Caricom's division on Venezuela could cloud leaders' summit

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness left Jamaica yesterday for the annual meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) in Grenada with ambiguity still clouding its position on Venezuela's political and economic crises.

Holness told the Jamaica Observer on Sunday that the issue would be on the meeting's agenda. However, Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque was reported yesterday as saying that the matter is “not on the agenda”.

“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,” the regional news agency, CMC, reported LaRocque as informing a news conference in St George's, Grenada, yesterday.

LaRocque added that, while the Venezuelan issue is not on the agenda, “there are some basic principles that the community has elaborated and this principle still holds.”

CMC also confirmed that Caricom still appeared divided on the issue, with three of its 15 member states — St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica — urging the others not to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

There is also speculation that some of Caricom states fear the effect of supporting the resolution on their concessionary facility with oil-rich Venezuela, known as PetroCaribe.

In a release, yesterday, on Holness's departure, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said that the conference provides a forum for the heads to engage in discussions on issues of critical importance to the region.

“It also provides an opportunity to develop innovative programmes of action in response to the challenges facing the Community in the areas of security, trade and economic development,” the OPM said.

“Jamaica's participation will allow it to underscore the country's commitment to strengthening the regional integration process, especially the implementation of the CSME [Caricom Single Market and Economy], and to provide a platform from which to address the conference on specific issues of national importance,” the release stated

It added that these specific issues included: Preparations for the hosting of the World Conference on Tourism, scheduled to be held in Montego Bay, in November 2017; outcome of the CARIFORUM Ministerial Meeting to examine CARIFORUM within the EU-CELAC Partnership and the future of the ACP/EU Post Cotonou Relationship; and, outcome of the “Caribbean Action 2030: Regional Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals” held in Kingston in June.

However, there was no reference to the Venezuelan issue in the release, or Holness's letter to St Vincent and the Grenadines' Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in May, which was circulated to the other Caricom leaders, proposing that the issue be discussed by the Heads of Government.

“It would be desirable for us to have dialogue with each other at the earliest opportunity with a view to framing a positive outcome,” Holness stated in the letter.

And, in a release issued yesterday, the Venezuelan Embassy in Kingston accused “extremist factors in the Venezuelan right, supported by foreign governments and powers” of staging “attacks of a terrorists nature” against its Government.

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