It is with serious alarm that I note a report in the Trinidad Guardian about the United States probing our country over a Trinidad and Tobago fuel shipment linked to Venezuela. If true, our country’s very economic survival is at stake. This since, as our longstanding and greatest global ally, any such rift could gravely damage our very beneficial trade, national security, and foreign relations with the United States.
Since January 2019, Venezuela’s government under president Nicolas Maduro has been deemed illegal, brutal, and corrupt by the US. The US and 50 other countries have instead recognized the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate president. Further, the United States has imposed sweeping sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, and last month charged Maduro and other senior government officials with “narco-terrorism”.
Under Maduro, Venezuela has essentially collapsed into a failed State; and is in the throes of a very serious humanitarian and food crisis.
This has caused thousands of Venezuelan refugees to flock to our shores since last year. The Rowley government, however, has openly supported Maduro’s globally denounced regime.
In January 2019, Rowley even got into a very public row with the US Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Joseph Modello, when he said Rowley’s continued recognition of Maduro’s regime was “deeply concerning”. Now, the alleged illegitimate actions of the Rowley regime in their ongoing, questionable, and dangerous support of Maduro could cause the US to impose costly and detrimental sanctions for Trinidad and Tobago.
This is regarding a controversial shipment of fuel from the State’s Paria Fuel Trading Company, which left Trinidad and Tobago’s shores on April 21, 2020, for Aruba. Global reports have indicated that this fuel shipment may have eventually been sent to Venezuela. According to the Guardian report, both the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and a State Department Representative have confirmed that the US government; is aware of these damning reports have warned other nations against assisting embattled Venezuela president Maduro and his regime;
- Has served notice to foreign institutions that they will face sanctions for being involved in facilitating illegitimate transactions that benefit president Maduro and his corrupt network;
- Has stated that it does not matter how the transactions with Venezuela is conducted, whether using currency or in-kind exchanges nor does the US care about whether these transactions are otherwise legal under another country’s laws;
- Is now probing Trinidad and Tobago’s possible violation of the sanctions that the US has imposed against Venezuela and notes that if Trinidad and Tobago is found to have assisted Venezuela in getting fuel, it could open our country up to US sanctions.
The Guardian further notes that Rowley and his energy, national security and communication ministers, Franklin Khan, Stuart Young and Donna Cox, respectively, have consistently refused to answer their questions;
- Is Trinidad and Tobago facilitating fuel shipments to Venezuela and/or;
- If any deal was discussed during the visit with Venezuelan vice president Delcy Rodriguez last month (where they opened up the locked borders) and if PDVSA head Juan Santana was also at this meeting?
Several newspaper reports (2019) have recorded my public condemnation of Rowley for his dangerous stance against the US. I have also consistently warned that any fallout with the US, and resultant sanctions, can seriously damage Trinidad and Tobago in the following ways:
- There are more than 200,000 Trinidad and Tobago citizens who hold United States visas which can be seriously impacted;
- This will gravely affect their ability to visit the US for study, tourism, cultural and trade-related activities;
- The US has a large Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora who can similarly be affected negatively by being unable to move freely between the countries;
- Seventy percent of all our food is imported from the US at an annual cost of over US$1 billion (TT$7 billion);
- Any US sanctions, especially in a post-COVID-19 world, can therefore deeply affect our already precarious food supply;
- The current widespread hunger crisis will, therefore, seem like a joke;
- Trinidad and Tobago exports more than US$2.7 billion (TT$18.9 billion) annually to the US in the energy sector. Any sanctions can, therefore, deplete our already deeply strained revenue stream, potentially causing an irreversible economic crisis;
- Sanctions can cause Trinidad and Tobago to lose out on its privileged status as the biggest beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), under which we receive trade preferences;
- These grant duty and quota-free access to the US to the tune of US$400 million (TT$2.8 billion) annually;
- Participation in CBI requires, among other things, a waiver of certain World Trade Organization (WTO) conditions;
- Trinidad and Tobago current waiver will expire in 2021 and the US president and Congress have to approve renewing the agreement;
- The CBI also grants Trinidad and Tobago very important technical advice and cooperation on border control, Customs and Excise and mutual assistance.
Such heavy features of Trinidad and Tobago national security apparatus can, therefore, be lost, causing our crime-ridden country to suffer even more.
I am therefore calling on prime minister Rowley to come clean and tell this country the true state of this possibly illegitimate fuel shipment.
His ongoing reckless, dangerous, and questionable governance has truly led to our beloved nation’s destruction in every possible way. It must no longer be tolerated, for Trinidad and Tobago’s very survival is now at stake.
Kamla Persad Bissessar, MP, SC
Political Leader of the United National Congress (UNC)