Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne is supporting Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in his criticism of the Organisation of American States (OAS) over its comments over the recent Venezuelan migrant tragedy.
Browne stood behind Rowley yesterday, as he said the OAS should ensure it only comments on verified information.
“It is critically important that the OAS relies only on verified and factual information on all matters, and that the organisation avoids inaccurate and speculative output and statements that can mislead member states,” Browne said in an interview with Guardian Media.
In a social media post on Tuesday, Rowley blasted the “agents” of the OAS and “its imps” for “lying in the face of the available information and evidence” on the 20 Venezuelan nationals who drowned in the waters off Guiria over the weekend.
There has been speculation that the group was headed to T&T to enter the country illegally. There has also been unconfirmed commentary on social media that the group was intercepted by the T&T Coast Guard and forced to return although they did not have enough fuel. But Rowley, in his post, denied the local Coast Guard interacted with the doomed pirogue.
Yesterday, Browne made it clear he was batting for Rowley.
“The Prime Minister is very passionate about Trinidad and Tobago and he must take umbrage at attempts from any quarter to disparage the laudable work that Trinidad and Tobago is doing in making temporary legal provision for over 16,000 migrants to live and work here, whilst at the same time taking consistent measures to decrease the dangerous practice of human trafficking from Venezuela,” Browne said.
Rowley is currently at odds with the OAS position on Venezuela. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has made it clear he does not support the current regime of Nicolas Maduro, while Rowley and the rest of the Caricom have adopted a position of neutrality on the politics of Venezuela.
“We must bear in mind that the OAS has not always had the approach that we are now seeing and in the past, it has shown more balanced and accurate output,” Browne said.
“The organisation is due for leadership change in the near future and we do look forward to a shift there in the direction of evidence-based decisions over ideology.”
In his post, Rowley also said the Government does not receive any help from any agency to look after the migrants.
But director of the Living Waters Community Rhonda Maingot said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helps with refugee matters.
In a brief telephone interview, Maingot said she was not sure if the Prime Minister meant government-to-government assistance, but confirmed the UNHCR does provide funding for aid to the Venezuelan refugees in the country.
According to reports, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) made available US$1.6 million to T&T to assist with Venezuelans fleeing their country back in 2019. Those funds were not distributed directly to the persons in need but made available to assist the people of T&T as they assist Venezuelans who have been forced to seek refuge.
The NGO T&T Venezuela Solidarity Network (TTVSolnet) also disputed Rowley’s remarks about not getting any assistance with the migrant matter and questioned the motivation behind it.
“Very unfounded statement and also makes you wonder if the complicity with the regime of Nicolas Maduro is really only ideological,” the group said in response to questions from Guardian Media.
“I believe the PM wanted to confuse the population to make them believe that Venezuelan migrants are draining T&T resources so that what the Government has done with the illegal return of migrants is well taken by the citizens of this country,” TTVSolnet said.
The group also said USAID alone donated 1.3 million “dólares to assist Venezuelan migrants last year.”
“The IOM (International Organisation on Migration) and UNHCR and UNICEF and many other international donors are the ones giving the financial support to Venezuelan migrants in the form of urgent medical assistance, food, medication and the amount of funds invested in the last two years in trying to support some form of education for over 3,000 migrant children have all been paid by UNICEF and UNCHR,” the group said.
The group also has a private international sponsor to assist with educating Venezuelan children while they are in T&T.
“Also, look at a programme that the IDB and USAID have launched this year for the countries that have received the most amount of Venezuelan migrants Trinidad is included due to the vulnerable conditions they face here,” the group said.