Tue | Mar 26, 2019

Gordon Robinson | Cross-eyed diplomacy

Published:Sunday | January 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Everybody knows Jamaica recently voted to approve an OAS resolution "to not recognise the legitimacy of Nicol·s Maduro's new term as of the 10th of January 2019".

The resolution tabled against Maduro was proposed by the USA and seconded by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Peru. Eleven others (19 in all), including Jamaica, voted for approval. Six voted against. There were eight abstentions (including Mexico) and one absentee. This has been seen by some observers as yet another example of Jamaica's new vote-with-the-USA-no-matter-what foreign policy philosophy.

Government's attempts to assert its actions were driven by Jamaica's national interest only weren't helped by the ironic concurrence of this vote with announced plans to expropriate Venezuela's shares in Petrojam. Government claims THAT action is solely economic and unconnected to the OAS vote.

Let's test these claims by looking at the full OAS resolution. Lack of recognition of Maduro's 'legitimacy' was only paragraph one of the USA's proposed resolution. The other terms haven't been widely published:

"2. To reaffirm that only through national dialogue with the participation of all Venezuelan political actors and stakeholders can national reconciliation be achieved and the necessary conditions agreed upon for holding a new electoral process that truly reflects the will of the Venezuelan citizens and peacefully resolves the current crisis in that country."

So Jamaica and 18 others have presumed to tell Venezuela exactly how they'll permit Venezuela to resolve its domestic problems. But, of course, this isn't interventionist. The USA instructs Venezuela to achieve "national reconciliation" and how to get there.

How's THAT process going in the USA right now?

"3. To urge all member states ... to adopt ... diplomatic, political, economic, and financial measures that they consider appropriate, to contribute to the prompt restoration of the democratic order of Venezuela."

Oops! Would compulsory acquisition of Venezuela's Petrojam shares be such an "appropriate economic measure"? Is this Jamaica's "contribution" to forcing "democratic order" in Venezuela? Or just one of those things that make you go hmmmmmmm?

Government announced its intention to compulsorily acquire the shares on January 9 less than 24 hours before formally registering its vote to approve the OAS resolution. Coinkydink?

"4. To call for new presidential elections with all necessary guarantees of a free, fair, transparent, and legitimate process to be held at an early date ... ."

What the clara gungus natty? Why is Jamaica taking sides in Venezuelan elections? Is Jamaica seriously telling Venezuela that we'll only recognise, as "legitimate", elections the USA considers both "free and fair" and "transparent"?

What criteria will the USA/OAS use to judge Venezuelan elections "free, fair, transparent, and legitimate"? Who'll set those rules for Venezuelan elections? Specifically, what "guarantees" will be acceptable to the USA/OAS?

Precisely how was the past election "illegitimate" or "non-transparent"? Is it that Maduro openly engaged in tactics used by governments everywhere to gain a decisive advantage over electoral opponents?

Elections expected in December were brought forward to April (then pushed back to May under public pressure) ostensibly to allow Maduro to ride a wave of recent political momentum after a period of political slump. It's called a snap election, intended to take opponents by surprise.

The main opposition parties boycotted the elections based on alleged manipulation of the election date. Venezuela has a National Election Council that sets election dates, but it's accused of being controlled by Maduro. If it is, then, in Venezuela, the naming of election dates would effectively be at the whim of one man, the president. Shocking! Certainly, something like that would NEVER happen in Jamaica. We must condemn it.

What exactly did Maduro do to merit this targeted electoral condemnation? The result of the opposition boycott (two weak candidates eventually opposed Maduro) was the lowest electoral turnout in Venezuela's history. Now THAT didn't happen in Jamaica in 1983, did it? No Jamaican government would ever manipulate the electoral process, call a snap election, and face an opposition boycott? Bere electoral fraud deh inna Venezuela! Condemn dem!

So what exactly did Maduro do? Did he collude with a foreign power to hack Venezuelan electoral processes? Did he call an election during a state of emergency with key opposition members arbitrarily detained?

"5. To invite member states ... to implement measures to address the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela ... ."

I suppose compulsory acquisition of a Venezuelan national asset is one measure likely to address a perceived Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.

"6. To urge the Venezuelan regime to allow the immediate entry of humanitarian aid to the people in Venezuela ... to prevent the aggravation of the humanitarian and public health crisis ... ."

DWL! One of the resolution's preambles was "REITERATING its serious concern about the collapse of Venezuela's healthcare system, which has led to a re-emergence of previously eradicated infectious diseases across Venezuela and into neighbouring countries and the wider region."

The truth is that Venezuela's healthcare system began deteriorating in 2008 when falling oil prices undermined Venezuela's ability to fund Hugo Ch·vez's free healthcare policy introduced in 1999.

An editorial published by online newspaper The Lancet in April 2018 stated:

"The largest oil reserves in the world couldn't stave off economic collapse as lower demand for oil, excessive government spending, US sanctions, and price controls led to rocketing inflation and falling gross domestic product. The impact on the healthcare system was exacerbated by exchange-rate controls, which led to a shortage of the foreign currency needed to import equipment, food, and medicines."

Now, where have I seen THAT happen before? Can a Jamaican pot get the same "humanitarian aid" as a Venezuelan kettle?

"7. To demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners."

Sigh. Yes, Venezuela has political prisoners, but so does Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, et al. Saudi Arabia, which Jamaica and the USA are currently hugging up, just murdered a dissident journalist for crissake! In 1976, Jamaica incarcerated many political prisoners. At least Maduro released some in June 2018. C'mon, man!

"8. To express the Organization's ongoing solidarity with the Venezuelan people and its commitment to remain seized of the situation in Venezuela and to support diplomatic measures that facilitate the restoration of democratic institutions and full respect for human rights."

Well, whoop-di-doo! Diplomatic measures with whom? A government you don't recognise? Which "democratic institutions" need "restoration"? By "restoration", do you mean "reconstruction"? Into "institutions" that'll produce the electoral result the USA wants?

So THESE are Big Bully from the North's (BBN's) imperatives that Jamaica voted to approve, including instructions to Venezuela about how to conduct its internal conflict-resolution processes; a warning that future elections must accord with unspecified standards or be considered illegitimate; and a demand that troops be allowed into a sovereign nation as "humanitarian aid" to conduct unspecified operations in the name of addressing a decade-long health crisis.

I expect that the OAS is looking into the massive fraud that recently took place in elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the 2017 general election in Honduras; the 2017 Singaporean elections; and the 2016 USA elections (persistent voter suppression attempts; Russian interference with alleged collusion of one campaign).

Why Venezuela? Is the choice of culprit related to the identity of the resolution's proposer? Are Jamaica's hostile actions driven by economics or an economic weapon used to pursue BBN's political agenda as exposed by the OAS resolution?

Even if we feel we have reason to terminate a long-standing friendship, a hostile takeover of another country's asset isn't the appropriate route. If it's just that you want to buy a friend's asset more than he wants to sell, you must pay a premium. Expropriation isn't an option. And this is expropriation, plain and simple.

If subsequent payment, quantified by the asset capturer after capture, meant the capture wasn't expropriation, I could force any woman to have sex with me and ensure that it couldn't be rape by leaving a $1,000 bill on my way out.

In life, we're often caught between two warring friends both expecting us to take sides. The trick is to keep both as friends without actually taking a side. When all the obfuscation and political double-speak is wiped away, THAT's the diplomatic conundrum facing Jamaica.

If we took hostile action every time a friendly nation was accused of human-rights abuses, we'd have no friends. Each country's internal affairs are complicated, so unless it's institutionalised like apartheid, ethnic cleansing, or Jim Crow, friends find ways to help friends out of difficulties without offending other friends.

In the 1970s, Jamaicans fled Jamaica in droves, alleging human rights abuses, including a fraudulent election during a state of emergency with key opposition members arbitrarily detained. Did CARICOM friends abandon us?

In international relations, there's a word for the armed takeover of another country's asset: WAR. The weapon's calibre is irrelevant. Economic war is still war.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com