Sunday Express Editorial

If we accept the word of National Security Minister Stuart Young that he was “not aware of the composition of the delegation or the aircraft” which landed from Venezuela for a meeting with the Prime Minister on March 27, then we must conclude that Minister Young is guilty of a level of negligence that is dangerous to the well-being of Trinidad and Tobago.

As an experienced attorney who would know that ignorance is no excuse, Minister Young should now do the honourable thing and resign for the incompetence that has thrown the country onto the warpath between the United States and Venezuela, thereby placing the nation’s security at risk. Should he refuse to resign, the Prime Minister must hold Minister Young to account for the fiasco by firing him from the Cabinet.

The Venezuela incident is the culmination of a series of disasters in which the minister has been the central figure. Within the past month alone, he antagonised the sister government of Barbados to the point where it was forced to issue a public statement of concern; he covertly introduced private security into policing until public opinion forced the Prime Minister to instruct that the contracts be terminated; he publicly encouraged the army to exercise authority that it did not have; and his insensitive management in dealing with groups of anxious citizens trapped abroad fuelled unnecessary hostility which put the public at each other’s throat.

All of the above, however, pale in comparison to the Venezuela affair that has exposed this country to the risk of US sanctions. By continuing to deny any knowledge that the head of the Venezuelan delegation and the aircraft on which they travelled to this country were under US sanction, Minister Young is asking the public to close its eyes to common sense, logic and the powerful role he has occupied in the Rowley Cabinet. As the Prime Minister himself said of Minister Young last June, “He is my Gary Sobers”. The accolade was Dr Rowley’s personal vouch for a minister he considered an all-rounder and man for all seasons and reasons. In his other portfolio as Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young operates as an inner cabinet of one, straddling the portfolios of legal affairs, energy, foreign affairs, communications and international trade and negotiations while dipping in and out of the others as required by the PM.

Dr Rowley is not the first prime minister to lean heavily on a chosen one eager to serve, and as his predecessors learned the hard way, ambitious ministers cloaked with the armour of prime ministerial protection wreak the greatest havoc.

The Venezuelan expose´ is a perfect example of how unbridled power in the hands of the inexperienced can become destructive. The meeting of March 27 did not occur in a vacuum.

On September 19 last year, the population was kept in the dark when Stuart Young, Minister of National Security made an unannounced and brief trip to Venezuela to meet President Nicolas Maduro, presumably as Dr Rowley’s proxy.

The next day, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement disclosing no details of the meeting apart from saying it covered matters of national security and energy and that Minister Young had met with President Nicolas Maduro and a delegation that included seven ministers including Delcy Rodriguez, then the Minister for Internal Relations, Justice and Peace and Manuel Quevedo, Minister of Energy. Neither Energy Minister Franklin Khan nor Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses had accompanied Minister Young.

As is common practice, photographers attached to President Maduro’s office were present to document the meeting for public information. We take it for granted there was an agenda with minutes of the meeting.

It was not reported whether Asdrubal Chavez was among Maduro’s delegation but it would be astonishing if Minister Young, as the Prime Minister’s point person for energy discussions with Venezuelan, did not know. After all, Chavez, cousin of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is the single most powerful energy sector personality in the Bolivarian Republic. He was Venezuela’s Minister of Oil from 2014-2015 following which he was appointed chief executive officer of PDVSA’s refining unit, Citgo Petroleum Corp in Houston until the US government revoked his visa in July 2018. At the time of Minister Young’s trip to discuss unidentified energy matters with the Venezuelan government, Mr Chavez was the lead architect of the plan for a major overhaul of PDVSA.

On April 27, 2020 Chavez took over the reins as president of PDVSA.

VP Rodriguez may have set up the appointment with Dr Rowley through Minister Young, but Asdrubal Chavez was no functionary accompanying her. As Venezuela’s most powerful energy official we find it inconceivable that Chavez would have come to Port of Spain to discuss Covid-19 only as the government claims.

The Government’s unwillingness to be forthright and to disclose details of the September 19 and March 27 high-level meetings fits a pattern of secrecy regarding T&T’s energy dealings with Venezuela which has now placed this country in jeopardy.

As the Government’s key figure in creating this mess, Minister Young must accept responsibility.

He must go now.

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