Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has placed Trinidad and Tobago in “grave danger” by allowing Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez to enter Trinidad on a plane sanctioned by the United States Government.
This is the view of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who yesterday called on Rowley to verify documents, including a flight manifest, which state that Rodriguez and energy officials from its State-owned oil and natural gas company Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) entered Trinidad on March 27 on an aircraft sanctioned by the US Government.
Persad-Bissessar said if Trinidad and Tobago faces any US sanctions it falls squarely on the shoulders of Rowley as the Government possibly violated international treaty and US executive orders by welcoming Rodriguez who herself is banned and sanctioned by countries.
At a virtual news conference, Persad-Bissessar said the official records of the information sent to her have since been deleted but fortunately a concerned citizen made copies.
The former prime minister showed a copy of the flight manifest which stated the aircraft YV3360 which landed in Trinidad with the Venezuelan delegation is owned by PDVSA.
She noted this very aircraft was one of 15 sanctioned by the US Treasury Department on January 21, 2020 and called on National Security Minister Stuart Young to answer whether he was aware of this and did he allow a sanctioned aircraft to land here.
No health officials on flight
Persad-Bissessar said the very presence of Rodriguez on Trinidad soil may be in contravention of international obligations as she questioned whether T&T violated the Inter American Treaty of reciprocal assistance which imposed travel restrictions on members of the Nicolas Maduro regime in December 2019.
She pointed out that Rodriguez is sanctioned and banned from the United States, Canada, European Union, Mexico and Switzerland.
She showed copies of the purported customs arrival forms which state Rodriguez was accompanied by energy officials on her trip to Trinidad as she called on Rowley to confirm the information.
These persons were:
• Asdrubal Chavez — PDVSA president
• Juan Vicente Santana Migliacion — vice-president of Gas, PDVSA
• Antonio Perez Suarez — vice- president of Commerce and Supply of PDVSA
• Manuel Antonio Jimenez Herrera — accountant of the National Constituent Assembly.
Chavez assumed the position of PDVSA president on April 27, one month after the controversial visit.
Persad-Bissessar said security personnel and a director general were also on the plane.
She noted Rowley had indicated that the meeting with Rodriguez was about Covid-19 but she noted there were no health officials in the delegation and neither was any information about Covid-19 measures and strategies from the meeting shared.
Persad-Bissessar said the Rowley Government is fully aware of the sanctions placed on PDVSA, having had to abandon the Dragon Gas deal and choosing to “go it alone” to develop the Loran Manatee cross border field.
She said PDVSA has been widely accused of participating in money laundering and narco trafficking and the US Treasury Department made it clear any institution or individuals who conduct business with PDVSA face the possibility of sanctions.
“What business is the Rowley government conducting with PDVSA that requires a face-to-face meeting with PDVSA’s president, Delcy Rodriguez, and these other officials?” she asked.
She questioned whether Rowley is aware Venezuela’s new Minister of Oil, Tareck El-Aissami, is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Persad-Bissessar noted an international news report which states PDVSA officials have entered into an arrangement with oil companies by which these companies would carry out the business of PDVSA with payments being made through third parties.
“Is the Prime Minister aware that any such company has partnered with Patriotic Energies to purchase the Petrotrin refinery and or with Paria Trading and if so can he say what due diligence has been done so far on this agreement?” she asked.
Persad-Bissessar said the late prime minister Dr Eric Williams joined the “Rio Treaty” because he wanted to have regional support if an issue ever arose.
She asked how can T&T expect regional support when that very treaty was violated to welcome Rodriguez to Trinidad.
She said the question arises whether this endangers the State’s ability to operate if, in doing deals with sanctioned regimes, the firm is penalised and loses its access to the USA banking sector.
“Does it endanger Piarco’s operations, including reliance on US dollar bank accounts, to engage with sanctioned PDVSA aircraft,” she asked.
This issue, said Persad-Bissessar, is not only about the alleged shipment of fuel from Trinidad and Tobago to Aruba which ended up in Venezuela but includes Rodriguez’s visit to Trinidad which is “shrouded in secrecy”.
Only raising questions
Persad-Bissessar said it is the Opposition’s patriotic duty to demand that Rowley tell the truth about the meeting with Rodriguez and his business dealings with the Maduro regime.
She said the UNC is not inviting the US into the sovereign affairs of Trinidad and Tobago but was raising questions to ascertain if the Government has undertaken any action “which can breach, disturb or offend the strong mutually beneficial relationships we share with our allies”.