference.
Given her recent statements, did the Honourable Leader of the Opposition forget; or is this no longer the position of the Opposition? And if it is, how is it different from the government’s—as articulated by the Honourable Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet?
Trinidad and Tobago did not exist as an independent nation in 1823 when President Monroe and his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams authored and propounded the so-called Monroe Doctrine, which announced that any effort by European countries to colonise or to intervene in the Hemisphere would be viewed as an act of aggression.
What history has taught us, however, is that the Doctrine has been invoked, or not, to justify intervention and interference in the Hemisphere. It is against this backdrop that as an independent nations since 1962—from Dr Eric Williams through Dr Rowley—we have adhered forthrightly to the principle of non-intervention and non-interference in internal affairs of states.
Adherence to this ‘commandment’ of our foreign policy, precludes the support for the imposition of regime change by external force. In this context, sovereignty and democracy are synonymous.
Whatever your politics, it behoves us to stand with Dr Rowley for the principle that in democratic nations regime change occurs only by virtue of free and fair elections. We abandon the long held principle of our foreign policy at our peril!