Venezuela not on agenda for regional leaders’ summit
ST GEORGE’S – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders will rely on “some basic principles” when it comes to the issue of the unfolding political situation in Venezuela, but the matter is “not on the agenda” for their annual summit that begins here on Tuesday, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque has said.
“The agenda for the Heads of Government meeting will be adopted on Wednesday morning and I guess we will see what emerges out of that agenda. Currently the issue of the situation in Venezuela is not inscribed on the agenda,” LaRocque told a news conference he Monday, ahead of the summit.
Opposition supporters have been taking to the streets in Caracas demanding the removal of President Nicolas Maduro. The demonstrations have resulted in the deaths of several Venezuelans.
But CARICOM appeared to be divided on the issue with St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica among those regional countries urging the Caribbean not to interfere in the internal affairs of the South American country.
LaRocque said that while the Venezuela issue is not on the agenda, “there are some basic principles that the community has elaborated and this principle still holds.
“All our member states subscribe to the statement issued by the COFCOPR (CARICOM Foreign Ministers) of non-interference, non-intervention in the internal affairs of the sovereign state of Venezuela”.
He said the policy “holds despite what you may have read about a particular text being considered at the OAS (Organisation of American States), those principles hold.
“I think we have to wait for the outcome of the meeting to see what statements come out of this meeting on Venezuela, if any,” he added.
“We have basic principles that we are united on that continues to inform our approach to dealing with Venezuela and whether or not the matter is discussed we have to wait and see what is the outcome of the meeting,” LaRocque said, adding that Maduro had not been invited to the three-day summit that will be chaired by Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell.
During the news conference, LaRocque disclosed that the United States Under Secretary of State will hold talks with CARICOM foreign ministers “specifically to discuss CARICOM-US foreign relations” in the context of the new policy being articulated by President Donald Trump.
“Our foreign affairs ministers will be having an encounter in the margins of the meeting here in Grenada this week with the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Alfred “Tom” Shannon Jr. specifically to address CARICOM US relations and of course I am sure out foreign ministers will then report to the heads”.
LaRocque said that the region is “very encouraged by the recent passage of the passage of the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act,” which is aimed at consolidating Washington’s engagement with the Caribbean.
Under the United States-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, the US Secretary of State and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will devise a multi-year strategy on issues of concern to the region, such as security, energy, diplomacy and increased access to educational opportunities.
“I am very much aware that the State Department has published the first strategy…so all of that will form the backdrop to the discussions”.
But LaRocque said that the region continues to be “concerned about the cuts in funds to the State Department does not impact us in CARICOM.
“We are currently receiving a significant amount of resources, individual member states and collectively under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), we trust that the partnership would continue and urge that the funding levels do not decrease.
“We know that the Americans have cut funding on HIV/AIDS, which we regret very much and I have informed them, but let’s wait and see what the discussions come out later this week and we will have a better sense of it.”
LaRocque said that CARICOM “has requested engagement at the higher level and we await a response from the Americans on that,” he said.
LaRocque said that CARICOM also welcomes in principle the idea of debt swapping and the regional leaders will discuss a proposal from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) in that regard.
“It’s a proposal that was first raised by ECLAC when we meet in Barbados, it is one in which we welcome in principle, basically our region on the whole, the member states are heavily indebted and that debt is occasionally in large measures by natural disasters, whether they be severe climatic events as of recently, many of countries are repairing and rebuilding the same infrastructure over and over because of the destruction by bad weather and also economic externalities,” he said.
“The proposal has been put forward that some arrangement be put in place with the debtor countries to allow for that debt to go into some kind of fund can be used for climate change and other national issues,” he said.
During the recent Caribbean Regional Climate Outlook Forum in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the host Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said that natural disasters related to climate change are increasing the national debts of most CARICOM countries.
“Borrowing to assist with the recovering and rebuilding from a natural disaster is increasing the national debt, in my case natural disaster related debt is as high as 15 per cent of GD (gross domestic product),” said Gonsalves
LaRoque told journalists that the ECLAC proposal is a general one that is not related to the debt swap proposal from Germany which is being championed through The Nature Conservancy – the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.
In the May 2015 Blue Growth conference held in Grenada, Robert Weary, Senior Director, Product Development at The Nature Conservancy, said that the debt swap initiative for nature through his organization involves countries cancelling debt against another and the money used toward environmental development projects.
He had explained that debt swapping is not debt relief but debt re-direction. Weary said that through the initiative, his organisation will negotiate to have the debt purchased by a third party, which will then be transferred to a local Trust established in accordance with the relevant national law.
The regional leaders at their summit will also a wide range of issues, including tourism, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), crime and security, health with particular reference to the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Port of Spain Declaration on Non-Communicable Disease.
They will also deliberate on cheaper broadband within the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) and the trade relations with Britain following the country’s decision to leave the European Union. (CMC)