Minister of National Security Stuart Young responding to a question during yesterday’s sitting of the Senate at the Red House, Port-of-Spain.

The war of words on Venezuela deepens.

The Opposition UNC says Government has violated the Rio Treaty by allowing Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez to meet Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in March – but Government says conversations were held with the US Ambassador recently and the breach of any treaty wasn’t raised.

National Security Minister Stuart Young, alluding to Opposition “mischief” yesterday, added, “I lay this caution: that all that seems and they seem to be relying on here with respect to the Rio Treaty, may not, in fact, be as they believe it to be.”

Young made the comment in response to a query from UNC senator Wade Mark regarding a statement from the US Embassy’s Public Affairs section.

The Embassy has said Rodriguez is subject to travel sanctions that are binding on all Rio Treaty parties, and Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to the treaty. The statement also noted the US government’s aware of reports indicating a shipment of gasoline from T&T may have gone to Venezuela and warned of the consequences of assisting Venezuela’s state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in conducting energy deals.

The Embassy’s statement placed fully into focus the Opposition’s allegations on the two issues concerning Venezuela. The Opposition’s alleged that the fuel shipment from Paria Fuel Trading Company which departed for an Aruba refinery in April may have eventually been sent to Venezuela despite US sanctions against that country. The refinery, owner by fuel tycoon Wilmer Ruperti, is allegedly linked to Citgo, a PDVSA subsidiary. Government has argued that a clause in Paria’s contract prevented the shipment being resold to any sanctioned state.

The Opposition’s also demanded answers on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s March 27 meeting with Rodriguez. Rowley said he didn’t know the type of plane Rodriguez arrived on or whom her delegation involved. Young’s confirmed that a second Venezuelan person in the meeting was a Mr Chavez who was on a team restructuring PDVSA. Young said Government didn’t know Chavez’s role in the meeting but he became PDVSA head a month later.

As a result of the US Embassy’s statement on the issues, Mark listed a query on yesterday’s Senate agenda for the Prime Minister on whether Government initiated discussions with the US to avert any repercussions on T&T.

Young, in replying, recounted T&T’s position of non-intervention and non-interference regarding Venezuela.

“Caricom leaders, including T&T’s Prime Minister, took this position at the United Nations. The UN secretary general told Caricom and others that the UN recognises (Venezuela’s) Maduro government,” Young said.

“At this stage and at all stages this administration has no horse in the race. Our relationship with the US continues to be a very strong one, as one grounded, in fact, they’re one of our most significant allies.”

Young added, “The mischief that’s continuing by certain people in T&T, starting with fuel supply and a manifest of a plane … I’d just like to put it on record the US continues to be one of our strongest allies. We continue to have open channels of communication with them.

“I lay this caution: that all that seems and they seem to be relying on here with respect to the Treaty may not, in fact, be as they believe it to be.”

On whether Government was aware of the US’ statement, Young said, “We continue to have open channels of communication.

“Last week the US government’s top diplomat in T&T, the Ambassador (not any underling who may or may not be speaking to the media), had conversation with me as a Cabinet representative and there were other conversations had, and there was no raising of the breach of any treaty.

“All that seems and all that they seem to anchor their mischief in, may not be exactly what they believe it to be.”

UNC senator Saddam Hosein also attempted unsuccessfully to raise the US Embassy statement as a definite matter of urgent public importance.

Following the US Embassy’s statement and Senate exchanges, the Opposition said the Rio Treaty’s central principle “is that an attack against one is to be considered an attack against them all … Government’s actions have put T&T in danger of losing these protections.”

The treaty is an agreement between Western Hemisphere countries as part of a mutual defence system.

The UNC added, “The Rowley administration by their willful reckless actions have endangered T&T’s foreign and diplomatic relations with key allies. Government has been caught lying to the people of T&T about details of this (March) meeting, feigning ignorance and flip-flopping on their story.

“The US Embassy confirmed Delcy Rodriguez is subject to travel sanctions that are binding on all Rio Treaty parties. T&T’s a party to the treaty, therefore Government’s actions to grant an exemption for Ms Rodriguez not only to land here but to also facilitate a meeting with the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet members, is a gross violation of our international obligations.”

“Government must be aware that despite their routine defence – that the UN recognises the Maduro regime- doesn’t override any treaty we have with international allies or negates any actions which violate these treaties.”