Mon | Feb 24, 2020

Pompeo: Holness stands up to Maduro dictatorship

Published:Thursday | January 23, 2020 | 12:23 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) and Allison Peart, president of AmCham Jamaica, participate in a policy discussion on US and Caribbean relations at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Wednesday.

As Washington forges stronger alliances across the region to pressure the beleaguered Venezuelan regime to relinquish power amid socio-economic turmoil, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has heaped praise on Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness for “standing up to the illegitimate destabilising Maduro dictatorship and its brutal repression”.

Speaking at a joint press conference yesterday at Jamaica House in St Andrew, Pompeo told reporters that the US was pleased with Holness’ leadership.

“We will keep working together to help the Venezuelan people to have a democratic nation with free and fair elections and a return to prosperity that the Venezuelan people deserve.”

He said that the United States was proud that its neighbours within the Caribbean were working to secure a prosperous, stable, and peaceful hemisphere.

“A strong, freedom-minded OAS (Organisation of American States) is crucial to that effort. Prime Minister Holness and I share the goal of empowering that organisation,” the senior US diplomat said.

JAMAICAN LEADERSHIP

During a discussion on policy issues at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston yesterday afternoon, Pompeo again lauded “the leadership that Jamaica has demonstrated in the CARICOM region”.

“We made it very clear who we think should be the next leader of the OAS. We made that clear because we think he has demonstrated his ability to return financial stability to the institution to a really important place for all member states of the OAS,” said the secretary of state.

Indicating that the US was deepening its efforts to engage the region in energy investments, Pompeo said that the PetroCaribe arrangement with states across the region was “fading into the sunset like the Maduro regime will do”.

The US and some 50 other countries recognise Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s sole legitimate leader.

Established in June 2005, the PetroCaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement was an alliance between Venezuela and Caribbean and Latin American countries, including 15 CARICOM states, to purchase oil at preferential rates.

In 2018, former chief executive officer of the then PetroCaribe Development Fund, Dr Wesley Hughes, said that the PetroCaribe arrangement had resulted in the financing of projects worth US$5 billion in little more than a decade.

He said then that the contribution of the fund to Jamaica had been “meaningful and significant”.

In January 2019, Jamaica sided with 18 other members of the OAS in favour of a resolution not to recognise the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s new term as Venezuela’s president. The resolution was passed in Washington minutes after Maduro was sworn in.

One month after the OAS vote, the Jamaican Government sought to explain that the move to compulsorily acquire Venezuela’s shares in Petrojam was purely economic.

NOT DIVIDING CARICOM

Jamaica used legislation to take over Venezuela’s 49 per cent stake in the state-owned Petrojam oil refinery. In his contribution to the debate in Gordon House at the time, Holness said: “We do not take this step lightly,” noting that Jamaica was always grateful to the people of Venezuela.

Pompeo’s visit to Jamaica is shrouded in controversy after CARICOM Chairman and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley dispensed with diplomacy and declared that she would not be sending a representative to join a group of seven from the region who met with the US secretary of state here.

The US top diplomat held bilateral talks with Holness and other high-level delegates from Belize, St Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, St Lucia, and St Maarten.

Responding to concerns that the US was attempting to divide the region, Pompeo brushed aside the suggestion yesterday, saying: “There is no intent from the United States to divide CARICOM. Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. We want to invite them all to be part of the economic prosperity, security zone that is this region.”

SOVEREIGNTY

Holness echoed similar sentiments, contending that Jamaica had not engaged in any policy that would divide CARICOM.

“In modern diplomatic relations, in the exercise of foreign policy, we all must respect the sovereignty of countries to determine how they structure their foreign policy. When friends ask to be hosted, or for us to host them, we are friends, and so we do that. We are friends with the United States, and so we are happy to host here. Not to the exclusion of anyone, and if anyone wanted to attend, all they had to do was signal,” Holness insisted.

Pompeo, in his earlier presentation at Jamaica House, said that the US was working to assist countries across the region to become more attractive to private sector infrastructure investments.

He said that US investors had already invested nearly US$1 billion in energy infrastructure in Jamaica.

“We want to ensure that all new investments, especially in the technology sector, come from trusted sources that won’t compromise Jamaica’s security and privacy.”

On the question of security, Pompeo said the US had supported Caribbean nations with more than US$600 million in much-needed funding for this fight over the last decade.

And Holness said that the US and Jamaica found common understanding on the urgent need to scale up security cooperation in both jurisdictions.

“The main focus will be on bolstering Jamaica’s capacity to counter transnational organised crime and secure Jamaica’s borders and ports and interrupt the flow of illicit weapons into Jamaica,” he said.

The prime minister said that Jamaica and the US would bolster cooperation in the area of energy security, increased trade, and, “importantly, we restated our desire to see greater US investment in Jamaica and across the region”.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com