Joseph Mondello

US Ambassador: Joseph Mondello

United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Joseph Mondello says it is “perplexing” that while some Caricom member states claim to be “neutral” about the crisis in Venezuela, they criticise US-recognised interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaido and remain silent on human rights abuses by the South American country’s leader, Nicolas Maduro.

Mondello also recalled that the Trinidad and Tobago Government allowed Maduro’s Vice President, Delcy Rodriguez, to enter the country.

This also happened while the country’s borders were closed to nationals and non-nationals.

He was responding to questions from the Sunday Express via e-mail on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela which has resulted in thousands of migrants fleeing to Trinidad.

The US, the United Kingdom and more than 50 other nations have recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s interim President after he declared himself the position in January 2019.

Guaido maintains the 2018 re-election of Maduro was fraudulent.

In October, acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak, at a telephonic news briefing, said the US government will be moving a resolution at the Organisation of American States (OAS) General Assembly condemning the Maduro regime and not to recognise what it described as its illegitimate elections scheduled for December 6.

The US had already issued a call for its allies to support this resolution.

Mondello stated each OAS member state will exercise its sovereign right to vote as it pleases.

He noted concerns about the upcoming National Assembly elections have been thoroughly documented by interested parties, including the US government, the European Union, the OAS and the United Nations.

In January 2019, Caricom Heads of Government sounded a “grave concern” over the political instability in Venezuela and offered to assist in mediation to prevent further crisis.

The heads of government of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as foreign ministers of Grenada and Suriname met by video conference.

Caricom issued a statement indicating the heads of government reaffirmed their guiding principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the affairs of states, respect for sovereignty, adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights and democracy.

Mondello responded, stating: “It is perplexing that some Cari­com member states claim to be neutral concerning the Venezuela crisis, but they have no problems criticising the legitimate opposition in Venezuela or questioning the motives of those who support President Juan Guaido.

“However, they have never criticised the Maduro regime in spite of its gross human rights abuses and violations, which have been well documented by the United Nations.”

He said: “In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the Government allowed Maduro’s Vice President to enter the country with PdVSA executives to discuss Covid-19, in violation of its Rio Treaty obligations, while the country’s borders were closed to nationals and non-nationals alike.”

Sanctions

The ambassador also responded to questions raised in an Express editorial on November 26.

The editorial stated that even if the Maduro government is guilty of everything from grave human rights violations to crimes in violation of international law, where was the proof that US sanctions are making even the slightest dent against them?

The editorial stated all the evidence showed is that the ordinary people of Venezuela are taking the brunt of the sanctions through deprivation of all kinds, including food and medicine.

Mondello said US sanctions on PdVSA were having an effect on the Maduro regime and the suffering Venezuelan people were facing were not as a result of these sanctions.

“It was not a decision the United States took lightly. However, given that Maduro was not using PdVSA resources to help relieve the suffering of the Venezuelan people, but providing spoils to line his coffers and those of his cronies, as well as buying the loyalty of the military and security institutions, we believed strongly that we could no longer allow the regime to benefit from PdVSA’s revenues,” stated the ambassador.

“While the editorial suggests that the food and medicine shortages are a result of sanctions, I must point out that our sanctions regime makes exceptions for these humanitarian items.”

Mondello said the shortage of food and medicine was a result of “warped priorities of the Maduro ­regime, which prefers to buy Russian weapons instead of food and medicine for the Venezuelan people.

“Furthermore, one should remember that the United Nations has offered to bring in food and medicine, but Maduro has refused to allow these humanitarian deliveries. The Maduro regime prefers to pretend there is no humanitarian crisis at all.”

The US has worked to mitigate the effects of the humanitarian crisis in the region, he maintained.

Mondello noted over US$1 billion has been given to assist the people in Venezuela and across the region.

“Since 2017, the United States has provided more than US$1.2 billion in humanitarian, development and health assistance to help Venezuelans inside Venezuela and across the region, as well as the countries and communities that are hosting them,” he stated.

The US has provided nearly US$10 million to Trinidad and Tobago in the last few years to assist Venezuelan refugees and displaced people in the country, he added.

Trinidad and Tobago does not support the United States’ recognition of Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president.

In July, in response to a question from the Opposition in the Parliament, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said in adherence to the UN Charter, Trinidad and Tobago does not recognise Guaido as president of Venezuela.

“Furthermore, let me clarify finally, Trinidad and Tobago does not recognise Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, nor his appointees as representing the government of Venezuela. Trini­dad and Tobago acknowledges under the UN Charter that the sitting government of Venezuela is the Maduro government.

“Whenever any agency like the OAS or anybody else allows Guaido representatives to participate in decisions, those decisions are queried by Trinidad and Tobago and we reserve our position on that, and that is punto final.”

In September, Maduro called on the United Nations General Assembly to rally against US sanctions imposed on his country, as well as its allies including Cuba, Nicaragua and Syria.

In response via his social media, Guaido called on nations to denounce human rights abuses committed by the Maduro government.

He pointed to a recent report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council that accuses Maduro’s government of committing crimes against humanity, including torture and killings.

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