Whose responsibility is it? #9 - A friend in need...

The Holy Bible has references to Nicodemus (a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin) coming to have discourse with Jesus in the night. It is indicated that they had some discourse on, and questioning of, the teachings of Jesus, and came reasonably soon after the “cleansing of the Temple with a whip”, an act done by Jesus. But realistically it was not the Temple that was cleansed (meaning that the whip was not a broom), rather it was persons doing wrong deeds that were removed forcibly.

These thoughts came to my mind when I realized that President Maduro of Venezuela was paying a hastily arranged visit to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago that did not follow the usual protocol of an official or State visit. Rather, this was a business trip to both countries without the customary kissing opportunities for the parliamentarians, or the fawning of the glitterati of the private sector.

For the timing, it could not have been better as it was announced on the Saturday afternoon of a holiday weekend where news media is scanty in terms of Saturday readership being low; and radio news giving way to entertainment and horseracing. Also the Sunday newspapers are printed very early for midnight distribution. This was a skillful plan to provide a major opportunity for private discourse outside of the media glare.

Trinidad and Tobago is not a beneficiary of PetroCaribe so that would not have been a factor to warrant a quick visit. However T&T is only separated by 12 miles from Venezuela at their nearest points. Their Parliament was already discussing the possible consequences of a refugee crisis. Therefore I fail to see the common thread between the two countries chosen for the sudden visit.

The only possibility that I can offer as an alternative is that it would be historically perceived that P.M. Rowley’s PNM and P.M. Holness’ JLP, are more aligned with the USA and could be brokers of a best case outcome for Venezuela with the world’s largest economy. It is fair to observe that they (USA/Venezuela) have not been on the best of terms, at least verbally, since the “Chavez era”. The rumor of a planned invasion of Venezuela by the USA is being spread in justification of certain political actions taking place.

In my considered opinion, there was an attempt to discuss serious matters during the visit and therefore any media statements that mentioned less serious matters after the meetings cannot be seen as accurate. The fact that there are major problems in Venezuela should not have escaped our full attention, especially as they are our largest source of energy through the Petrocaribe arrangements for extended credit that has been so beneficial to our cash flow; a kind of “power now, pay later plan”.

In Venezuela, the news of widespread civil protests; threats of nationalization of some entities; closure of major production facilities like Coca Cola; shortages of consumer necessities in supermarkets and shops; long lines for basic supplies; and reported inability to feed families; have dominated the world news. Yes these are our friends and have been for many decades. Many will remember Venezuelan students coming to Jamaican high schools in the 1950’s and 60’s and the friendships and marriages of those times. These are the same persons who are facing severe social challenges, martial law, possible civil disobedience, and the suffering of the vulnerable while having the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

We have borrowed from the poor to live our more lavish lifestyles and I know that my conscience cannot feel free in these circumstances. The late Hon. Dudley Thompson remarked in the Senate in 1962 that in borrowing there is a responsibility to repay. It is a time for us to show our friendship, and if we react quickly, it can be a win/win for our countries and humanity. Ideological differences cannot outweigh simple generosity and responsibility.

So what should we note collectively? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Whether President Maduro survives politically or not, we still owe Venezuela money for oil that we have used and we need to pay up.
  2. We still have an agreement with any government of Venezuela, present or future.
  3. That Agreement has a mechanism for repayment in cash or goods.
  4. Dr. Peter Phillips exercised the cash option but we still owe money (albeit less and to others), but that option did not produce jobs, and does not alleviate suffering in Venezuela.
  5. The commodities option offers us an opportunity for payment via production, and that creates jobs for Jamaicans and eases suffering in Venezuela.
  6. The amount to be repaid could grow our manufacturing capacity and skill levels, as well as introduce the mental concept of two or three shift work which we seem to have conveniently forgotten outside of the airlines and port facilities.

These are the matters that I would have introduced in the discussions. The arrangement has been available from the outset and has received some attention from the private sector. The option was hidden from public discourse for nearly 10 years after signing the Agreement, and was brought to general attention at a Public Forum held at the Mona School of Business and Management.

The process has been thwarted by the obstinacy/inefficiency/corruption of the regulatory agencies in Venezuela, and the lack pf persistence of our manufacturers, (with the exception of Carib Cement who took three years to conclude a much needed shipment of clinker).

I would have asked President Maduro to eliminate that bureaucracy; and I would have asked the private sector to declare their state of readiness to produce quantities of goods from an agreed list. It would have been a most opportune time to ask the question, and it may not recur.

“A one in a million, chance of a lifetime” by Larry Graham comes to mind immediately in this situation, and I dare to ask whose responsibility it is to set the stage for a win/win? Also whose responsibility is it to follow through on fulfilling the orders?

The funds for payment are here in Jamaica so there is no credit risk for the manufacturers.

We have looked the gift horse in the mouth, so what next? Was the visit only about Bolivarian socialism, or cultural exchanges?

I think not, and await the real story.