Venezuela: Once a friend, forever a friend?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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The position of the Opposition on Jamaica's vote at the Organization of American States (OAS) against recognition of the Maduro Government in Venezuela is heavily posited on the historical friendship enjoyed by Kingston and Caracas.

One must immediately agree that Venezuela gave full-throated proof that a friend in need is a friend indeed, by virtually saving the Jamaican economy in the 1970s and, again, through the PetroCaribe pact.

The million-dollar question is: are we going to accept whatever happens and whatever regime is in Venezuela henceforth, on the basis that we had a great friendship at a certain point in time? In other words, is Venezuela, or any other country for that matter, our forever friend?

Jamaica's foreign policy, which is undergirded by the concept of non-alignment, has allowed us the courage to vote 'yes' when necessary and 'no' when necessary, without being constrained by historical friendship or hostility.

We were certainly no friend of Apartheid-era South Africa up to the release from prison of the revered Mr Nelson Mandela. Today, however, we are great friends.

The stance taken on the OAS vote last week by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), as enunciated by its foreign affairs spokesperson Miss Lisa Hanna, and by Mr Phillip Paulwell in respect of the forced acquisition of Venezuela's 49 per cent shares in Petrojam, made no attempt to examine the current situation in that Spanish-speaking country.

Miss Hanna has raised the issue of whether Jamaica's action at the OAS constitutes interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and whether this breaches the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country which has been a tenet of Jamaica's foreign policy since Independence in 1962.

If indeed the PNP, after profound analysis of the mayhem and political manoeuvring in that country, concludes that Venezuela is still deserving of Jamaica's undying friendship, then let the party say so and share with us how they arrived at that conclusion.

The weakness in the PNP's position notwithstanding, the Jamaican persona is one that is loyal to good friends and is not ready to throw them under the bus at the first sign of trouble.

For her part, Mrs Kamina Johnson Smith, the foreign minister, needs to spend some more time — she has so far done a press conference, a newspaper publication, and a television programme — explaining the finer points of Jamaica's position on both events which appear to coincide.

The Government of Jamaica has said that it had to acquire the shares in order to protect Petrojam and the Jamaican economy, after no progress was being made in protracted negotiations with Venezuela.

The OAS vote, coming on the heels of the share grab back, risks giving the view that Jamaica is turning its back on a friend who was there for us in our great hour of need. Perhaps that is not the case. But great care must be taken to ensure there is no such confusion, either in Kingston or other capitals of the world.

Moreover, in today's complex world, relationships can no longer be sustained by historical friendships alone. One needs look no further than the growing contretemps between America and its allies in Europe.

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