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Avellon Williams 

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA- Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s call for Caribbean leaders to seek Venezuelan assistance to combat rising fuel costs is receiving regional support.

Under the PetroCaribe energy initiative, Venezuela once exported refined fuel products to Antigua and Barbuda, among other countries.

PM Gaston Browne /Image, CNW/

As a result of American sanctions, Venezuela’s production and refining have plunged in recent years. 

In consequence, Caribbean governments now source most of their fuel from the open market, resulting in soaring fuel prices.

Earlier this week, PM Browne said US sanctions against the South American country are negatively affecting the region as a whole.

Furthermore, he said that he had no qualms about what could happen if the US dealt with Venezuela.

David Comissiong, Barbados’ ambassador to Caricom, says member states have never recognized any embargo against Venezuela or Cuba – and the US has no right to mandate members to do so.

In an interview with Observer AM on Wednesday, Commissiong said regional leaders must not sit idly while the US government dictates what goes on with bilateral deals.

David Commissiong /Image, IBWC/

Among Caribbean nations, Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the intergovernmental body ALBA. With its origins in Cuba and Venezuela in 2004, ALBA is widely associated with left-leaning governments that wish to consolidate regional economic integration through social welfare, bartering, and mutual assistance.

“There are so many Caricom countries that are members of ALBA and our countries have never broken trade and economic relations with Venezuela,” Comissiong continued.

“I know that there was a bit of hiatus in the PetroCaribe energy cooperation arrangement because of the severe difficulties Venezuela has been under over the past couple of years, but they have signalled that they are re-energising this programme, and I would imagine that all of the Caricom countries will continue to participate in the programme,” Comissiong said Wednesday.

The Venezuelan government’s access to US debt and equity markets is restricted due to sanctions. PDVSA, the state-run oil company, is also included.

A freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and a ban on transactions with US citizens and companies were imposed by former President Donald Trump in August 2019.

In an effort to improve relations between the US-backed opposition, led by Juan Guaido, and the government of President Nicolás Maduro, Washington announced last month it would ease some economic sanctions on the country.

(From left) Opposition Juan Guaido, President Nicolas Maduro /NYT/

Comissiong said regional leaders were right to tell US President Joe Biden that sanctions are harming rather than helping.

“Our foreign ministers took that position last year, calling for the removal of sanctions against Venezuela, so it is a collective Caricom position and we should try as much as possible to have a common position and to act collectively so it is not Antigua on its own,” he added.

During the discussion, Comissiong also discussed the relevance of the Commonwealth in light of the current heads of government meeting in Rwanda, which was made by Antigua’s ambassador to the US.

Sir Ronald Sanders /Image, CNG/

The chairman of the Small Island Development States Forum, Sir Ronald Sanders, called for a more robust response to climate change and other issues that affect small island developing states.

“In the past, we have not been assertive enough, about our news, our rights, what is due to us and reforms that we must demand to be made in the relationships with former colonies and those that need to be made in the wider international arena,” Comissiong added.

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Avellon Williams

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