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Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dennis Moses.

Renuka Singh

The US State Department has suggested that Trinidad and Tobago withdraw from the Rio Treaty if it is not willing to abide by decisions made by the member countries.

The directive came from the US State Department yesterday as it responded to continuing questions on the relationship between the two countries after T&T refused to abide by amendments to the treaty made last year in relation to the visit of Venezuela Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez.

“Trinidad flouted this decision by allowing (Delcy) Rodriguez into the country. If Trinidad and Tobago does not want to abide by treaty terms, maybe it should withdraw,” the US State Department said in a statement to Guardian Media.

The US State Department has said before that it believed T&T broke the treaty by allowing Rodriguez into the country for a meeting on COVID-19-related matters. But this is the first time this arm of the US government has called on T&T to withdraw from the 73-year old agreement if it was intent on maintaining its sovereignty on matters involving the Nicolas Maduro-led Venezuela regime.

The US State Department’s stance adds another layer to the weeks-long debate about the relationship between the two countries since the March 27 meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Rodriguez.

Both Rowley and Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dennis Moses are on record saying that T&T is not bound by the tenets of the December 2019 Rio Treaty vote and that the country was instead abiding by the UN General Assembly and Caricom stance that recognised the legitimacy of the Maduro regime.

Yesterday, however, the US State Department said it was “concerned” Moses would make such a statement.

“We are concerned that the Trinbagonian Foreign Minister asserted that his country is not bound by the Rio Treaty, a 73-year old pact which Trinidad joined in 1967,” the State Department said.

When Rio Treaty members voted to abide by more sanctions placed on Venezuela by the United States in December 2019, T&T abstained from the vote while Uruguay voted against it. The vote passed by a 16-1 majority.

The US State Department made it clear that although T&T abstained from that vote the country is still bound to the agreement.

“Trinidad abstained from the vote but as a member was nevertheless bound by the decision. Measures under Article 8 approved by 2/3 of parties are binding on all,” the US State Department said.

Article 8 of the treaty states that “for the purposes of this treaty, the measures on which the Organ of Consultation may agree will comprise one or more of the following: recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; breaking of consular relations; partial or complete interruption of economic relations or of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and radiotelephonic or radiotelegraphic communications; and use of armed force.”

For the past three weeks, there have been differing views on whether T&T violated the Rio Treaty. Both US Ambassador Joseph Mondello and the US State Department had maintained the treaty was violated before Rowley and Moses noted T&T was observing the stance taken at the UN General Assembly and Caricom levels.

Last Thursday, at a post-Cabinet media briefing, Rowley also said he had no intention of withdrawing from the Rio Treaty. He also replayed a video clip from October 2019, when he returned to the country from a UN General Assembly meeting. In that clip, Rowley said there were some who regarded the Rio Treaty as “outdated.”

At that press briefing, Rowley said Government disagreed with the United States’ interpretation of the treaty in justifying action against Venezuela.

“If we’re not accepting (Juan) Guaidó as the president of Venezuela, it follows that we can’t accept Guaidó’s appointees at the OAS or anywhere else for that matter,” Rowley said then.

Noting that Venezuela was T&T closest neighbour, Rowley said his stance on the issue was in T&T’s best interest, especially if things went “pear-shaped.”

Govt should weigh options—expert

Retired international relations lecturer Dr Anthony Gonzales yesterday the latest call for Trinidad and Tobago to withdraw from the Rio Treaty may put the country in an “awkward’ position but said leaving may not be a bad thing.

“It is up to us to decide whether the treaty is in our interest. But I am not really sure that that treaty is really of much use, I think that treaty is outdated,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said most of the Caricom partners were not part of the Rio Treaty and the Bahamas and Haiti are the only two that joined as well.

“If we getting involved in all of these tangles with people forcing us to sign on to things which are not in our interest, then it might be in our interest to come out of it,” he said.

He said it was only in times of social upheaval that T&T would benefit from being a part of the Rio Treaty.

“The benefit is only in the event that you are attacked by another country that you can call upon the others to help you defend your country but that was relevant in the context where you had a cold war and it was felt that the Russians were coming into the hemisphere and would probably attack,” he said.

“But that has become passe now, I don’t think anybody is looking to come into the hemisphere here and attack anybody.”

Gonzales also said if another country in the hemisphere decided to attack T&T, he was sure we would be able to find allies to assist.

“I can’t see the relevance of a treaty that is harping that you have to follow the desires and wishes of one country,” he said.

“I know other countries withdrew and I haven’t seen any negative fallout from them coming out. They feel freer, they are not tied into commitments that may not be in their interests so we have to sit down and look at that.”

The Rio Treaty

The Rio Treaty, otherwise known as the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, is an agreement between countries in the Western Hemisphere as part of a mutual defence system.

The treaty provides for mutual assistance if an act of aggression threatens the peace of the Western Hemisphere.

Back in September, the signatories met to discuss and vote on whether to employ the regional treaty to impose sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

In that meeting, convened by the Organisation of the American States, 16 of the 19 signatories agreed to abide by the Rio Treaty and supported using the agreement to collaborate on law enforcement operations and economic sanctions against Maduro and his associates.

T&T abstained from voting at that meeting but the country is still bound by the agreement. Uruguay voted against it and Cuba was absent.