A Convergence of Historical Anniversaries

THREE historical anniversaries that converged this week augur quite well for community and external relations within the wider Caribbean region.

Yesterday (July 4) was observed as CARICOM Day across the region and Independence Day across the USA. Today, its Venezuela’s Independence Day.

The three anniversaries coincide this year with a series of events testing the regional leadership’s commitment to (and the very resilience of) regional integration and solidarity, not only between Caribbean states, but also across borders and linguistic barriers.

CARICOM leaders met in Jamaica for their annual summit yesterday and welcomed Barbados’ new Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Venezuela will definitely have come up during discussions.

Venezuela and CARICOM can also review their ties over the past year, during which some of the very principles that have historically driven the region’s collective foreign policy have been seriously tested.

In the meantime, recent signals from Venezuela and its CARICOM neighbours are very encouraging.

Caracas has attracted caustic criticism from a couple of its English-speaking fellow Caribbean member-states of the Organization of American States (OAS), where the CARICOM group has an influential vote. But, thanks in part to the CARICOM group, efforts to seek OAS approval for increased external pressure on Venezuela have so far come to naught.

Meanwhile, with their independence anniversaries co-joined by midnight, the signs are that Venezuela may also be willing to walk that extra mile to cool the heat and keep the peace with the US.

In mid-June, for example, Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a nationally-televised interview that one of the bases for building peace in the region is “for Venezuela and the USA to understand and respect each other.”

The statement was followed by a whirlwind visit by Arreaza to four CARICOM states (Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) for talks with the respective Heads of Government.

Statements following all the talks, though guarded, signaled mutual will and intent to frankly address issues that unite and divide.

Trinidad & Tobago also announced last week that it’s about to sign another petroleum-related agreement with Venezuela, the latest of a series of recent events that have strengthened overall cooperation between the two neighboring oil-producing Caribbean nations.

Venezuela-Caribbean cooperation over the years has yielded cheaper petroleum products for the Caribbean, plus friendly loans with unusually lengthy periods to repay. Of late, there’s also been much post-disaster Venezuelan help to Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean states hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Bilateral agreements too, have yielded more direct benefits to individual nations, including millions of dollars in social assistance and thousands of free computers for Saint Lucian students, as well as construction of bridges and unlimited assistance to the Saint Lucia School of Music.

The only sore thumb between CARICOM and Venezuela is the territorial claim associated with the Guyana-Venezuela dispute, which the two sides have lived with – and thankfully in peace — for the past century. An end to this age-old quarrel is nowhere in sight today. But as long as there’s engagement – which CARICOM can always play a greater role in — the search for a solution must and will continue.

Otherwise, CARICOM has always maintained its principled collective position of not supporting any external intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

It’s too early to propose, predict or prematurely speculate. But here’s hoping the current common currents lead to construction of more bridges of solidarity over the ever-calm waters always and forever uniting Caribbean nations and peoples.

Having said the above, we hope that our brothers and sisters in Venezuela will not think we are interfering when we say that we, like most of CARICOM, hope and pray for the day when peace and prosperity return to our neighbour!

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