Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Caricom’s shame! How Jamaica, Haiti and Bahamas orchestrated ‘unfounded’ attack on T&T over Venezuela migrant crisis

Caricom’s shame! How Jamaica, Haiti and Bahamas orchestrated ‘unfounded’ attack on T&T over Venezuela migrant crisis

“[…] It’s difficult for me to understand, much less find justification, for why Jamaica, the sitting chair of the OAS Permanent Council at the time, failed to rule on whether to allow Guaidó’s agent to level unfounded charges directly accusing the T&T government of culpability in the Venezuelan tragedy. 

“[…] This was yet another example of the governments of Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Haiti doing the bidding of the Trump administration, or being directed what to do, in the OAS…”

The following column was written by Curtis Ward, a former ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Jamaica to the United Nations Security Council and first published on his personal blog:

Photo: Prime Minister Keith Rowley (left) and his Jamaican counterpart Andrew Holness exchange greetings.

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) continued its descent to a new low, having lost all pretence to regional unity. Caricom’s shame is visited upon the organisation by the actions—and in some cases inactions—of its members. 

The issue which has laid bare many of the weaknesses inherent in this regional organisation is the Venezuela crisis. Most importantly, Caricom members are split on who is the legitimate president of Venezuela: Nicolás Maduro, elected  president, versus Juan Guaidó, ‘interim president’. 

Guaidó, as president of the General Assembly, was designated ‘interim president’ by the Donald Trump administration which—determining that the Venezuelan presidential election won by Maduro was fraudulent—invoked provisions of the Venezuela constitution to unilaterally justify designation of Guaidó as ‘interim president’.  

Some 49 like-minded countries out of the other 192 sovereign states around the world soon followed the Trump administration’s lead. Many of the remaining 142 sovereign countries continue to either recognise Maduro or have not made a choice. 

Some of the fence-sitters do so because of fear of retribution from the Trump administration, should they overtly recognise Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Photo: Venezuela president Nicholás Maduro.

It is not within the remit of this article to re-litigate the legitimacy of elections in Venezuela, nor in my opinion is it a legitimate exercise by powerful countries to determine unilaterally whether any other country’s elections are legitimate.  

There are multilateral bodies with the requisite authority to do so. Suffice it to say, having led a ballot boycott of the recent Venezuela legislative elections, Guaidó is no longer a member of the General Assembly—the position on which authority the constitutional provision was applied to designate him ‘interim president’. 

It will be a difficult stretch for most of  the other 49 countries to justify that Guaidó is still entitled to continue being recognised as ‘interim president’.

I am not opining on the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the conduct or outcome of the recent elections. My focus for this article is the disorganisation, disunity, distrust, and perhaps betrayal within and among Caricom member states.

In the interest of transparency, let me be clear! I have been critical about the way the government of Trinidad and Tobago recently handled Venezuelan immigrants-refugees, who landed on the shores of Trinidad and were within the jurisdiction of the T&T government.

Photo: National Security Minister Stuart gives instructions to Venezuelan migrants outside a registration centre at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain.

Refugees have rights under international law and illegal immigrants have rights, even if lesser rights than citizens and legal residents, in any country which adheres to the rule of law and has jurisdiction over them. The right to protect persons within a country’s jurisdiction is an obligation of all United Nations Member States. 

But that’s a completely different issue [when it comes to] blaming the government of Trinidad and Tobago for the recent tragedy which befell the 25+ Venezuelans who lost their lives within the territorial jurisdiction of Venezuela. 

It matters not which country was their presumed destination. Trinidad being the presumed destination bore no responsibility. None!

Guaidó, the so-called ‘interim president’ of Venezuela, was way out of line when he levelled blame on the government of Trinidad and Tobago for the deaths of the Venezuelans within Venezuela’s jurisdiction. 

It was loathsome for him to take his baseless vitriol to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States; and [he was] given the opportunity to do so, shamefully aided and abetted by three CARICOM member states: The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti. 

Photo: Former president of the Venezuela National Assembly, John Guiadó.
(Copyright AP)

While the rationale and the legality of giving Guaidó’s agent/representative access to the Permanent Council is highly questionable in the first place, it is shameful that three Caricom member states would support giving him this opportunity to unjustifiably vilify a sister Caricom member state.

These three Caricom member states voted in favour of giving Guaidó’s agent the opportunity to falsely accuse the government of Trinidad and Tobago of culpability in the tragedy visited upon these hapless Venezuelans.

It’s difficult for me to understand, much less find justification, for why Jamaica, the sitting chair of the OAS Permanent Council at the time, failed to rule on whether to allow Guaidó’s agent to level unfounded charges directly accusing the T&T government of culpability in the Venezuelan tragedy. 

This failure to rule by the Jamaica chair of the Permanent Council was a slap in the face of other Caricom member states who raised timely objections. 

By ignoring the objections raised by the representatives of Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines, the chair implicitly gave Guaidó’s representative the imprimatur to attack the government of Trinidad and Tobago. 

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)

This was yet another example of the governments of Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Haiti doing the bidding of the Trump administration, or being directed what to do, in the OAS. This is no longer a matter of debate. This has been the trend for almost two years.

In defence of the honour of Trinidad and Tobago, the government’s representative in the OAS, Ambassador Anthony Phillips-Spencer, gave a robust defence—dismissing any culpability of his government in the deaths of the Venezuelans, which should have been obvious to all.

He firmly placed Guaidó’s representative/agent as a non-member of the OAS without any legal authority whatsoever to be recognised, or to speak as a representative of a sovereign state in the Permanent Council. 

In contrast, the governments of Caricom member states who aided and abetted this travesty, and who continue to follow Trump administration’s Venezuela policies, further weakened Caricom by their inexplicable actions [and] betrayal of a fellow Caricom member state.

The shambolic foreign policies pursued by these and other Caribbean governments, [and the] marginalisation of their countries’ sovereignty and independence now seem to be the norm.  Their actions deepen the political divisions in the regional organisation, thus making it progressively difficult for cooperation on critical issues facing the region.

Photo: Venezuelans have streamed into Trinidad by boat.

Undeniably, the Venezuela refugee crisis places a significant burden on the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago. Why isn’t this a collective Caricom concern? 

Shouldn’t Trinidad and Tobago’s burden be the responsibility of all Caricom members? 

Dealing with the Venezuelan refugees flooding T&T should have been on Caricom’s agenda and all member states should be seeking ways to assist. This includes speaking with one voice in regional and international organisations and using whatever diplomatic influence available collectively and individually to garner assistance to ease T&T’s burden.

A missed opportunity is the failure so far of the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, outgoing chair of Caricom, to use its membership in the United Nations Security Council to advance the region’s interests, offer a robust defence of the Trinidad and Tobago government, and ensure T&T receives adequate UN and other international assistance to alleviate the burden of the refugee crisis. 

Caricom lacks a permanent voice at the United Nations. I hope T&T’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who assumes the chair of Caricom in January 2021, makes changing these dynamics a priority.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (centre) at a Caricom meeting.

The issues surrounding the situation in Venezuela are the most divisive I have seen in Caricom. This disunity has been fuelled by a series of actions by the Trump administration and used to play one against the other. 

It will be quite interesting to see how these governments pivot away from Trump when President-elect Joseph Biden takes office on January 20 2021. The dance should be entertaining.

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3 comments

  1. Trinidad and Tobago needs to deport more illegal Jamaicans living in Trinidad and be more fair with its dealings with illegal migrants across the board. Venezuelans should have more of a legal right as refugees base on the dictatorship in Venezuela then the normal way of life in Jamaica that Jamaicans are fleeing from, and living illegally Trinidad and Tobago. Another prospective is that Trinidad and Tobago does not recognize Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad as refugees and the privilege the status grants. I doubt very much that Venezuelans in Trinidad would want to be distributed to other islands in the Caribbean, maybe with the exception of Puerto Rico which is US territory. When I see post from other islanders saying “we need to do more”, I am sure this might be amusing to trinis. This is what my trinis friend call “ole talk” meaning it has no substance.

  2. I hope Dr Rowleys sees who his caribbean colleagues are

  3. Trinidad and Tobago is an independent sovereign Republic. While the Trump administration does all it could to exclude hapless citizens from its borders, it seeks to dictate the policies of other states viz a viz its immigration policies. Shameless lapdogs of Trump will live to regret the awful legacy they help to establish and that their names will ever be linked to one with despotic and fascist intent. Let’s see the dance after January 20, 2021.