Home / View Point / Guest Columns / MSJ: The problem with the Rio Treaty; and how gov’t, opposition and media got Venezuela imbroglio wrong

MSJ: The problem with the Rio Treaty; and how gov’t, opposition and media got Venezuela imbroglio wrong

“[…] Central to this entire issue is the United States’ agenda with respect to Venezuela. If the US had not imposed sanctions on Venezuela there would be nothing for the government to explain about a visit by the vice-president of Venezuela, nothing to explain about the sale of fuel by state-owned Paria Ltd to a Swiss-based oil trading company, there would have been no need for the US ambassador and the minister of national security to discuss the Rio Treaty; and there would certainly be nothing for the UNC to latch onto in its bid to please Marli Street.

“As in cricket, if you take your eye off the ball you will be in trouble. So before we address the failings of our national leadership—government, Opposition and others—we must address what can only be described as the imperialist policies of the United States…”

The following statement on the imbroglio involving Venezuela, the United States of America and Trinidad and Tobago was issued to Wired868 by David Abdulah, the political leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ):

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

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) views the entire imbroglio surrounding the United States, Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago as one where we can easily lose focus on the most critical issues that face us. This is because statements made by the government, the Opposition and even the reporting by the media have created the space for confusion and mischief.

Central to this entire issue is the United States’ agenda with respect to Venezuela. If the US had not imposed sanctions on Venezuela there would be nothing for the government to explain about a visit by the vice-president of Venezuela, nothing to explain about the sale of fuel by state-owned Paria Ltd to a Swiss-based oil trading company, there would have been no need for the US ambassador and the minister of national security to discuss the Rio Treaty; and there would certainly be nothing for the UNC to latch onto in its bid to please Marli Street.

As in cricket, if you take your eye off the ball you will be in trouble. So before we address the failings of our national leadership—government, Opposition and others—we must address what can only be described as the imperialist policies of the United States.

It is well established that the US, especially under Donald Trump’s Presidency, is intent on regime change in Venezuela, by any means necessary. They have imposed unilateral sanctions on Venezuela—these sanctions are not recognised by the United Nations and are only enforced by the economic power of the US.

It is therefore wrong for the UNC, the media and others to refer to the sanctions as ‘international’ sanctions. They are not! These are unilaterally imposed and no international body such as the United Nations has given them approval.

Photo: US president Donald Trump (centre) hands the pen to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell after signing the coronavirus stimulus relief package in the Oval Office on 27 March 2020.
Also in the picture are (from left) White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarty and Vice President Mike Pence.
(Copyright AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

It must also be noted that Juan Guiadó is not recognised by the United Nations. Guaidó is a creature of the US and is there to further legitimise regime change.

Nor can we ignore the fact that some elements in the opposition have resorted to open violence to remove president Nicolás Maduro.

A drone attack, openly admitted by the organisers in an interview with the CNN in March 2019, was one such effort. A second was the military attack by a mercenary force two weeks ago. This mercenary attack, organised by a US firm (Silvercorp) of ex-US soldiers under a contract signed by Guaidó and three of his advisors (who have all recently resigned), has been well documented by the US media—yet little if any of this news has been reported in Trinidad and Tobago.

The US agenda of regime change, violating all international norms and the Charters of the UN and OAS of non interference in the internal affairs of a country and respect for a state’s sovereignty, have seemingly been lost in the national discourse here in Trinidad and Tobago.

Where have been the voices of the Opposition to denounce this mercenary attack? Why has the media in the main, not provided the country with information and/or analysis of such an event that took place less than an hour’s flying time from our shores?

Photo: Venezuela Opposition Leader and president of the National Assembly, John Guiadó.
(Copyright Mundo24)

The Rio Treaty has now been invoked by the US and supported by media reporting of the US position, as a legally binding treaty on all of Trinidad and Tobago’s dealings with Venezuela. The US Embassy issued a statement last week referencing the treaty.

However, the entire treaty has not been published by the media. Except for one report in one of today’s daily newspapers, no journalist has written an investigative article to determine whether or not the Rio Treaty means that Trinidad and Tobago has opened itself up to sanctions by the US.

Everybody has just run with the ‘we are violating the Rio Treaty story’ rather than investigating whether or not is true!

In a very important analysis of the Rio Treaty, Professor Andy Knight, a Caribbean academic, professor at the University of Alberta and a former Director of the Institute of International Relations, at The UWI, St Augustine, stated as follows:

“The Rio Treaty is, first and foremost, a defence pact. The intent of such a pact is clearly laid out in Article 51 of the UN Charter. An attack on one of the members of the Treaty is to be considered an attack on all signatories of the Treaty… The invocation of the Rio Treaty in the case of Venezuela doesn’t square with international law…

Photo: Venezuela vice-president Delcy Rodríguez.

“A collective defence treaty (see article 3 of the Rio Treaty) can only be invoked if one member of the treaty is under attack (from a military attack or an act of aggression)… The use of the Rio Treaty by the US as a means of punishing Venezuela is a bit of a stretch and may in fact be a violation of international law (emphasis by Prof Knight).”

Venezuela, quite apart from not being a member of the Rio Treaty, has not attacked any state. There is therefore nothing that triggers the treaty. In fact, Venezuela has been under attack from forces operating in Colombia, a US ally.

The drone attack was planned from Colombia by persons residing in Colombia. The mercenary attack originated in Colombia and the mercenaries trained and got their arms in Colombia.

Why then is Trinidad and Tobago being pressured by the US to accept ‘obligations’ under the Rio Treaty?

For the MSJ, it cannot be over a visit by the vice-president of Venezuela or even a shipment of fuel sold by Paria Ltd. Assuming that such events violated the unilateral US sanctions on Venezuela, all that would have been required is for the US government, through its usual diplomatic channels to have communicated its displeasure and warned the government of Trinidad and Tobago that any further breach of the US sanctions could be met with penalties—including sanctioning this country.

Such sanctions against Trinidad and Tobago would not be legally recognised internationally. But the US, being a bully, could and can use its economic power to sanction us, with little or no ability by this country to apply countervailing sanctions.

Photo: US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Drake University on 30 January 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
(Copyright AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This is the nature of imperialism—might is right.

It is the MSJ’s considered view that the Rio Treaty is being now projected as a fig leaf for sanctions precisely because military action against Venezuela is being contemplated by the Trump administration. The mercenary attack having failed, the US wants Maduro dead or alive, as the recent placing of a US$15 million bounty on the Venezuelan president’s head suggests.

An attack by the US on Venezuela, in the way it attacked Panama to take out Manuel Noreiga, who was also termed a narco-trafficker, could be on the cards. Military conflict could also arise from the shipment of fuel now underway from Iran to Venezuela, with the latter stating its assets will ensure safe passage for the convoy, while the US has a major naval and military presence in the Caribbean just off Venezuela, supposedly to deal with drug interdiction.

In the event of military actions, will the US then demand that Trinidad and Tobago support the US under the Rio Treaty, given that it is a Defence Pact?

According to Prof Knight: “members of such a treaty have two clear obligations. 1) According to Article 51 of the UN Charter, a member state of such a defence treaty is obligated to assist in meeting an armed attack against any member of the treaty in the exercise of ‘the right of individual or collective self-defense’ upon the request of the victim (the state that is being attacked).” 

There is a clear and present danger here and therefore the MSJ supports the call by Prof Knight for this country to withdraw from the Rio Treaty. There is no benefit, and a lot of danger, by us staying in the Treaty, which Prof Knight describes as a ‘relic of the Cold War’.

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)

This challenging international environment requires serious mature leadership. We have the potential of major power conflict on our doorstep with the US on one hand and Russia and China as Venezuela’s allies.

While the government has taken a correct position in defence of the principles of national sovereignty and the non-interference in the internal affairs of states; it ought to have issued a single, clearly written statement articulating the government’s foreign policy and providing all the necessary facts (and here we do not suggest that minutes of a meeting between two top representatives of governments should be in the public domain).

Such a single clear statement, without the use of any confrontational language, would have left little room for confusion and mischief. It would have left the Opposition with no wriggle room. It would have denied the US Ambassador space to comment.

It would have ensured that the media did not interpret or misinterpret the statement. Instead, the government had several persons giving off the cuff remarks, sometimes in the heat of a political moment. Facts were added or subtracted in different statements. This is not the way to address a matter of international importance.

In this regard, the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley-led government has failed to demonstrate mature leadership and has done a very poor communication job, to the point where suggestions of ministers lying has generated support from even neutral persons.

There is no excuse for such a failure of clear thinking leadership. We call on Rowley to ensure that the tensions between the US and Trinidad and Tobago are reduced, for it is not in our interest to have an unpredictable US president, who will use his power in his own personal political interest, set his sights on us as an ‘enemy’.

Photo: National Security Minister and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and MP Stuart Young (right) has a word with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

At the same time, the prime minister must firmly but respectfully articulate our rights as a sovereign and independent nation. We cannot let the bully win.

The UNC, on the other hand, has once again demonstrated that they are absolutely unsuitable to be the government of Trinidad and Tobago. The UNC wants to win the upcoming elections by any means, including stooping to become the lapdogs of Marli Street.

They are a ‘Fifth Column’—supporting the US position on Guaidó, demanding that Venezuelan migrant workers be given ‘refugee status’, calling president Maduro a ‘narco-trafficker and illegitimate’, using other Trump-like slurs to describe Venezuela and now parroting the line that Trinidad and Tobago has violated the Rio Treaty because of: a meeting between prime minister Rowley and vice-president Delcy Rodríguez; the sale of fuel by Paria Ltd to a Swiss-based trader; and the landing in Trinidad of a plane owned by the Venezuelan state oil company that has been sanctioned by the US.

The UNC has twisted facts (for example, saying that Mr Asdrubal Chavez, who was in the controversial March meeting, was head of PDVSA when at that time he was not) and has used twisted logic.

The UNC reported this country’s Parliament to the US ambassador! And to crown it off, the UNC has actually called for the US to impose sanctions on the head of this country’s government! This can only be described as despicable.

Photo: Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and former Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal.
(Courtesy Baltimore Post)

Regrettably, the media has not been innocent in this imbroglio. Some reports have crossed the line between accurate reporting of facts and the interpretation of facts. As a result, at least one newspaper issued an apology to the minister of national security.

For many days in reporting on the meeting between PM Rowley and VP Rodriguez, there were photos supposedly depicting the meeting. None of those images were of the actual controversial meeting. So the wrong impressions were conveyed to the point where it was thought that T&T’s minister of energy was present—giving truth to the suggestion that the meeting was about the sale of fuel.

The media has failed to provide a proper analysis of the Rio Treaty and has ignored in large part the mercenary attack on Venezuela. They have misrepresented US sanctions as being international.

They have called for minutes of the March meeting to be released and rubbished the statement by the government that no minutes exist; yet no such call was made for minutes of the meeting between the US Ambassador and the Opposition that took place sometime ago. This cannot be the role of an objective press that gives a balanced view.

The MSJ has never been afraid of speaking truth to power, regardless of who holds that power—the US, the government, the Opposition, the media. Many do not like or agree with our recognition of president Maduro as the democratically elected president of Venezuela.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (second from left) and Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro (right) dance to calypso after a meeting at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on 5 December 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Federico Parra)

However, we stand on principle: the principle of non-interference in the affairs of another state, the recognition of sovereignty, the upholding of the Charter of the United Nations, and for the Caribbean to be a Zone of Peace.

We will not be bullied by those who have power, or tempted into taking the line of least resistance to win votes in an election, to give up our principles!

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6 comments

  1. I found it somewhat rich (amusing) to read this “press release” from The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) purportedly by David Abdulah but perhaps authored by someone within the government of Nicolás Maduro. You see, they are one and the same. The MSJ belongs to the same union that helped bring power to Hugo Chávez and that props-up Maduro today. In their rise to power in Venezuela we have a live example of what life may be under the MSJ in T&T.

    The author must think we are all fools to take the bait (hook, line and sinker) that his arguments are based even remotely in FACT. To say that it is only the ugly bully, the USA that has imposed sanctions on Venezuela is of course an untruth. During the crisis in Venezuela, governments of the United States, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Panama and Switzerland applied individual sanctions against people associated with the administration of Nicolás Maduro.

    When people like David Abdulah present these “press releases” they undoubtedly attempt to claim the moral high ground in making their arguments. They conveniently forget to mention that there are legitimate concerns about how the government there is “run”, that corruption is rampant and that Venezuela is no longer a one man one vote democracy but rather a dictatorship. When he makes the claim “we stand on principle: the principle of non-interference in the affairs of another state” how come those same principals cannot take root within Venezuela where elections have been rigged for decades? As recently as January of this year the EU provided the following statement on their website:

    “Venezuela: Declaration by the High Representative Josep Borrell on behalf of the EU on the latest developments on the National Assembly
    Recent acts against the only democratically elected body in Venezuela, the National Assembly, and many of its Members, including the President of the National Assembly, have further escalated the Venezuelan crisis. The attempts to forcibly block a legitimate election process for the Board of Directors of the National Assembly on 5 January and the use of force against its President and several lawmakers to impede their access to the National Assembly are utterly unacceptable.

    The European Union considers that the voting session that led to the “election” of Luis Parra is not legitimate as it did not respect the legal procedures, nor the democratic constitutional principles. The EU expresses its full support to Juan Guaidó as President of the National Assembly and strongly rejects the violations of the democratic, constitutional and transparent functioning of the National Assembly, as well as the continuous intimidations, violence and arbitrary decisions against its Members.”

    So while David Abdulah and the MSJ appeal on the grounds of US imperialism and bullying, let us not forget that the situation in Venezuela was self induced. Greater the effect of any worldwide sanctions imposed upon Venezuela are the crimes committed by that Government upon their own people.

  2. https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rio-treaty-1947

    Trinidad had been treatened by the USA against breaking Rio Treaty Sanctions however the Rio Treaty states that Sanctions must be approved by a majority of Foreign Ministers representing signatories to the Treaty during a meeting held for that purpose. When were Sanctions voted on and approved against Venezuela?

  3. A thoughtful and insightful approach to this embroglio. It never hurts to know the history of a country, in this case, ours, Venezuela and our neighbours up north.

  4. Earl Best

    It occurs to me that this really comprehensive, very balanced statement should ideally have come from the Communications Ministry advised by Foreign Affairs. But as the entire Delcy Rodriguez meeting affair has made quite clear, if we have a minister in Foreign Affairs, he is a minister of religion, certainly not someone who has any place at the head of so critical an institution or in a Cabinet.

    Have a re-read of his media release issued earlier this week and try not to laugh–or vomit.

    As for Communications, which competent Communications person, let alone minister, would open and close every daily media conference for a month by reading from a script? So discerning people do not really expect any helpful intervention on important matters from that quarter.

    But the qualification for these offices, as the MSJ knows but has omitted to say here, is not competence but fealty so it makes no sense to call, as the Express has publicly done for any minister’s head to roll. His replacement will be selected–ask Robert Le Hunte and Fitzgerald Hinds–on the same basis…

    Boy, are we in trouble in this country!

  5. Earl Best

    “At the same time, the prime minister must firmly but respectfully articulate our rights as a sovereign and independent nation. We cannot let the bully win.”
    I wonder if those with an interest in the TTFA vs FIFA stand-off are minded to agree. Some people are very comfortable living in silos…

  6. Earl Best

    “It would have ensured that the media did not interpret or misinterpret the statement.”
    Frankly, I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe competent, unbiased media. But there are none so blind as those who WILL NOT see.