The multi-lateral meeting with five Caribbean leaders, including Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, and U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday has exposed deep divisions among CARICOM members, with several prime ministers heavily criticizing the meeting that was not explicitly about CARICOM.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne even suggested his fellow prime ministers were “weak-minded” and treated like “servants”.
Trump invited only leaders from the Caribbean countries that voted with the U.S. in support of an Organization of American States (OAS) resolution to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president and not Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro won the election, which has been heavily criticized by international observers.
Minnis joined the leaders of Jamaica, Haiti, St. Lucia and Dominican Republic in the meeting with Trump in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida.
In a statement addressing the meeting, the White House Office of the Press Secretary said the president would use the meeting “as an opportunity to thank these countries for their support for peace and democracy in Venezuela”.
Referring to the meeting in a Facebook post on Saturday, Browne said, “CARICOM must continue its sustaining position, by standing on principle without inducements, or fear of reprisals.
“I feel embarrassed for those weak-minded leaders, who allowed themselves to be used, by carrying out the agenda of others.
“To quote the late, Sir Eric Williams, ‘CARICOM must not become the plaything of others.’
“Evidently, there are some who are determined to undermine CARICOM solidarity and to relegate the region to an object of history.”
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley was also among those who spoke out on the meeting with Trump, urging his citizens to not feel snubbed, but instead to take pride in the country’s stance on the crisis in Venezuela.
Following Cabinet on Thursday, Rowley said, “There are people in Trinidad and Tobago who believe because Trinidad and Tobago wasn’t invited to the private home of an American president, we’re somehow diminished.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have never stood taller or stood prouder.
“If it is we’re being blanked or snubbed for steadfastly standing for the principles of the United Nations Charter, history will absolve us.”
Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves on Saturday referred to the U.S. positions and actions regarding Venezuela as “a creeping coup d’état against a legitimate government”, and suggested the Mar-a-Lago meeting was an attempt to divide the region as he spoke to reporters outside of Government Headquarters in Barbados.
Noting that numerous CARICOM leaders were absent, including the current chairman, Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis Dr. Timothy Harris, he said, “None of those persons were invited and if it is to be a true CARICOM representation, you must at least have the chairman so that any discussion of Venezuela, in that context as at Mar-a-Lago, that it cuts across the agreement mechanisms that we have put in place.”
He added, “We in CARICOM have to be very alive to the mischief that some persons may be up to, to seek to divide us in a manner which we ought not to be divided and therefore reduce the extent of the efficacy of our work.”
Gonsalves said, “The revised Treaty of Chaguaramas emphasizes that we should coordinate our foreign policy as far as practicable, and we do that by and large.
“Part of the value of CARICOM is that even though there may be ideological differences or policy emphases, we always seek to hold a common position, and to prevent as far as is practicable, the division and weakening of CARICOM.”
Asked yesterday for a response to the criticism from the various regional leaders, the Office of the Prime Minister said the government has no further comments on the meeting.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield did not return a message asking for comment up to press time.
When contacted for comment, Bahamas High Commissioner to CARICOM Rueben Rahming said he would respond, “when time allows on review of the matter”.
When Minnis returned home on Saturday, he said The Bahamas remains firm on its position on Venezuela.
“The [Organization of American States has] categorically stated that the election in Venezuela was an illegitimate election,” he said.
“Our argument was if the election is illegitimate it means the government is illegitimate. If the government is illegitimate, and we are a democratic society who believes in democracy, both us and America, which means that you must have new elections and that must be done as quickly as possible. That has been our position.
“When America issued a statement that they were recognizing the opposition leader, Juan, as the president of Venezuela, we, likewise, agreed because the election and the government was illegitimate and the assembly had appointed Guaido as the president of Venezuela. Our position has not changed.”
Venezuela has been facing a political and economic collapse that has created a humanitarian crisis and caused millions to leave the country.
CARICOM has called for a non-interventionist strategy and encouraged dialogue between the opposing groups that both claim stewardship of the country.
However, individual CARICOM countries were divided on the issue.
In January OAS members passed the resolution to not recognize Maduro with 19 votes in favor, six against, eight abstentions and one absent.
Jamaica, Haiti, The Bahamas, Guyana, and Saint Lucia supported the resolution, while Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname voted against it.
Saint Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Belize abstained during the vote, while Grenada was not present.
The Bahamas also later in the month voted to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president.
However, in a letter to the CARICOM secretary general dated February 4, 2019, Minnis outlined The Bahamas’ position on Venezuela’s deteriorating state as one of non-intervention, in line with CARICOM’s stance on the issue.