Rowley downplays significance of Trump meeting with select Caribbean leaders

Friday, March 22, 2019

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday brushed aside suggestions that Port of Spain had been snubbed by United States President Donald Trump who is expected to meet with select Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders on the Venezuela issue in Miami today.

“There are people in Trinidad and Tobago who believe that because Trinidad and Tobago was not invited to the private residence of an American president we are somehow diminished,” Rowley told a news conference following the weekly Cabinet meeting here.

“[But] ladies and gentlemen, we have never stood taller; we have never stood prouder and as I speak to you now Caricom's (Caribbean Community) position, as reaffirmed in the last meeting of heads in St Kitts-Nevis, is that there are three people representing and authorised to represent Caricom outside of its heads and caucus, and that's the chairman of Caricom, who is the prime minister of St Kitts-Nevis (Dr Timothy Harris); Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister or designate; and Barbados through its prime minister or designate.”

He reminded reporters that there were 15 Caricom countries “yet the conversation is about four” a reference to St Lucia, The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti, whose leaders will meet with Trump today at his private residence in Miami.

The Caribbean leaders invited had in January supported a resolution at the Organization of American States (OAS) in not recognising President Nicolas Maduro's second five-year term.

But Caricom leaders at their inter-sessional summit in St Kitts-Nevis last month reiterated their position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and said they were prepared to mediate in the process to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis where Opposition Leader Juan Guaidˇ, with the support of Washington and its allies, is seeking to replace Maduro, who was sworn into office for a second consecutive term in January.

In late January, regional leaders, led by Harris and including Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Rowley, met with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, expressing optimism that the UN will assist in establishing the roadmap towards peace and security for Venezuela.

The delegation also participated in a meeting in Uruguay where the Montevideo Mechanism was adopted, saying it presents “the only objective mechanism” to address the complex political situation in Venezuela”.

Rowley reiterated the Caricom position on wanting a peaceful solution in Venezuela, and described the meeting taking place with Trump today as a “meeting of the Lima Group” to which the Caribbean islands invited are members.

“We from early — St Kitts-Nevis, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines — we did not sign on to the Lima Group. So we are not reacting to an invitation to a man's house.

“Our foreign policy has always given us an insight of the road ahead. So what you seeing there is a meeting of the Lima Group people at the private residence of the president and it remains a position that we support, a man's home is his castle, you are free to invite who you want to invite to your house.

“We can't stay outside and say we should have been invited. Since when we measuring our stature and our station by who invite us to their house? We are not about that,” he said, noting that Trinidad and Tobago is about the principles as outlined in the United Nations Charter of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries and ensuring a peaceful global environment.

Rowley reiterated that the Caricom countries that have gone to meet with Trump are the ones who have agreed to be a part of the Lima Group.

“And what is the objective of the Lima Group? The objective of the Lima Group is regime change in Venezuela,” he charged.

He said it was for those attending that meeting to indicate how that will be achieved. “What we are going to do resolutely, and without apology as a tiny speck on the world's map… is to stand with the principles of the United Nations where we all have signed on and accept as the best way for peace and security, not only in our region, but the world,” he said.

Rowley, who read a lengthy statement highlighting the Charter of the United Nations, said that he could not say whether the Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat had been informed of the meeting with the select regional leaders, telling reporters, however that the secretariat “is constantly in communication with us.

“Before the decision was announced in Washington we were unaware it was happening, the secretariat was not able to tell us that this was before us for consideration or decision or anything like that,” he said.

“The last and the standing decision of Caricom was that the team, as put by the caucus to deal with the Venezuelan matter from a diplomatic standpoint, was the chairman, St Kitts-Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. That is the standing Caricom position,” he insisted.

“So any action of and member of Caricom acting in their own sovereignty that's what it is”.

Rowley also played down the meeting between US Ambassador Joseph Mondello and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Wednesday, saying the diplomat is a representative of a friendly Government and “is free to go anywhere and talk to anybody”.

But he said he had every confidence that Persad-Bissessar, whose United National Congress has openly supported Guaidˇ, on “sober reflection …will familiarise herself with the position of the then Barbados Opposition Leader Errol Barrow during the Grenada invasion by American troops in 1983.

Persad-Bissessar said that the meeting Wednesday with the US diplomat was on “several matters of national importance”.

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