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US tries to coax Caribbean away from Maduro



By Argus

Petroleumworld 03 25 2019

The White House sought to beef up Caribbean support for Venezuela's political opposition at a meeting with five Caribbean leaders outside Miami today.

President Donald Trump hosted the heads of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St Lucia and the Bahamas at his Mar-a-Lago property. "We look forward to spending a lot of time together this afternoon and discussing ways that we can be beneficial to you and you can be beneficial to us," Trump said.

Starting in January 2019, the US and most other Western countries dropped recognition of Venezuela´s sitting president Nicolas Maduro in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president. But except for Cuba, Maduro's implacable ally , Caribbean countries have mostly shied away from the dispute or remained quietly in Maduro's camp.

Whereas the Dominican Republic recognizes Guaidó, Jamaica has been ambivalent by not voting against Maduro at the Organization of American States (OAS) but not recognizing Guaidó either. St Lucia has previously backed the Lima Group of Western Hemisphere countries that endorse Venezuela´s opposition, but recently stepped away. Barbados, St Kitts-Nevis, Dominica, Guyana and St Vincent and the Grenadines continue to recognize Maduro.

Trinidad and Tobago, one of the larger Caribbean countries that maintains recognition of Maduro and is pursuing several natural gas projects with Caracas, was conspicuously absent from today's meeting. Trinidad's prime minister Keith Rowley dismissed suggestions of a White House snub. He has previously offered to mediate the political dispute in Venezuela. Maduro has not commented on the offer, while Guaidó has chastised Rowley for supporting Maduro.

Trinidad's potential gas ties to Venezuela highlight the region's longstanding energy relationship with Caracas. Since the mid-2000s, several Caribbean countries received subsidized crude and refined products from Venezuela´s state-owned PdV under the PetroCaribe program, but supply collapsed over the past year because of PDVSA (PdV's) falling production and oil-backed loan commitments. In recent years, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica settled PetroCaribe oil debt by issuing new bonds.

Most Caribbean countries notably except for the Dominican Republic are members of regional trade group Caricom that says it rejects any foreign interference in Venezuela.

Venezuelans must be allowed to decide their own future "in accordance with the principles of the UN charter - non-intervention, non-interference, prohibition of the threat or use of force, respect for the rule of law, human rights and democracy," the Caricom leaders said in February.

The attendance of some countries at today's meeting with Trump "does not indicate a change from the common Caricom position adopted in February," an official of Jamaica's foreign ministry told Argus today.

Caribbean support for Maduro has contributed to a lack of consensus over the issue at the OAS, which is headed by Uruguayan Luis Almagro, an early and outspoken Maduro critic.

Washington is hoping offers of energy help will coax small Caribbean countries to join the pro-Guaidó coalition. At today's meeting in Florida, the US offered assistance in reducing energy costs through the development of renewable and natural gas projects. "Caribbean consumers pay on average three times as much for electricity as US consumers, creating a drag on their economies," the White House said.

The US will support energy projects in the Caribbean for "reducing the region's reliance on imported fuels and creating openings for US private sector investment and public-private partnerships." The idea behind the US proposals is to help boost US exports of LNG to neighboring islands, with some funding from US development finance institutions.



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