Jamaica disloyal? Venezuela disrespected?

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Loyalty, ideology, economics and principle

 

There’s something wrong with your character if opportunity controls your loyalty. — Anonymous

 

QUESTION: Should you stick it out with someone in a situation, even if they are wrong? The answer to such a question is often determined by the side of the loyalty equation on which you happen to be.

Loyalty and its merits, or demerits, have caused debate inside and outside of church.

If you are in a friendless situation and in need of a true friend, your answer to the above question probably would be yes! If you are the friend needed by someone in trouble, you may hesitate to stick it out, especially if your loyal actions may cause you to lose money or tarnish your reputation — especially how others more powerful than the person who needs your loyalty will view you.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Venezuelan/Jamaican issues again. For now that the ‘shine has come off the ball’, or there’s a ‘calm before the storm’, perhaps we can be more dispassionate in our analysis. Such an approach could help us benefit from lessons learned and help guide our future actions.

There has been a concern in Jamaica that we have been disloyal and disrespectful in our relationship with Venezuela. Those who hold that position point to our Organization of American States (OAS) vote in late 2018 against Maduro, and to our more recent desire to grab the 49 per cent shares held by Venezuela in Petrojam.

Other’s say that is not the case, it’s simply a matter of pragmatic action.

In the aftermath of the sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the Jamaica Information Service website announced, ‘House Approves Bill to Retake Ownership of [Venezuela’s] Petrojam Shares’. At the time of writing the Senate had not yet approved or disapproved the Lower House’s action.

What is the reality? Have we or have we not? First, let’s view the context and history.

VENEZUELAN OVERVIEW

Venezuela has always seemed to have fluctuations in its socio-economics. This has prevailed for decades and has now turned into a socio-economic implosion of the greatest magnitude. Too many lives have already been lost and thousands more could die if civil war results from this economic and social collapse, driven, some say, by amoral external forces.

The USA ‘poured salt in the wound’ by demanding the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro and the expulsion of Venezuela from the OAS. The ideological allies of the USA (including Jamaica) supported their demands. US President Donald Trump also hinted at an invasion and backed up his bark by amassing troops and equipment in Curaçao.

Maduro’s own ideological allies, Cuba and more importantly Russia, stepped up to defend him and Venezuela. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s first counter blow was eyebrow raising. He authorised the landing of two nuclear carrying bombers (aircraft) in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan situation should speak volumes to us, as it reveals heart conditions and mindsets and the reality that ideology and economics can easily override principles in the minds of many.

Venezuela has been enjoying self-rule since 1830, after leaving the conglomeration of Spanish states called Gran Columbia at that time. They had previously gained independence from Spain in 1811.

Venezuela was admitted into the United Nations in 1945. It was internationally recognised as a stable and prosperous South American-style military democracy as far back as 1958.

In 1974, Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez became president of Venezuela. He presided from March 12, 1974 to March 12, 1979, and again from February 2, 1989 to May 21, 1993. His first presidency was known as the Saudi Venezuela, because of its economic and social prosperity resulting from enormous income from petroleum exportation. During the break between his presidencies, Luis Herrera Campins and Jaime Lusinchi presided over a period of socio-economic crises.

Perez’s second presidential period saw a continuation of the economic crisis of the 1980s. The crisis was caused by Saudi Arabia increasing oil production and subsequently lowering oil prices worldwide. Venezuela, as a result, experienced a popular revolt called Caracazo in 1989 and two coup attempts in 1992. The coups were led by reputable and popular military officer, Hugo Chavez Frias, and signalled the end of the Perez presidency.

In May 1993 Perez was impeached by the Venezuelan Supreme Court for the embezzlement of 250 million bolívars belonging to a presidential discretionary fund. Chavez gained popularity and eventually became president in 1998 — a position he held until his death in 2013. He declared himself a Marxist and alienated himself from the USA and its allies and built closer relationships with similar ideological nations such as Russia and Cuba.

Chavez led Venezuela in what his detractors called a military-style dictatorship and his friends a democratic socialist presidency. He increased his local popularity by putting in place policies, infrastructure and programmes which benefited the poor masses of Venezuela.

He became known in the Caribbean region for creating the PetroCaribe Oil Alliance in 2005 for the benefit of Caribbean island nations. PetroCaribe gave participating island nations, like Jamaica, preferential oil prices and payment arrangements. As fluctuating oil prices worldwide imperilled many economies, PetroCaribe saved Jamaica and similar island democracies from total economic failure.

Chavez died from cancer in March 2013. He was throughout his tenure regarded as a friend of Jamaica. This seemed especially so when our Government was more ideologically aligned to him under People’s National Party (PNP) leadership.

President Chavez, before his death, allegedly hand-picked and orchestrated the passing of political power to Nicolas Maduro, who is now under internal and Western international pressure to relinquish his position because of the harsh socio-economic conditions severely affecting the Venezuelans.

 

THE USA RESOLUTION/JAMAICAN VOTE

The OAS, on June 5, 2018, passed a USA-led resolution to not recognise the second five-year term of President Maduro because of allegations that he had been corruptly elected, and because of the worsening plight of the people of Venezuela.

Jamaica was one of the member nations to vote in support of the resolution on the basis of concern for the people.

Former Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in a Sunday Observer article dated January 13, 2019 titled ‘Jamaica’s conflicted relationship with Venezuela’, said this: “In recent times, Jamaica has wrestled with being conflicted in its position toward Venezuela. Our relations with that country go back more than 200 years when the liberator Simon Bolivar took refuge in Kingston from where he penned the famous Carta de Jamaica that laid out his vision for the independence and integration of the countries of South and Central America.”

Venezuela’s assistance to Jamaica is unquestioned, but this cannot oblige us to turn a blind eye to the rape of democracy that has been taking place in that country and the injustice to which its people have been subjected.

Bear in mind that the plight of Venezuela’s citizens has always been cause for concern over the years as the Venezuelan economy has fluctuated between poverty and prosperity. Therefore, where was principle in our dealings with Venezuela long before now? What drove our OAS actions? Shouldn’t we have long shown concern for the Venezuelan people as we related to the Venezuelan leadership over the years?

Is our current ‘concern’ an indication that we have bitten the hand that fed us? Or was our vote to reject Maduro’s presidency and kick Venezuela out of the OAS a principled or conflicted one?

 

THE NATION’S ‘CONSCIENCE’

The well-being of people should always take centre stage in all our dealings. The truthful principles of long ago still hold: Love your neighbour as you love yourselves, and do unto others as you would want others to do to you if you were in the same situation.

We will never be able to conquer our own issues of corruption, crime, violence, and other socio-political and socio-economic negatives if we don’t commit to making principled decisions, especially principles such as knowing/telling truth and displaying loyalty and honesty both here and abroad.

I get concerned when I see partnerships of any type dissolve or people seem disloyal in their affairs. So when I read of the vote that Jamaica made at the OAS and the planned grabbing of Venezuela’s shares it led to my searching out the facts for a more careful analysis and understanding — these are two necessary components before passing judgement in any matter.

In this regard, while we are wrestling with apparent corruption and dishonesty in our Petrojam saga, perhaps we should search out the truth of the PetroCaribe Jamaica/Venezuela partnership. It may help us take a balanced and not just a political position.

It is necessary to separate the partnership on two levels — the socio-political and the socio-economic. The socio-political involves people relationships, ideologies, cultures, and our global desires for a better life. The socio-economic speaks to businesses we do together and our shared economic interests for mutual prosperity.

Recall this: “On 11 April 2002, supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez clashed at the Miraflores Palace during a coup d’état attempt. According to BBC News, a sector of the Armed Forces asked for Chávez’s resignation, holding him responsible for a massacre during the demonstrations.”

Again, in 2007, capital city Caracas and six other cities had massive demonstrations over the proposed constitutional changes that President Hugo Chavez wanted to make and because of his move to shut down the privately owned RCTV and replace it with a public TV station. RCTV was allegedly behind the coup attempt on Chavez in 2002, which saw him disenfranchised of presidential power for two days.

In both instances, although Venezuelan people were hurt, the PNP-led Government of Jamaica at that time seemed to have little or no issue with the condition of the Venezuelan people. Perhaps the ideological similarities made them overlook the fact that an oppressive Chavez dictatorship was curtailing the rights and freedoms of Venezuelan people.

If the ideology did not blind the eye, it most likely silenced the lips in communicating to Chavez that we found the situation untenable. There is no record that we sought to provoke him towards a free and just democracy.

In our time of economic woes Chavez came to our rescue giving tremendous aid via the PetroCaribe arrangements of 2005. We must be deeply grateful for the kindness and show it. However, should our attitude of gratitude trump or override principle? It ought not to. Accept it, say thanks, but the moral obligation is there to say and to use the opportunity and relationship to encourage and push for change in the interest of the people’s welfare. This is a point of principle.

Through socio-economic lenses, the PetroCaribe oil alliance of June 29, 2005 was an economic saviour for the island nations involved. It was not a relationship-building exercise or cultural exchange. It was, according to President Chavez, to go beyond oil and promote economic cooperation.

Consequently, the Chavez regime, with a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government, seems to have had little problems in relating, although they had ideological differences. The economics from our Jamaican side seemed to take precedence and blinded the eyes, and likely silenced the lips, to address the issues of freedom and human rights in Venezuela.

One would have thought that a JLP-led Government, with a different ideology of governance and wealth distribution, would have severed their PetroCaribe arrangement and used the moment to lecture and reprimand socialist Chavez for the ills he was perpetrating and perpetuating on his people. But there was not a word.

Charles Dudley Warner said, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” I would paraphrase, “Economics makes strange bedfellows.”

It is accepted that, in international relations, ideological or religious differences should not necessarily prohibit relationships. However, ideologically close relationships should never mean you compromise on principle, but rather it should be used as an advantage and basis to encourage and influence change.

The fact that both JLP- and PNP-led Jamaican governments did not upset the apple cart is an indicator of the power of economics. We needed it, and even though the one giving it to us was not living good in his own yard, both ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ overlooked his bad home life. That’s economics trumping principle isn’t it? Yes, because the principled thing to have done would have been to tell Chavez and Maduro to keep their oil and money until they clean up their act!

The unified position of successive Jamaican governments over the years regarding how it handles Venezuela and PetroCaribe indicates that we can have continuity in government.

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, the foreign affairs and foreign trade minister of our current JLP-led Government, in a press release dated January 8, 2019, explained that the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) entered into a joint venture agreement and an agreement to sell shares in Petrojam in August 2006 and February 2007 respectively (under a PNP- led Government). The need for the agreements, she stated, was to facilitate the upgrading and expansion of Petrojam’s refinery so as to improve its competitiveness and meet local and international market demands.

She stated clearly that Jamaica’s decision (vote and share acquisition) is not political; it is purely economic. I would have wanted her to say that it was economic, but principled!

On April 26, 2013, the PNP’s Phillip Paulwell, as minister of science, technology, energy and mining, advised at a press briefing that if Petrojam is not upgraded it will have to be shut down. He said it was a project that was well delayed. “It is as simple as that…” he explained. Seems an economic decision.

Both parties, indeed, have been unified on the PetroCaribe/Petrojam agreements. Why is that consensus now seemingly gone out the window? How the present JLP-led Government handled the recent OAS situation raises some questions. How the Opposition, when they were leading government, handled some opportunities is also equally concerning.

I believe it shows that we are short on commitment to principles. Evidently for some, it is straight ideology or economics that determines their decision-making. This is certainly not the way to go.

That said, both the Government and Opposition at this time have to be careful and responsible in their current utterances regarding the PetroCaribe and wider Venezuelan issues. I know that both political parties are often guilty of siding on an issue to agree with what may appear popular opinion in order to gain political mileage. They do this even when they know that there are facts to the contrary. This is unprincipled.

There is no question that it is a correct principle to show gratitude to those who help us, especially in time of need, and more so when others would not. There is an axiom: “When you think you have made it, never forget where you’re coming from, how you got there and who helped you. When you are strong and able, never forget to stand with those who stood with you at critical times.” However ‘standing’ cannot be at any cost.

If standing with those who stand with us means violation of principle, the position has to be revisited. Justice and truth cannot be suppressed in favour of alliance or friendship. Principle obligates us to speak truth to friends (even powerful friends) and uphold justice.

If the current Venezuelan situation continues to deteriorate, we may soon be called to support either a US-led or a Russian-led alliance of nations. Will that call divide us or unite us as Jamaicans here and abroad? I do not believe that we should allow external forces to divide us. Let both Government and Opposition get together now and determine on what principles we will stand if there is an invasion of Venezuela. Then communicate that united decision to the rest of us, and stand on principle! (Not on who is ideologically closer or further, or on who will be more beneficial to us economically.)

So I raise the question again, did either party in our Jamaican Government address the issues of the oppression of the Venezuelan people, either to Chavez or Maduro? If not, is taking a stance against Maduro at this time hypocritical? Some would say yes. I would say, better late than never!

For, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” (Nicholas Sparkes)

Now, there’s a principle that should be lived by all of us.

Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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