Dr. Timothy Harris Led in Caricom’s finest hour

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David A Comissiong

DR. Timothy Harris, prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis 

The Caribbean Community (C aricom) deserves full marks for the position it has adopted and the actions it has undertaken in response to the regional and international crisis that was precipitated on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 when the Venezuelan parliamentarian Juan Guaido declared himself president of Venezuela and had his claim to the presidency recognised by the Government of the United States of America and several other powerful Western governments.

The Caricom response was as follows:

(1) The Caricom Heads of Government staged an emergency conference on Thursday, January 24, 2019 and agreed upon a collective statement that confirmed that they would be guided by the fundamental international law principles of non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of another State, respect for national sovereignty, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for human rights and democracy, and that — within those legal parameters — they were offering their good offices to facilitate dialogue among all parties in order to peacefully resolve the crisis. The Caricom statement also insisted that the Caribbean region is and must remain a “zone of peace”, and called on all parties, whether inside or outside of Venezuela, to “step back from the brink” of violent conflict.

(2) On Saturday, January 26, 2019, ambassadors from the Caricom nations of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Suriname, and St Vincent and the Grenadines presented and spoke in support of the Caricom statement at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

(4) On Tuesday, January 29, 2019 the Caricom delegation continued its “diplomacy of dialogue and peace” by meeting with the president of the United Nations General Assembly, the foreign minister of Mexico, and with the permanent representatives of such countries as Canada, Australia, Romania (representing the European Union), Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa and Benin (representing the African Union).

(5) These meetings resulted in the public announcement of the staging of a joint Uruguay/Mexico meeting (with Caricom attendance and support) in Montevideo, Uruguay, on February 7, 2019 for the purpose of creating a mechanism for dialogue and peaceful resolution of the Venezuela crisis.

(6) On Friday, February 1, 2019 the Caricom heads of government staged a second emergency conference on the Venezuela crisis and determined that the avoidance of armed conflict in Venezuela and the maintenance of peace throughout the entire Caribbean region was of such critical importance that the three prime ministers who had represented Caricom at the United Nations (Harris, Rowley and Mottley) would undertake the duty of attending and participating in the Montevideo meeting.

(7) The Caricom heads of government also determined to issue a letter to the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro, expressing their “disapproval and grave concern” at the fact that he had purported to recognise Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, and calling upon him to withdraw his statement of recognition.

(8) On Wednesday, February 6, 2019, the Caricom team of prime ministers joined with representatives of the governments of Mexico, Bolivia and Uruguay in Montevideo and devised the “Montevideo Mechanism — a four-stage process of dialogue, negotiation, commitments, and implementation — as a suitable stratagem for resolving the Venezuela crisis peacefully.

(9) And, even while offering the Montevideo Mechanism to President Nicolas Maduro and Opposition Leader Guaido as an appropriate procedure for resolving the crisis, on February 7, 2019 the Caricom prime ministers also met with representatives of the European Union in Montevideo and explained to them why the Montevideo Mechanism was a more appropriate procedure for resolving the Venezuela crisis than the European Union’s peremptory demand for presidential elections to be held in Venezuela “as soon as possible”.

This, my Caribbean compatriots, is enlightened international diplomacy at its very best!

This constitutes the emergence of a collective approach to diplomacy centred on the concept of a zone of peace — a concept that is clearly applicable to the Caribbean region, but one that can also be applied to other areas of the world.

It is important that we fully understand that the Caricom leadership had found themselves dealing with an extremely dangerous situation in which, on the one hand, over six million Venezuelans (including members of the armed forces) had voted for Nicolás Maduro in May 2018 to be their president, and therefore considered him to be the legitimate president of Venezuela, and on the other hand, a parliamentarian who had not contested the presidential election had made a determination that the presidential election was illegitimate and had declared himself interim president of Venezuela and was purporting to take over the functions of president.

This was and is a situation that could easily descend into a bloody civil war, particularly in light of the fact that the section of the Constitution of Venezuela that deals with the process for the removal of a president — Section 233 — states as follows:

“The president of the republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.”

Clearly the only clause of Section 233 that could have any relevance to the situation that obtains in Venezuela is the final clause — “recall by popular vote”.

Unlike other governments that facilitated actions which would create a potentially deadly state of affairs in which an already existing governmental Administration in Venezuela would be facing off against another hostile, foreign-supported, parallel “alternative” Administration, Caricom has decided to hold itself above the fray and to try to facilitate a process of dialogue and of a search for a peaceful solution within the confines of the Constitution of Venezuela and the fundamental principles of international law.

Thus, in everything that it has done so far on this issue, Caricom has appeared to be the adult in the room and the moral and intellectual leader of the international community.

Surely, this is Caricom’s finest hour, and all citizens of our community should feel extremely proud of how well our leaders have acquitted themselves.

Let us hope that their efforts go on to bear fruit in the form of an externally facilitated, but internally negotiated, agreed upon, and implemented peaceful and lawful solution to the crisis.

David A Comissiong is the Barbados ambassador to the Caribbean Community (Caricom). Send comments to the Observer ordcomissiong@foreign.gov.bb.

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