It’s a simple matter, even if one might lose oneself in the various details, names, places, and dates. The Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), mostly made up of Anglophone Caribbean states, decisively stood up for non-intervention in the internal affairs of states by going against the push to recognize the illegitimate and illegal claim to power by Juán Guaidó in Venezuela. Such a policy, pushed by the US’ regime change agenda, would have clearly served to undermine the authority of the elected government of President Nicolás Maduro, while legitimating foreign intervention. Just as the US today seeks the overthrow of Venezuela’s government, tomorrow it could seek the overthrow of any other government in the Americas. It is thus the Caribbean’s voice that matters most right now.
Trump: Against Sovereignty
On the other side, Trump’s White House is not only pushing for regime change in Venezuela, Trump’s NSA, John Bolton, has stated repeatedly that the US intends to resurrect and impose the neocolonial and plainly imperialist Monroe Doctrine—claiming effective authority to rule the Western Hemisphere. (That includes Canada, not that Canadians have bothered to take note.) Given Trump’s own stated belief that “to the victor go the spoils,” and the US’ validation of the acquisition of territory by force—backing Israel’s claim to Syria’s Golan Heights—even respect for the territorial integrity of states has gone out the window. Fundamental and basic principles of the UN Charter have thus been unilaterally shredded by the US. CARICOM stands as one impediment. Trump clearly will not let that stand.
Trump has apparently resuscitated divide et impera, trying to not only pry some CARICOM members away from the main body by “dangling investment” promises in front of their eyes, but also setting the stage for CARICOM members to turn on each other. What Trump did was to invite a small, select group of Caribbean leaders—those belonging to the Lima Group (standing outside of any international body, because the Group supports regime change in violation of international law)—to visit him at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump thus met with St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Haiti President Jovenel Moise, and Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. These countries, “have all either criticized Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, or recognized Juan Guaido [sic] as the country’s rightful leader”.
Among those in attendance, Jamaica recently announced the closure of its embassy in Venezuela, despite the parliamentary opposition in Kingston voicing serious criticisms. Reporting on these events, the Jamaica Observer instead backed CARICOM’s approach to the Venezuelan crisis, reaffirming the value of the UN Charter. As for Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, he spoke of being pleased with his meeting with Trump, saying that Trump, “wants to encourage and promote a stronger relationship with the region”. (Holness appears to be confusing a “stronger relationship” with a relationship of strength.) Holness’ main concern appeared to be the promise of US investments, saying that he hoped it was “not just talk” but that there would be “instrumental action”. Yet Trump is in no position to order US companies to invest in the Caribbean—he cannot even do that in the US itself. The US is not a state-run socialist economy, where public companies obey public policy—surely Holness understands this? Nonetheless, the affair smelled of something akin to bribery, and if this was representative of Caribbean leaders “standing tall” then language has been inverted, and standing tall is a reference to the humility of beggars. One might recall how the British Colonial Office used to refer to visiting Caribbean Chief Ministers as a “beggars’ opera”.
Rowley: Standing Up for the Caribbean
Once more, the figure standing up to Trump, and standing up for CARICOM and international law, is Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister: Dr. Keith Rowley, of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM). Dr. Rowley noted that this minority which met with Trump, which was not empowered to speak for CARICOM, were at Mar-a-Lago because they are members of the Lima Group whose objective is regime change in Venezuela. Apparently the US ambassador to Trinidad & Tobago, Joseph Mondello, said that he “viewed with concern” comments made by Rowley last month—in response, Rowley was reportedly angered and he redoubled his efforts to push CARICOM on the path of anti-intervention.
The fact that other Caribbean states such as Trinidad & Tobago and the majority of CARICOM members, who oppose the Lima Group, were logically not invited—why would they be?—has been seized upon by quislings in the region who think the Caribbean’s primary duty is servitude to whomever occupies the Big House in the US. Failure to show deference to US interests, these proxies think, somehow entails a loss of status, a “loss of leadership” even. Real leaders stand up for American interests, apparently. This has been translated into accusations that those who were not at Mar-a-Lago were thus “snubbed,” and missed out on something “special”.
Representative of this pro-US faction are figures such as Ralph Maraj, a former foreign minister of Trinidad & Tobago, and a member of the opposition United National Congress (UNC). According to Maraj, the fact that Trinidad was “excluded” from the Mar-a-Lago meeting means that the US now has a diminished view of the country. He continued:
“We do not stand tall, contrary to what Dr. Rowley has stated, we stand diminished in the region, we have lost our leadership of Caricom which we had. Jamaica now is leading the way…. We’ve really abdicated the leadership in Caricom and we have obviously offended the United States, and while we have sovereign right to deal with our foreign relations we stand by the principles and so, we must also protect our relationships….The United States does not need to invest in our petrochemical industry anymore. They have the most gas, natural gas in the world…. They don’t need our gas, they don’t need our oil. They are a net exporter now of both oil and gas. We have lost our economic clout”.
Maraj’s message was, at best, confusing. If the US no longer needs Trinidad, and Trinidad has lost its economic clout as a result, then how would a lunch at Mar-a-Lago have altered those basic, objective economic facts? It’s not clear where Maraj’s complaint lies, but it’s also far from obvious that the facts are on his side.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Leadership: The US View
The US previously recognized Trinidad’s leadership in CARICOM and its high standing in the region—according to the US Embassy in Port of Spain in 2006:
“In regional politics, it could be said that T&T is an opinion shaper. [Prime Minister Patrick] Manning [of the PNM] just completed a six-month tenure as Chairman of CARICOM, a period marked by a renewed emphasis on regional economic integration. T&T receives high marks for its commitment to the needs of the smaller countries of the Eastern Caribbean. Beyond CARICOM, T&T maintains correct but cool relations with Venezuela, largely due to differences of opinion over Petrocaribe and Chavez’s regional aspirations. T&T views Cuba as a Caribbean brother and maintains amicable ties. Manning regularly goes to Cuba for medical attention”.
Did having an independent foreign policy diminish Trinidad, as Maraj argued above? The US Embassy recognized Trinidad & Tobago’s influential leadership position, even as it pointed to serious foreign policy differences between the US and Trinidad & Tobago (repeated here):
“T&T in many ways demonstrates a fierce independence; it has been immovable on several key recent U.S. foreign policy priorities. Because of former President Robinson’s role as a ‘father’ of the International Criminal Court (ICC), T&T was one of the first ICC signatories. It has not signed an Article 98 agreement with the U.S. and likely never will. T&T continues to desire and work towards good relations with Venezuela as they share a long maritime border and common energy concerns. It often defends Cuba, which it sees as a Caribbean brother. T&T, along with its neighbors, did not recognize Haiti’s interim government in the absence of a CARICOM consensus. T&T did not support the U.S. intervention in Iraq, and its media have been openly critical on this issue. T&T’s voting record at the U.N. also leaves much to be desired from a U.S. policy perspective. Most notably, T&T voted, together with its CARICOM partners, in favor of Venezuela’s candidacy for the vacant Latin American Caribbean seat on the UN Security Council”.
If standing up for Trinidad & Tobago’s interests—which are not the same as American interests—is somehow weak or diminished leadership, then that case has not been proven, not even when we refer to the opinions of US diplomats themselves.
Furthermore, during the same weekend that Trump was hosting a small group of Caribbean leaders, CARICOM itself held a dialogue with Juán Guaidó, in an effort to promote peaceful mediation towards an end to the crisis. Unfortunate however was the praise given by CARICOM leaders to Canada, which helped to organize the encounter. The point however is that if CARICOM did not matter, then not even Trump’s instrument in Venezuela would seem to agree—as Trump met with a splinter group, Guaidó spoke with representatives of the larger body, and both events happened at nearly the same time.
Who Was Invited to the Man’s House?
To have them assembled in one place, here are the comments made by Prime Minister Rowley about this weekend’s event at Mar-a-Lago, and what is signifies, gleaned from several sources as indicated below:
“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….Ladies and gentlemen, we have never stood taller, we have never stood prouder; and, as I speak to you now, Caricom’s 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”. (source)
“A man’s home is his castle—you are free to invite who you want to your house. We can’t stay outside and say we shoulda be invited. Since when are we measuring our stature and station by who invites us to their house? If it is we’re being ‘blanked’ or ‘snubbed’ for steadfastly standing for the principles of the United Nations Charter, history will absolve us”. (source)
“Our foreign policy has always given us an indication of the road ahead. What we’re reacting to is an invitation to a man’s house—a meeting of the Lima Group at the private residence of the US President”. (source)
“I don’t know that T&T or anyone was deliberately, unwittingly or accidentally invited to anyone’s private home. The invitation wasn’t to Caricom, we don’t go around begging for invitations”. (source)
“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. 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”. (source)
“If it is my colleague regards a requirement to repair relations with his neighbour because he isn’t invited to his neighbour’s party, I’m afraid that is not the yardstick Trinidad and Tobago uses”. (source)
“There are 14 Caricom countries, how many have gone to Mar-a-Lago? Yet the convseration is about four. The ones who’ve agreed are part of the Lima Group. What’s the group’s objective? Regime change in Venezuela. How that’s to be achieved is for those who’ve embarked on that course”. (source)
“As far as I’m aware, there’s no tear in TT-US relations. The US remains a friendly country and in so far as having a disagreement on the approach of Venezuela, it has nothing to do with the relations between the people of T&T and the people of the US—notwithstanding Opposition’s efforts to create that kind of division!” (source)
Rather than come out and call them “treacherous servants,” the politically correct term for amplifiers of US power is “force multipliers”. On the same day that Trump announced his Mar-a-Lago meeting, the Leader of the Opposition in Trinidad & Tobago, former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of the United National Congress, met with the US Ambassador in Port of Spain. It’s not the first time that Persad-Bissessar, while in the Opposition, has gone to the US Embassy to have private meetings to talk about Trinidadian affairs, slanted in a way that always favoured American interests and those of her party. The party attacking Prime Minister Rowley for not being servile enough to get an invitation to Mar-a-Lago, has a history of going in secret to the US Embassy to lay out its complaints about domestic political matters for the American ambassador to consider—perhaps this is what they mean by “leadership”. From their perspective a figure like Juán Guaidó must be one of the world’s greatest living “leaders”.
The UNC is a party that mostly represents Trinidad’s population of East Indian descendants, which for generations have vied for power against the African-descended population that is mostly represented by the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM). The PNM led the country to independence in 1962, and its leadership was responsible for expelling the US from its air and naval bases in Trinidad. The PNM also nationalized Trinidad & Tobago’s oil and gas industry, and did substantial work in trying to build a nation.
The UNC has long had a particularly cozy relationship with the US, and it’s no secret that many of its followers tend to hold in high esteem all things coded White, looking up to the Global North, with neither the White House nor Donald Trump personally being any exception of course. In fact, the UNC’s long-standing former leader, Basdeo Panday, was the Prime Minister who personally hosted Donald Trump when he traveled to Trinidad for the 1999 Miss Universe Pageant. Trump and Panday spent time dining and golfing together, and apparently the experience made a positive impression on Trump. A few years later, Panday would find himself jailed on corruption charges.
While Trinidadian politics are not organized along left vs. right lines (mistakenly assumed to be universal by most North American and many European writers)—the UNC has nevertheless on occasion lambasted opponents, in a manner uncharacteristic of Trinidad politicians, as “communists”. The UNC’s stance on Venezuela, since the rise of Hugo Chávez, has been consistently hostile to the Bolivarian Revolution.
It was thus telling that this cable, as published by WikiLeaks, showed that, “on October 3 , the [US] Ambassador met with Opposition United National Congress (UNC) Deputy Political Leader Senator Wade Mark, at Mark’s request,” and during that meeting the UNC’s Wade Mark not only assured the US that a future UNC government would favour US interests, but he went as far as linking the then PNM Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, with radical Muslim terrorism—and then linked the PNM and Hugo Chávez to Muslim terrorism. Wade Mark was purposely baiting the US, knowing that the US Embassy was keeping a keen eye on Muslim groups in the country, at the height of the US’ so-called “Global War on Terror”.
Let’s read that document from the US Embassy in Port of Spain in greater depth, which was previously publicized thanks to Guanaguanare—the emphases in bold print are mine:
“Mark said his purpose was to express to the Ambassador the UNC’s shock at the sudden assault on the United States unleashed by Prime Minister Patrick Manning, in his September 5 address before energy industry executives and members of the diplomatic corps….Mark wished to reassure the Ambassador that a UNC administration would re-establish with the US the same friendly and cooperative relations which has characterized the 1995-2001 period when then UNC Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Secretary of State Warren Christopher signed an extradition treaty, a mutual legal assistance treaty and an agreement on maritime law enforcement. Mark went on to say that UNC concern with Manning’s undiplomatic outburst was heightened by the fact that Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Dr. Lenny Saith has reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding with Mexico according to which a portion of the liquefied natural gas currently exported by T&T to the US would be assigned to Mexico instead. Such an action could not help but have serious national security implications for T&T, given that T&T depends for much of its food imports on the US. The Ambassador listened to Mark and acknowledged that the Prime Minister’s September 5 criticism of the US had taken him by surprise, too.
“Mark then launched into a litany of allegations and rumors whose veracity it is impossible to gauge. He said it was the UNC’s understanding that newly-appointed foreign minister Arnold Piggott…had, while serving as High Commissioner to Canada, met with elements associated with Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. (Note: Post has no reason to believe that this is true and has not heard this rumor from any other source). He went on to say that three ships carrying rocket launchers as well as members of Hezbollah, which had left Syria in August en route to Argentina, were diverted to Venezuela’s Margarita island where a Hezbollah base was to be established with the aim of targeting the US. (Note: Post has heard this claim elsewhere, although embassy Caracas would be better placed to ascertain whether it is fact or fiction).
“Mark also drew a connection between Prime Minister Manning, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the extremist Jamaat al Muslimeen (JAM) group, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Referring to Abu Bakr’s release from prison on bail and to his court-authorized leave to travel to Venezuela, Mark said it strains credulity that such a development could have taken place without the knowledge and intervention of the powers that be. Mark said that Abu Bakr is treated like a head of state by the Chavez regime, and hypothesized that his leave to travel to Venezuela could have been intended to cement Manning’s anti-American credentials in return for the JAM’s assistance with voter recruitment at the next election….”
It is from within this fold that Prime Minister Rowley was seen as being “snubbed” by Trump, and that Trinidad lost its leadership status. It’s not surprising then, and in fact it’s quite logical, that on a previous occasion in Parliament, Dr. Rowley blasted the opposition UNC as “traitors”.
A Perspective on Canada
Canada’s government could learn a great deal—first of all, about international law and the UN Charter—from listening to Prime Minister Rowley. Instead, rather than having the post-national state as Justin Trudeau remarked, Canada has more of a post-government state, one that functions almost on auto-pilot by hiring technocrats who are “skilled” in “reading the signals coming out of Washington”. As studious imitators, they would have been well prepared by “universities” in Canada since they are largely just retail outlets for American academic production, training Canadians in the high art of consuming American books, American journals, and traveling to American conferences.
Canada helped found the Lima Group, in an effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government. While Trudeau is defending Canadian corporate interests, he does so using the language and techniques that shore up US interests. It has reached the point where, instead of taking an independent and correct stand like Trinidad & Tobago and CARICOM, Canada instead imagines that Venezuela is part of its “global backyard”. Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau’s minister for foreign affairs, stated to the press:
“the crisis in Venezuela is unfolding in Canada’s global backyard. This is our neighbourhood. We have a direct interest in what happens in our hemisphere”.
Peter Boehm, a Canadian “diplomat,” seconded Freeland, telling the CBC: “This is our backyard, the Western hemisphere. We have a role here too”.
Funny, how the front yard thinks it owns a backyard, ignoring the Big House standing between the two and claiming ownership of both. What both Freeland and Boehm miss, obviously, is that from the US’ standpoint, we are all backyard.
Canada itself has no backyard, apart from its internal colonies—and there is no such thing as a “global backyard”. Canada is a semi-peripheral state which, like two centuries ago, still specializes in exporting raw materials. Lacking national leadership means that, in practice, there has been virtually no distinction of any substance that can be made between Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, apart from superficial matters like style, tone, and virtue signalling (and sometimes not even then). Lacking an independent national government, and worse yet having one that thinks it’s American, means that it has been easy for Trump to effectively dictate terms to Canada and offload some of the costs of US foreign policy onto Canada, with no reward in return for Canada. Whether it is unrelenting trade tariffs, surrender/renegotiation of NAFTA to favour US interests even more, the transfer of asylum-seekers, or the consequences of dragging Canada into the geopolitical conflict between the US and China—Canada under Justin Trudeau has been haemorrhaging both political and economic capital to the US. One ironic and sad consequence is that this has only strengthened Canada’s Conservatives—with all of their supposed “agency,” Canadians vote for either Tweedledee or Tweedledum, generation after generation, and all of the parties are beginning to look and sound alike. With respect to Venezuela, that means more of the same.
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