Trinidad and Tobago faces US sanctions

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Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley (L) with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Dear Sir

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)

23 COMMENTS

  1. For a country, as small as Trinidad and Tobago, the government would do well to be mindful of our geographhic location and be very caurious in dealing with already sanctioned countries.

  2. It’s hilarious that the focus is on parties in the opposition highlighting the possible misconduct of the Rowley’s administration and not the said actions… So I’m to believe that if or when sanctions come it is because the UNC reps highlight it; and begging for the Rowley administration to be viewed as rogue rather than punish the whole country.The sanction is not actually due to the actions…laughable.

  3. An excellent message from the UNC’s political leader.
    It’s unfortunate that the reckless and very questionable behaviour of Keith Rowley is now putting Trinidad and Tobago directly at odds with the US Govt.

  4. This just goes to show that the Trinidad and Tobago government has no foreign policy, or long-term plans for the sustainable development of the country, within the international community.

    • We have no foreign policy. Please do some objective independent research before making statements like that. It’s a pretty good thing that most people did not take your political party seriously.

      • It matters who recognize or don’t, any party, or take them serious. What matters is that amerikkka is taking the activities of your wannabe jackass PM seriously.

        • Careful with your spelling of USA with your sick and false references to KKK! You IGNORANCE is louder than you abilities to spell. Let me help you with it in a way even an ignorant fool can understand… United States of AMERICA. 🇺🇸🇹🇹

  5. Trinis did not believe that Carona could affect Trinidad and Tobago just the same way they do not believe that we are being investigated by the US. Only time will tell to those disbelievers but it will be too late for us and our economy.

  6. Who is the USA to call the legacy of the overwhelmingly elected and most loved Hugo Chavez Government. The revenue of the slave trade must not be used for All or REPARATED TO THE AFRICAN communism is soo..

    • IGNORANCE is abundant on here today… dare you speak of USA as the Slave nation? Do your history of slavery fool… are you aware of existence of slavery still??? Put up or shut up!

  7. What a traitor and a witch. You are aware of the problems we as a country could face in light of this allegation but you choose self over country. You will be recorded together with your family as traitor in our country history. My family and I will never ever vote for you or who supports you. Let you know this is no PNM loyalist. If it was Dr Rowley, I would offer the same way. This is about Trinidad and Tobago.

  8. The pandemic affects us all and our response should be national instead of political, especially since this is a country increasingly becoming divided by race. It makes sense to have the full backing of all the interest groups so you have the assurance and support for whatever decision is taken and accepted. The Venezuelan political connection between the present Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the sale of gas by a golfing crony of the Prime Minister and husband of the Speaker of the Parliament, allowing a Venezuelan person into the country when persons born here, contrary to the law, are exiled, and then stonewalling any questions that are legitimately the right of the media and the Opposition to ask, shows a total disregard for the law and people of this country.

    At this stage it does not matter what the PNM or the Opposition did when they were in power in the past. We cannot change that. However, we need to change the approach of this Government- the high-handedness, the determination not to respond to questions of national interest and the continuous blaming of the Opposition even though almost five years have passed since the Government took power.

  9. A questionable message from a morally flawed source. If Kamla steps down as political leader of the UNC they may be able to contribute to OUR country positively.

  10. Trinidad and Tobago has supplied Venezuela with fuel when it has had internal crises. Certainly during the anti Chavez attempted coup in 2002, Trinidad and Tobago supplied Venezuela directly. NP was responsible for supplying the Caribbean with fuel product in the past, product which it complained was sold on to third parties at times.

    Paria Trading one of the successor companies to Petrotrin is now responsible for importing fuel into Trinidad and Tobago and it would seem for selling internationally. The Energy Minister has argued that Paria sold product to Aruba and it is not responsible for the onward sale by Aruba to Venezuela. A legitimate legal argument. Unfortunately the unexplained visit by the Venezuelan VP Delcy Rodriguez who was said to have been accompanied by PDVSA personnel does raise a few questions.

    There was no official communique setting out was was discussed at the meeting. Reporters were told that it was covid-19 related or that it was none of their business when they pressed. This is important since our borders were supposed to be closed. If the shipment was arranged at the meeting it changes things. But there are a few more important questions.

    Was this the first shipment to Aruba? If yes, are other shipment planned given the certain knowledge that the shipments could be diverted? Or have there been other shipments to Aruba in the past? The shipment to Aruba was small at 150,000 gallons. So by itself it should not put Trinidad and Tobago in hot water, accused of sanctions busting. But multiple shipments would be another matter.

  11. I would like to know what the UN’s official position is on this Venezuelan situation. The world needs to hear from them. What are they doing to help diplomatically solve the situation. If the UN is still recognizing Maduro as President and the US doesn’t, where does that leave Trinidad and the rest of the world with regards to a Venezuelan relationship. This predicament is very unfair to our country seeing that Venezuela is our closest neighbor just 7 miles off our coast. The US must also abide by international law. This is our only hope for protection in this situation.

  12. I’m of the humble opinion that the opposition leader and here cohorts are disingenuous in their quest to gain cheap political points at the detriment of the very country they claim to love. Additionally, why should one not assist it’s neighbors in a time of need.

    I remember vividly when a delegation during her term at the helm travelled to Venezuela, seeking some form of collaboration/assistance in her governments quest to save her fledgling fuel industry. Oh, what a shame.

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