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Summit of the Americas
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By Peter Richards

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – CARICOM leaders are pondering whether they will participate in the Ninth Summit of the Americas to be held in the United States next month, should Washington extend an invitation to Venezuelan Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó while also leaving out President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba.

There has been speculation that the 15-member regional integration grouping would not attend the June 6-10 summit in Los Angeles, California that Washington says is expected to focus on “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future” for the hemisphere.

“As Chair and Host, the United States will work with the region’s stakeholders toward securing leader-level commitments and concrete actions that dramatically improve pandemic response and resilience, promote a green and equitable recovery, build strong and inclusive democracies, and address the root causes of irregular migration. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion will underpin our efforts,” Washington added.

But Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that St. John’s does “not believe in the policy of ostracising Cuba and Venezuela,” adding, “we do not recognise Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela.

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“In those circumstances, Antigua and Barbuda will not participate,” he told CMC, adding, “despite this difference in opinion, we remain respectful if President (Joe) Biden and the US administration”.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, speaking on a radio programme on Sunday, confirmed to the CMC that the matter was discussed by leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) on Saturday and had also been raised during the CARICOM Inter-Sessional Summit held in Belize in March.

“If Guaidó goes to represent Venezuela, if the Americans were to do that, it would be an act of folly and I think it will be unlikely that Caribbean governments would go,” Gonsalves said.

Asked whether SVG would stay away from the summit, Gonsalves responded, “I am not going to answer you in a determinate manner, except to say that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is very supportive clearly of Cuba being invited again and of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela also being invited…”

The US State Department in a Jan. 4 statement said Washington “continues to recognise the authority of the democratically elected 2015 National Assembly as the last remaining democratic institution and Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

“We welcome the agreement reached to extend the authority of the National Assembly elected in 2015 and of interim President Guaidó as its president,” it said, adding that the “Maduro regime’s pattern of political repression, rampant human rights abuses, as well as severe restrictions on political and civil society actors and freedom of expression have robbed the Venezuelan people of democratic self-determination.

“We support the efforts of the Unitary Platform and other actors to establish democratic order and rule of law in Venezuela,’ Washington said, adding that it “will continue to work with a broad range of Venezuelan and international partners using all appropriate diplomatic and economic tools to press for the release of all those unjustly detained for political reasons, the independence of political parties, respect for freedom of expression and other universal human rights, and an end to human rights abuses”.

CARICOM leaders have in the past reiterated their position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and said they were prepared to mediate in the process to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Gonsalves recalled that six weeks ago President Biden sent a mission to Caracas to discuss oil with President Nicolas Maduro and “despite all the talk, and as I say to my American friends when they talk anything to me about Guaidó, I ask a simple question, ‘Why did the President of the United States not send a delegation to Guaidó to discuss oil, why send them to Maduro?’

“If they consider Guaidó to be the president of Venezuela. I mean this is absolute fiction, nonsensical, unworthy… it is an abuse of our intelligence really. It is so ridiculous,” Gonsalves, said, adding he wanted to put Kingstown’s position on the issue within the OECS and wider CARICOM setting.

“I wouldn’t yet state the final position of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to go or not to go, but obviously my preference on that and our government and many other governments would be for President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba be invited and President Maduro of Venezuela be invited.

“I could tell you, if that happens, St. Vincent and the Grenadines definitely will be there at the summit, but if they are not invited I am saying to you, you will have to revert to me at a later date when all the consultations are over,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said that Venezuela had withdrawn its membership from the Organisation of American States (OAS) and if nothing is done between now and then there may be a technicality in not inviting Caracas.

He said in Cuba’s case, Havana “never withdrew” from the OAS and that in 1962, the country’s membership was suspended and prior to 2015 when Cuba attended the first Summit of the Americas in Panama “the OAS rescinded Cuba’s suspension.

“Cuba has chosen since then not to attend the OAS but the OAS acts as the Secretariat in organising the Summit of the Americas”.

Gonsalves said that there is a “discussion which is currently going on whether Cuba is going to be invited to the summit, adding, “again it would be a huge mistake, if Cuba was invited in 2015 and the one subsequently…even under Donald Trump when he was President of the USA …it will be foolhardy not to do that.

“The question which you have to ask, which CARICOM will resolve, is whether or not you going to stay away and protest or go and protest. If you go and protest, you will have to go and protest more or less with Cuba’s concurrence.

“So those are options which are available. It has not been a clear determination yet,” Gonsalves told CMC, adding that the OECS leaders will meet again on Monday “on precisely this question.

“I am in consultations with many persons including the Cuban government, the American emissary, I spoke at length with President Biden’s … emissary on this, Christopher Dodd … so we are very much engaged in this particular … discussion”.

Gonsalves said he has also been in touch with other regional leaders on the matter and while he was not in Belize for the inter-sessional summit, he understood that a “consensus” position had been reached that if Havana or Caracas were not invited “CARICOM wouldn’t attend.

“On that consensus there is ongoing discussion with the Americans and other persons in the hemisphere but very much among ourselves in CARICOM,” Gonsalves told CMC.

But one well-placed regional sources told CMC, “I do not know what the final position will be since CARICOM seems incapable of adhering to its own consensus decisions”.