I had already completed an article on the damage done to our relations with Barbados by the disastrous Stuart Young but must leave that for another time.
Trinidad and Tobago is now under a probe by the United States to determine whether the Rowley administration has defied US sanctions against Venezuela. Ominous.
The issue deals with a shipment of fuel from Paria Fuel Trading Company that left our shores for an Aruban refinery linked to Citgo, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA. Reports that the fuel cargo was shipped to Venezuela after it arrived in Aruba have surfaced. The US Embassy in Port of Spain has told the Guardian the “US government is aware of the reports”.
The United States has made it clear that any nation assisting Venezuela in avoiding embargoes will face sweeping sanctions. We could be in serious trouble with our largest trading partner, because if culpable, we could lose significant revenue from trade and investment flows, to further impoverish our beleaguered state. Our food supply could be more endangered since we import 70 percent of what we eat from the United States, and COVID-19 has already produced front page Express headlines announcing “Hunger Heartbreak” and “Rush for Food”.
Making things worse are the already damaged relations with the US under the Keith Rowley administration. It started in 2016 when OAS secretary general Luis Almagro termed Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro “a petty dictator” for refusing the recall referendum after fraudulent elections. With Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela already in gas talks, Rowley, patently unskilled in foreign relations, jumped to Maduro’s defence, crudely calling for the removal of Almagro.
As I said then, “Rottweiler diplomacy had arrived.” In the process, Trinidad and Tobago lost its leadership in CARICOM. The US started talking to Jamaica on the Venezuela issue. Trinidad and Tobago was not invited to a meeting at his Miami resort that Donald Trump held with five Caribbean leaders to discuss Venezuela and other matters.
Keith Rowley claimed it was no snub to be not “invited to the private residence of an American president”. Utter foolishness of course. Trump has hosted world leaders at his Miami resort, including Chinese president Xi Xingping and Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe to discuss global and bilateral issues; and, according to the White House, the four Caribbean leaders met with Trump and “discussed a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela, opportunities for investment, and ongoing security cooperation”. This was no dinner party. And we were left out, relegated to irrelevance on a matter happening on our very doorstep.
Indeed we have been sinking in ignominy on this Venezuela issue. Rowley salivated for Maduro’s gas for over four years and refused to take a stance on the political and humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes. It was shameful. People were starving, children diseased and dying, Maduro jailing, torturing, murdering his people, millions fleeing their homeland.
But the Rowley administration said not a word yet asserting we “stand taller than ever” when we were in fact diminished by our silence, mendicants at Maduro’s door. And experts said the gas we were likely to get from the Dragon field was minuscule compared to our reserves. Why were we diminishing ourselves for a “few pieces of silver”? Was some leader compromised in any way?
Then there was that disaster when the prime minister went on the excessive offensive against the US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
Defending his Venezuela approach, Rowley thundered in parliament: “I take umbrage. I take umbrage at the United States ambassador making a public statement criticising the actions of the government of Trinidad and Tobago. As far as taking instructions from the US Embassy on Marli Street, leave the Peoples National Movement (PNM) out of that.”
Unadulterated Rottweiler diplomacy; rhetoric suitable for a political rally at Piggott’s Corner, not the diplomatic arena.
The US would hardly forget it as they investigate all efforts to circumvent US sanctions against Venezuela. The US Embassy in Port of Spain says its government will also take “appropriate action” against those engaged in sanctionable activity as well as those found violating US sanctions.
Their focus on Maduro is unrelenting. Two weeks ago, the dictator was indicted in the United States in a decades-long narco-terrorism and international cocaine trafficking conspiracy; and last Thursday, the US confirmed that a massive cocaine shipment off Spain’s coast is connected to the Maduro regime.
Questions also surround that impromptu visit to Port of Spain by Venezuelan vice-president Delcy Rodriguez, days after the US offered a US$15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest. Did Rodriguez, also sanctioned by Canada and the European Union, discuss the fuel shipment with Keith Rowley on her visit? And did that meeting initiate the transaction by Paria one day later?
The administration should make every effort to clear this up because speculation is swirling. If indeed Trinidad and Tobago is facilitating fuel shipments to Venezuela, it would reveal the power Maduro wields over our government; that the Rowley administration is prepared to incur the displeasure of the world’s superpower, our most powerful democratically, largest trading partner and main source of foreign direct investment.
The United States has its eyes on “Maduro and his corrupt network”. Are high officials of our government compromised in any way? Is Maduro holding the metaphorical gun to somebody’s head in the Rowley administration?
Rest assured the US will find out. Has this administration landed us in still more trouble?
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs