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Regionalism Transcends Non-Interference in Venezuela
Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2003

By Stephen Kangal, M.O.M., CARONI T&T

The second national crisis to de-stabilize Venezuela within one year constitutes a critical watershed event in the evolution of the ad hoc regional contingency response mechanism in Latin America (LA). The second crisis serves as a catalyst to accelerate the process of regionalism/interdependence that hitherto has been transacted unobtrusively. It seems a reasonable prognosis that countries will in the future openly come to the assistance of each other whenever democratic regimes are under threat or when national emergencies and exigencies justify urgent contingency responses. They will abandon the hitherto fundamental and sacred principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of foreign states. It may even pre-empt and/or reduce the incidence of crippling strikes of certain essential services /industries notably in the energy sector in T&T and Venezuela on the basis of creeping bilateral symbiosis.

This Venezuelan crisis has opened a Pandora's Box with unexpected and uncontrollable regional implications that may culminate in greater cohesion, solidarity and co-operation and pose a challenge to US hegemony that regards Latin America as its own sphere of influence.

The demands posed by incipient regional contingency co-operation, when assessed in the context of the challenges for the maintenance of a democratic regime in Venezuela, have overtly assumed precedence over some aspects of the concept of political independence and its corollary- the UN Charter principle of the non-interference in the internal affairs of states. This principle of non-interference has been invoked for political mileage by the Opposition Democratica Co-ordinadora to resist and pre-empt further regional assistance hitherto accorded to Venezuela by Colombia (Food), Dominican Republic (rice), Trinidad and Tobago (gasoline), Brazil (gasoline and oil workers), OPEC and OAS (diplomatic) with Ecuador (oil) to follow soon. In fact Opposition pokeswoman Francia Galea issued veiled threats regarding the safety of the New Year's Day T&T shipment of 300,000 barrels of gasoline (Express Jan 31, p.3). Letters appearing in the dailies have questioned the legality/advisability of T&T's shipment of oil to Venezuela (Guardian Jan.8, p. 24).

President Chavez wants to deepen hydrocarbon regionalism with his Latin OPEC proposal as well as his idea of a Petro-America- a transnational mega- company consisting of PDVSA, Petrobras, Petrotrin etc. (Express Jan.4, p.4).

The deepening of regional co-operation was not unexpected, having regard to increasing functionalism, expansion of free trade areas, border-less trading and other economic and international relations that are integral to the tenets of the compressed globalised village. The days of the non-interference UN Charter principle are numbered as the lines conventionally drawn between economics and politics become incrementally blurred or overlap. Interference is becoming institutionalised (Ship Rider, Mutual Defence, Mutual Assistance Agreements etc) or conducted by state invitation (President Chavez appealing for help).

The Venezuelan month long strike is not a legitimate industrial relations-related work stoppage. It is politically engineered to unseat a democratically and overwhelmingly elected government that is globally recognised. Venezuela has sought external assistance regionally. Responses have been positive. If, in fact, there is evidence of blatant interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela geared to unseat the legitimate Government, it is sponsored from the US that has hitherto provided covert funding for Opposition elements as well as in April last.

Within the contemporary globalised trading setting LA Governments in tandem with others have virtually surrendered their economic and financial sovereignty to WTO, Caricom, OAS, ACS, Mercursor, Andean Community etc. with the result that internal economic interference is legally permissible and institutionalised. Countries no longer exercise exclusive economic sovereignty.

Hitherto Cuba has supplied Venezuela with doctors and medical personnel in return for 53,000 bpd of Venezuelan crude. There was even the rumour that Cuban maritime personnel had taken over striking PDVSA tankers- a charge denied by the Cubans. Placards of Fidel Castro were carried by Chavites during demonstrations in Caracas. Brazil has sent 525,000 barrels and promised to send technicians/workers to re-start PDVSA operations. T&T will continue to ship gasoline, receive Venezuelan crude as payment and store diverted Venezuelan containers for trans-shipment.

The scope for growth of LA regionalism/strategic alliances is enhanced by the advent of leftist, populist leaders assuming the Presidencies of Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil and with others gaining rapid ground in Peru and Bolivia (Guardian Editorial 9/12/02, p.24; Express Editorial Jan. 6, p.10). This poses a serious challenge for US –Hemispheric relations in its back-door sphere of influence vis-à-vis its own homeland internal security concerns, its growing intransigent confrontation with the axis of evil states and its relentless search for alternative strategic supplies of energy in the face of a volatile, vulnerable, terrorist-prone Middle East.

The imperatives of geo-real-politics are increasingly assuming precedence over normative niceties. Accordingly the Government of T&T was right in responding to the appeal of President Chavez (Express Business Jan.8, p.6). It did not have to adopt a hands off position seeking legal refuge in existing contractual relations concluded between PDVSA and Petrotrin (PM Manning's position as reported in Express Jan.4, p.4) to justify its shipment of 300,000 barrels of gasoline to Venezuela because both companies are state-owned entities. The GORTT has recognised the Chavez regime. Not to send the requested fuels with Government's complicity would be tantamount to according legitimacy to the Opposition politically motivated, illegal strike (Foreign Minister Gift's Gov't- to- Gov't position (Guardian 1 Jan., p.12; Express Jan. 31, p.3) and supported by the NAR) and jeopardise its candidacy for the FTAA Secretariat. On the other hand, what future risks are there for T&T from a bilateral political and on-going hydrocarbon co-operation perspectives should the Opposition assume, God forbid, the government of Venezuela?

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