(JAMAICA GLEANER) – CARICOM foreign ministers scheduled to meet today will consider an internal analysis that the United States is threatening the region’s status as a “zone of peace” through its increased military presence in the southern Caribbean.
The actions, which the US says are aimed at combating drug trafficking, are widely viewed by analysts to be targeted at the presidency of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, who America has charged with narco-trafficking.
The view in CARICOM appears to be that the US is exploiting the coronavirus pandemic and targeting states like Venezuela and Cuba, which have been helpful to CARICOM member states at a time of need.
“The US has also taken advantage of internal weakness wrought by the pandemic in countries where it has been seeking regime change – Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba – to strengthen its sanctions regime,” read the leaked analysis prepared by the CARICOM Secretariat for the two-day meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations.
News of the military operation came on April 1, a week after the US charged Maduro and 14 people linked to his administration for drug trafficking, narco-terrorism, and other criminal offences. The US is also offering a reward of US$15 million for information leading to Maduro’s arrest.
Venezuela “enjoys the support of Russia”, and this development “has deepened great power rivalry and the attendant security dangers, threatening the region’s stature as a zone of peace”, read the paper obtained by The Gleaner. The region was declared a peace zone in 2014.
CARICOM heads of government held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss “our collective response to COVID-19”, the group’s chairman and Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, said in a tweet on Wednesday, without giving any indication whether the security issue had been discussed.
The matter, however, was discussed at the previous emergency meeting on April 15, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, told The Gleaner before Tuesday’s talks.
“All those who spoke to it supported the view that the continued pressure being brought on Venezuela and Cuba was wrong and the timing of it – forgetting the politics of the moment – had a strong anti-humanitarian element to it.”
Gonsalves admitted that US-led narcotics operations are not new in the region, but “one has to distinguish between the general fight against the trafficking in illegal drugs and what is now a campaign targeted against Venezuela”.
The Caribbean’s location between North and South America gives it strategic importance to traffickers who have posed security threats to the islands.
CARICOM also factored China in its coronavirus-inspired ‘great power rivalry’ analysis, noting that the Asian nation has “taken advantage of the world’s focus on the pandemic to project power in the South China Sea”.
But “the most striking geopolitical development during the pandemic has been the unwillingness of the US administration to provide international leadership in response to the pandemic”, it added.
Regional governments believe that while the US and the UK have offered some support, it has not gone far enough.
“More meaningful support would result from their using their influence in the councils of the international financial institutions (IFIs) to facilitate access to grants and concessional financing for middle-income countries as well as debt relief,” the paper said.
Cuba and Venezuela have been providing support to the region. Cuba has sent nurses to several countries, including Jamaica, to boost the front lines, while Venezuela, in the throes of economic downturn, has provided rapid test kits, among other equipment.
The enhanced narcotics operation “is not designed to militarise the Caribbean nor is it designed to be an invasion force’, Donald Tapia, the US ambassador to Jamaica, said in a statement to The Gleaner.
He acknowledged, however, that “because Maduro benefits from transnational criminal activity, yes, this exercise would increase pressure against him”.
And Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s top diplomat in Washington, doesn’t believe that CARICOM should be too concerned about the region possibly being the launching pad for American intervention in Venezuela, which “poses no security threat to the US”.
Russia and China would also condemn any US action in the United Nations Security Council, setting off a “series of tit-for-tat reactions”, Sir Ronald added.
On Tuesday, Trump said that the US had nothing to do with a failed operation, led by American citizens, Maduro claims was targeted at him.
The seemingly unified CARICOM concern for Venezuela, in particular, is shadowed by the deep splits in CARICOM over the approach to Venezuela. The fracturing was last on showcase in March’s re-election of Uruguayan and US-favoured Luis Almagro as secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS).
The vote was done by secret ballot, but CARICOM is assuming that eight member states voted for Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who was nominated by Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Five member states supported Almagro, and one was absent, according to a leaked CARICOM document obtained by The Gleaner.
Jamaica has not said who it voted for, although the Holness administration has been supportive of American-driven positions on Venezuela, including backing a 2019 OAS resolution not to recognise the legitimacy of Maduro’s current term as Venezuela’s president.
Ahead of the vote, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Jamaica in January and held a meeting with representatives of Jamaica, Belize, Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis, and the Dominican Republic, to the annoyance of other CARICOM states that accused the Trump administration of dividing the region.
“This inability to coordinate a foreign-policy position on a critical election is one that needs to be addressed at the highest political levels,” read the paper, which will be considered by foreign ministers this week.
Now needing all hands on deck, especially to lobby the Trump administration and other institutions for support to cope with the COVID-fallout, Caribbean leaders are lamenting how past divisions have frustrated efforts to speaking with one voice.