A Case for Fence-mending in 2020
2020 is under way and with another Independence Anniversary approaching, I’ve been thinking of how best we can demonstrate the independence of our foreign policy after 42 years as a sovereign nation and one way, I believe, would be to mend our broken fence with the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela.
The Government last year froze ties with Venezuela, a decision most clearly demonstrated by the extraordinary delay in acceptance, to this day, of the credentials of the new Ambassador to Saint Lucia designated by Caracas.
Indeed, Saint Lucia, Jamaica and The Bahamas, whose Prime Ministers were among the five Caribbean leaders who attended the Mar-a-Lago Summit with US President Donald Trump in March 2019, have each since been without a resident Venezuelan envoy.
Saint Lucia has also since then followed an interesting middle-of-the-road line on Venezuela: not breaking diplomatic ties, but not strengthening either; not condemning the Nicolas Maduro Administration, but not offering any comfort either.
Early last year, Saint Lucia’s Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Anton Edmunds, made references to Saint Lucia-born Jean Baptiste Bideau, a revered confidante of Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar who fought for and died defending Venezuela’s independence, to take Maduro’s Bolivarian Government to task.
I boiled it down to a reflection of the intellectual artistry inherited from his father, Dr Edsel Edmunds, an esteemed agricultural scientist bestowed with the herculean diplomatic multi-task of being Saint Lucia’s first Ambassador to the OAS, the USA and the United Nations (UN) after independence in 1979 – all at the same time.
But I also felt quite sure that if he could have pulled the younger envoy’s leg while penning those words, Bideau surely would.
I felt much better — totally relieved, in fact — when, last November 21, I viewed online a video of Ambassador Edmunds Jr reading a statement at an OAS Permanent Council meeting on behalf of the Caribbean Group, in stout defense of the Commonwealth of Dominica’s sovereign right to decide who it wished to invite to observe its General Elections in December 2019.
I felt even better when the Caribbean Group, again with Saint Lucia in the CARICOM Chair, moved and got support for a resolution calling attention to the plight of the majority indigenous people of Bolivia in the wake of the US-backed military coup that followed the yet-to-be-justified annulment of the October 2019 elections by an OAS Electoral Observer Team, which led to the forced exile of four-times-consecutively-reelected President Evo Morales.
Indeed, I’d felt just as good after the July 2019 CARICOM Summit in Saint Lucia, when CARICOM stated its stout objection to any kind of military intervention in Venezuela.
I’d watched CARICOM flex (under the watch of previous Chairman, St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris) between the hawkish approach of the Canada-led pro-Washington ‘Lima Group’ and the pacifist ‘Montevideo Mechanism’ proposed by Uruguay, Mexico and Bolivia, with the support of the International Crisis Group and the Office of the UN Secretary General.
I also felt encouraged when Norway’s Prime Minister also undertook a separate and concrete initiative last year that brought the two warring factions together in Barbados more than once.
I’d watched and welcomed the presence of the UN Secretary General, Norwegian Prime Minister and OAS Secretary General at the 2019 CARICOM Summit and was encouraged that Venezuela occupied such a high level on its agenda.
I was a bit nervous when Prime Minister Chastanet, as CARICOM Chairman, was coincidentally in Washington attending an unrelated meeting on the same day the OAS was discussing the Secretary General’s insistence, with the US Ambassador’s support, on defying the wishes of the Dominica government ahead of the approaching elections.
It would really have shivered my timbers to have seen and/or heard PM Chastanet, as CARICOM Chairman, making any announcement, in Washington, about any type of US-led intervention in Dominica ahead of the elections, whether in the name of ‘protecting democracy’ or ‘ensuring regional security’.
That fearful Popeye moment not having come to pass, I still continued counting the remaining days of the year, afraid that while everyone else was occupied with Christmas shopping and preparing for the New Year, some Smart Alec in Washington would have seized the brief opportunity to quickly slip something through the unattended cracks to commit CARICOM, under Saint Lucia’s Chairmanship, to a US-led approach to Venezuela in 2020.
Pros and Cons
My state worst fears (for Venezuela) over on the morning of January 1, 2020, I took a deep breath and exhaled – only to be forced, just two days later, to quickly and deeply hold my breath, yet again, after President Trump ordered the assassination of the second most popular and powerful figure in Iran, driving millions across the country into a killing rage of tears, marching in mourning and prayer, with demands for vengeance.
Now that PM Chastanet has published his CARICOM Chairman’s report, I sincerely hope more time will be taken to assess the pros and cons of continuing on the present course with Venezuela, especially at a time when US-backed ‘Interim President’ Juan Guaido’s support is waning, alongside growing allegations of corruption.
On Thursday, Guaido, who emerged last year demanding fresh presidential elections after accusing Maduro of winning by fraud, told Al Jazeera TV he now does not want to see constitutionally-scheduled elections held this year, promising to invite Venezuelans to take to the streets ‘to prevent voters from legitimizing a dictatorship’.
No one should expect this Saint Lucia government to directly oppose Washington’s outright interventionist approach to Venezuela.
But nothing says either that Saint Lucia should or must appear to toe Washington’s line on Caracas – a fact partly underlined by Foreign Affairs Minister Sarah Flood’s announcement last March of the island’s refusal to implement the Lima Group’s call for member-states to break diplomatic ties with the Maduro administration and recognize Guaido.
But that position was starkly contradicted just a few weeks later when Saint Lucia voted with Washington for acceptance of the unelected Guaido’s representative to take Venezuela’s seat at the OAS.
With impeachment proceedings on a slippery slope and presidential elections only ten months away, President Trump has wasted little time in 2020 to remind the world how quick he can make and change his mind — and do the unexpected.
In just one week he: ordered the killing of Iran’s top military commander and threatened to bomb 52 cultural sites if Iran retaliated, threatened a whirlwind of sanctions against Iraq if it implemented its parliament’s decision to ask US troops to leave – and refused to inform Congress, though constitutionally required, of the reasons for ordering the top Iranian general’s assassination.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this week reaffirmed Washington’s support for the powerless ‘Interim President’ Guaido — and promised to ramp-up support for him in Latin American and the Caribbean.
No Government official will openly admit that Saint Lucia has broken or damaged fences with Venezuela, even though none can deny there’s a great need for fence-mending.
Until ties were frozen last year, Venezuela has been nothing but good to Saint Lucia, which has received much valuable and free support from Caracas under both Presidents Hugo Chavez and Maduro, including: millions of dollars for social programmes for the poor, thousands of computers for students, training for hundreds of students at the Saint Lucia School of Music, dozens of scholarships in Venezuela – and in 2016 alone, three new bridges in Dennery and Vieux Fort, plus upgrading of the Sans Soucis Bridge in Castries.
Venezuela has naturally disagreed with but has also been most respectful of Saint Lucia’s sovereign decisions regarding diplomatic ties since Mar-a-Lago, always leaving and keeping all doors wide open for diplomatic dialogue and bilateral cooperation.
It’ll soon be a full year since Saint Lucia put its ties with Venezuela in the freezer.
Now, I strongly feel, is a good time to unlock the fridge and start thawing the frozen ties to quickly return the warmth and friendship enjoyed with the very first country to open an embassy in Saint Lucia after Independence 41 years ago.
It would do very well for Saint Lucia to mark its 42nd independence anniversary with some indication of a normalization of the friendly and functional bilateral ties between Castries and Caracas started by Prime Minister John Compton in 1979 and cultivated under all previous UWP and SLP administrations.
This return to diplomatic normality can start with the long-overdue acceptance of the credentials of the new ambassador designated by the legitimate government of Venezuela, who has been languishing in a prolonged undiplomatic wait ever since arriving here last year.
It’s the least we can do for a country and people who have been nothing but very good friends and supportive neighbours since Independence, continuing a shared bond started over two centuries ago by Bideau and Bolivar.