Daly Bread: Peewats and pharaohs; concerns over Paria secrecy and Venezuela geo-politics

Last week predictably began with more turbulence over the aftermath of the Petrotrin shut down and over one of the successor companies, Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited.

Our governments have had marked communications deficits because there is too much attempted secrecy over the process attendant upon deals constantly being made on behalf of the state and frequently involving the disposition of state assets, which are the people’s assets.

Photo: Former Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

Secrecy feeds rumour and mischief. This government learned nothing from the Sandals debacle. Its only take away is resentment that we dared query the validity of the chosen investment/concessions model.

Resentment is revealed in the angry reactions to reasonable—if sharp—inquiries from critical thinkers, personal attacks on commentators and references to patriotism and even treason.

Such high handed conduct is as fatal to credibility as is Frankiesque bobbing and weaving. I refer to the Minister of Energy’s inconsistent statements about Paria Fuel commented upon in last week’s column.

This week, although he had denied the company was for sale, and stated that related invitations had been ‘inadvertently’ issued and were to be withdrawn, he compounded the foolishness by acknowledging Paria Fuel to be in play and admitted to ‘sensitive negotiations’—perhaps to leverage the refinery sale with the additional sale of Paria as a sweetener.

Before all this confusion, overall credibility on energy sector policy was already in intensive care on account of wishful thinking that we would still get Dragon Gas from imploding Venezuela.

So-called government to government deals have frequently been an additional source of trouble. Currently the Dragon gas deal with Venezuela and deals with Chinese state-connected entities have pitched us into the ill winds of the geo-political struggles between United States and Chinese interests respectively. In the case of Venezuela, Russian interest are also big in the dance.

Photo: Energy Minister Franklin Khan (second from right) is introduced to Russia President Vladimir Putin (second from left) by Russia Energy Minister, Alexander Novak, (far left) at the Russian Energy Week in 2017.
Looking on is Hossein Adeli (GECF Secretary General, centre), and Iran Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh (far right).
(Courtesy Ministry of Energy)

Our second prime minister, George Chambers, gets little credit for anything. He did however have a clear appreciation that when powerful nations are pursuing their interests, Trinidad and Tobago is ‘a black speck of dust’.  He recognised that we are relative peewats, not pharaohs, in the world order.

Chambers made this observation when the Ronald Reagan administration invaded Grenada and attacked the People’s Revolutionary Government then turning on Maurice Bishop, who swiftly became a fatal victim of factional strife within the revolutionary government.

Chambers was disturbed by the failure of the US to consult Trinidad and Tobago about its plans to invade, even though he was the incumbent Caricom Chairman.

At that time Reagan was pictured with a group of invasion compliant regional Prime Ministers, of which the Prime Minster of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, and Barbados Prime Minister, Tom Adams, were prominent.

This month Trinidad and Tobago was out of the picture again. This time the Donald Trump administration had a meeting with Caribbean prime ministers who support the end of President Nicolás Maduro’s reign in Venezuela.

Photo: (From left) St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, US President Donald Trump, US First Lady Melania Trump, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Haiti President Jovenel Moise and Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis pose before the meeting at Mar-A-Lago on 22 March 2019.
(Copyright Jose A Iglesias/Miami Herald)

I disagree that Trinidad and Tobago was blanked by the US Government. Our government has chosen to take a position on Venezuela not in line with US interests, which therefore removed our country from eligibility for an invite to the meeting. This position is respectable and consistent with prior non-interventionist positions not only on Grenada and Venezuela, but on Cuba and, I believe on Nicaragua, as well.

There is a real question however whether consistency in our non-interventionist policy should have been nuanced to question the hunger and disintegration of basic services from which Venezuelans are suffering.

Nuance was also required to take account of the imperatives of our vital energy sector, urgently addressing our tenuous hold on Dragon gas supplies—seemingly heavily dependent on a now shaky Rowley-Maduro entente, as friendly understandings are termed in the lofty diplomatic world.

Permitting the Foreign Minster now to join dialogue with Señor Juan Guaidó may be the reverse of putting baby Moses into the bulrushes (the weeds of the Nile river) to save him from the pharaoh of Egypt.

On this occasion, Moses must be pulled out of the weeds of the Maduro regime in order to save us from a dragon size economic setback and possibly from sanctions being placed on us relative peewats, by pharaohs in the world order.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Venezuela President Nicholás Maduro during a meeting in Port of Spain on 23 May 2016.
(Copyright Reuters/El Confidencial)
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