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The Venezuela situation – our response

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Throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and the Americas as a whole, there is great and growing concern about the situation in Venezuela. There, political unrest and the unleashing of violence on both a personal, as well as a political level, threatens the stability of that oil-rich country and ironically creates more hindrances to finding a solution to Venezuela’s critical and social problems.

Those problems are wreaking havoc with the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. There is a critical shortage of very basic items, especially food and medicine, and while most of the population is affected, it is only natural that it is the poor who are suffering most. {{more}}Of particular concern to Vincentians would be the fate of those Vincentian students attending universities there, in regard to their security and well-being.

The Prime Minister has already spoken on this issue, indicating that his Government is prepared to facilitate the transfer of those students who may no longer wish to cope with the difficulties in Venezuela, by helping them to finish their studies elsewhere (see story on Page 3). Indeed, at the end of the 2014/15 academic year some medical students were assisted in getting transfers to complete their studies in Cuba.

Such is the deterioration in the situation in Venezuela that political opponents of the Maduro government, and of the ideology it espouses, are having a field day. The political unrest, violent clashes, hardships and suffering get ample coverage in the international media and the blame is laid squarely at the feet of those in power. We may have different perspectives as to who or what is to blame for the terrible situation in Venezuela, but the most important issue is to find a solution to the grave political, economic and social conditions there.

For us in the Caribbean, especially in countries like ours which have benefitted tremendously from the generous arrangements under the Petrocaribe Agreement, the generosity of the Government and people of Venezuela must not be forgotten. That agreement, coming in the midst of a crippling global economic crisis, coupled with skyrocketing cost of fuel, may have saved many of our economies from collapse.

That is not to say that our gratitude must lead us to ignore the plight of the Venezuelan people and blindly support its Government. Rather, it is our responsibility, as demonstrated by the Governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica over the past week, to contribute to solutions to the crisis in Venezuela. Both countries, neither of them headed by Governments which could be remotely called “leftist” or “socialist”, hosted visits from Venezuelan president Maduro and signed a number of agreements with Venezuela.

Trinidad and Tobago, not a Petrocaribe beneficiary, will sell some US$50 million of much-needed basic supplies of food and medicine to Venezuela and has signed an agreement for cross-border cooperation on refining and joint marketing of Venezuelan gas. Jamaica, with a decidedly conservative and pro-US Government, publicly, through its Prime Minister, expressed “great appreciation for Venezuelan generosity” and was in turn assured of the continued commitment of Venezuela to the Petrocaribe arrangements.

For our part, even as we express our concern about the Venezuelan situation, we must call for an end to violence as a solution to the crisis there. It is a complicated and delicate situation, which calls for political dialogue, tolerance and placing the welfare of the Venezuelan people before all else.

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