The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) views the entire imbroglio surrounding the United States, Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago as one where we can easily lose focus on the most critical issues that face us.
This is because statements made by the Government, the Opposition and even the reporting by the media have created space for confusion and mischief. Central to this entire issue is the US agenda with respect to Venezuela. If the US had not imposed sanctions on Venezuela there would be nothing for the Government to explain about a visit by the Vice President of Venezuela, nothing to explain about the sale of fuel by State-owned Paria Ltd to a Swiss-based oil trading company, there would have been no need for the US Ambassador and the Minister of National Security to discuss the Rio Treaty and there would certainly be nothing for the UNC to latch on to in its bid to please Marli Street. As in cricket—if you take your eye off the ball you will be in trouble.
So before we address the failings of our national leadership—Government, Opposition and others—we must address what can only be described as US imperialist policies.
It is well established that the US, especially under Trump’s presidency, is intent on regime change in Venezuela, by any means necessary. They have imposed unilateral sanctions on Venezuela—these sanctions are not recognised by the United Nations and are only enforced by the economic power of the US. It is therefore wrong for the UNC, the media and others to refer to the sanctions as “international” sanctions.
It must also be noted that Juan Guaido is not recognised by the UN.
Nor can we ignore the fact that some elements in the opposition have resorted to open violence to remove President Maduro. One example was the attack by a mercenary force two weeks ago. This mercenary attack, organised by a US firm (Silvercorp) of ex-US soldiers under a contract signed by Guaido and three of his advisors (who have all recently resigned) has been well documented by the US media, yet little if any of this news has been reported in T&T.
The US agenda of regime change, violating all international norms and the charters of the UN and OAS of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country and respect for a state’s sovereignty, have seemingly been lost in the national discourse here. Where have been the voices of the Opposition to denounce this mercenary attack? Why has the media in the main not provided the country with information and/or analysis of such an event that took place less than an hour’s flying time from our shores?
The Rio Treaty has now been invoked by the US and supported by media reporting of the US position, as a legally binding treaty on all of T&T’s dealings with Venezuela. The US Embassy issued a statement last week referencing the treaty. However, the entire treaty has not been published by the media. Except for a report in one of daily newspapers, no journalist has written an investigative article to determine whether or not the Rio Treaty means that T&T has opened itself up to sanctions by the US.
A very important analysis by Prof Andy Knight, a Caribbean academic at the University of Alberta and a former Director of the Institute of International Relations, at The UWI, St Augustine, stated as follows:
“The Rio Treaty is, first and foremost, a defence pact. The intent of such a pact is clearly laid out in Article 51 of the UN Charter. An attack on one of the members of the Treaty is to be considered an attack on all signatories of the Treaty... The invocation of the Rio Treaty in the case of Venezuela doesn’t square with international law...
“A collective defence treaty (see article 3 of the Rio Treaty) can only be invoked if one member of the treaty is under attack (from a military attack or an act of aggression)... The use of the Rio Treaty by the US as a means of punishing Venezuela is a bit of a stretch and may in fact be a violation of international law.” (Prof Knight’s emphasis).
Venezuela has not attacked any state. There is therefore nothing that triggers the treaty. In fact, Venezuela has been under attack from forces operating in Colombia, a US ally. The mercenary attack originated in Colombia and the mercenaries trained and got their arms in Colombia.
Why then is T&T being pressured by the US to accept “obligations” under the Rio Treaty? It cannot be over a visit by the Vice President of Venezuela or even a shipment of fuel sold by Paria Ltd. Assuming that such events violated the unilateral US sanctions on Venezuela, all that would have been required is for the US government, through its usual diplomatic channels, to have communicated its displeasure and warned the Government of T&T that any further breach of the US sanctions could be met with penalties, including sanctioning this country. Such sanctions against T&T would not be legally recognised internationally, but the US, being a bully, could and can use its economic power to sanction us, with little or no ability by this country to apply countervailing sanctions. This is the nature of imperialism – might is right.
The Rio Treaty is being now projected as a fig leaf for sanctions precisely because military action against Venezuela is being contemplated by the Trump administration.