OUR CARIBBEAN: Small Caricom’s big stand
THE CARIBBEAN Community (CARICOM) has, commendably, led the way among regional and hemispheric-wide organisations in denouncing political violence in Venezuela and urging all parties to return the country to peace and calm.
Significantly, this call by CARICOM on February 18 came amid growing concerns over foreign interventions and with defence ministers of the 12-nation Union of South American States (UNASUR) warning against any such development.
The political turmoil, now in its third week and primarily located within the ranks of the opposition party of Leopoldo Lopez, wants to see the back of the socialist-oriented Bolivarian government of President Nicolas Maduro, first choice of his late mentor Hugo Chavez.
Last year Maduro led his party in retaining the presidency, though by a narrow margin. Subsequently he was to convincingly win, against the odds, local government elections. Yet, an assurance signalled in 2013 by United States Secretary of State John Kerry – after Maduro’s presidential triumph – for improved Washington’s relations with the government in Caracas remains elusive.
Worse, amid the current widening protests, Maduro’s administration was to openly link US-backed involvement and sent packing three officials of the United States embassy in Caracas for claimed subversive activities. That development drew a sharp response from Mr Kerry who called on President Maduro’s administration to “step back from its efforts to stifle dissent through force and to respect basic human rights”.
Already there have been reports of at least nine known deaths and scores of injured during recurring street protests between thousands of rival anti- and pro-government demonstrators.
However, the US government, known for its dislike of the administration in Caracas, is yet to signal any serious interest in bilateral talks.
The BBC’s Latin America and Caribbean service has reported Maduro as urging President Barack Obama for Washington and Caracas to engage in “high-level dialogue” at which, he said, “the truth will be put on the table”. He also stressed that the dialogue “will be difficult and complex until the US government accepted the full autonomy and independence of Latin America”.
For his part, Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in analysing the bloody confrontations beyond Caracas, has questioned whether the Obama administration “is turning a blind eye to chaos in Venezuela”.
CARICOM government leaders, diplomats and top officials, familiar with Washington’s involvement under then President George W Bush in orchestrating a 2004 coup against the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, would appreciate the current principled stand by the the 15-member Community in moving, with alacrity, to denounce the spreading violent confrontations in Venezuela and appealing for “a return to peace and calm”.
The critics of CARICOM may cynically question the political clout of the regional economic integration movement, in rushing to make the appeal for an end to violent confrontations, with the very relevant observation that “no democratic society can reasonably pursue disorder or any unwarranted subversion of democratic institutions . . .”.
After all, those not suffering from expedient political amnesia, could well recall CARICOM’s strenuous efforts to dissuade foreign political interferences in fomenting widespread disturbances, including murder, designed to oust Aristide from power.
While awaiting on other hemispheric bodies and governments to speak up in support of political sovereignty and respect for democratically-elected administrations, let it be noted that CARICOM has done what’s politically correct in taking a principled stand on the situation in Venezuela.
•Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.