Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

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While the United States’ State Department has advised Trinidad and Tobago to withdraw from the Rio Treaty if it cannot abide by the consensus taken by member countries in relation to sanctions against Venezuela, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says this country will continue to abide by the United Nations’ (UN) treaty in dealing with the issue.

While Rowley did not refer to a specific treaty during an interview on Tobago Channel 5 Rise and Shine programme yesterday, he alluded to the Government’s recognition of Venezuela as a sovereign state under President Nicolás Maduro.

“While we acknowledge our relationship with the United States, at the end of the day, decisions for Trinidad and Tobago are made by Trinidad & Tobago. But what annoys me is when people, for their own agenda and their own interest, are saying to me I should not have spoken to Delcy Rodríguez of Venezuela. I said, ‘but who is in charge of these affairs?’” Rowley said. “You mentioned the Rio Treaty but there is a bigger treaty: the United Nations’ treaty. The treaty we have with the United Nations tells us that the government of Venezuela is the Maduro government that is in office there now. “Trinidad and Tobago stand with that and if we have business to conduct seven miles away from us, with 30 million people over there, God alone knows how many of them would have COVID and rush to our shores. If we have to talk to them, we talk to the government that is in office.”

T&T, USA and Venezuela are part of the UN and are signatories to a series of treaties.

According to the Charter of the United Nations, Chapter I, Article 2, the organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.

It states that all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means and refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity, or political independence of any state, or any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN.

There is an ongoing debate between the Government, Opposition and the US over Venezuela’s Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez and her delegation’s visit to T&T in March to discuss COVID-19 security-related matters.

In 2018, the US sanctioned Rodríguez for corruption and humanitarian issues. According to the US government, Rodríguez is also subject to travel sanctions that are binding on all Rio Treaty parties.

The Rio Treaty provides for mutual assistance if an act of aggression threatens the peace of the Western Hemisphere. The US government has stated it would not “rule out” military intervention in Venezuela.

In April, the US deployed navy ships outside Venezuela for a counter-narcotics operation, which followed a US drug indictment against Maduro.Yesterday, Rowley reiterated that Rodríguez was in charge of Venezuela’s COVID-19 response and he was in charge of T&T’s.

With the existing situation of Venezuelans fleeing their county, some to T&T, even during this COVID-19 period, Rowley said it was a national security and health issue, hence the involvement of National Security Minister Stuart Young in the diplomatic meeting.Rowley said the issue for the Opposition was that they recognised Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president.“What is worse is that the Opposition in Trinidad & Tobago see its business and its interest to further other people’s interest, calling for sanctions on the Government and the people of Trinidad & Tobago because we talked to Venezuela,” the PM said.

“Finally, it is public knowledge that Trinidad and Tobago does not acknowledge Guaido as the president of Venezuela. Unfortunately for us, the Opposition does that. Our Opposition acknowledges a president of Venezuela which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not. That is the root of all of this.”Rowley also maintained that the Paria Fuel Trading Company had nothing to do with its fuel reaching Venezuela and has seen no confirmation of this.

He said he also does not know of any intention by the US to impose sanctions on T&T because the Government has not done anything to earn them.