In a blatant attempt to unravel the bloc of Venezuela’s Caribbean allies formed nurtured by Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chavez, Donald Trump and his foreign policy team of neo-conservative war hawks has accomplished to divide the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to a degree not seen since 1983. That year saw President Ronald Reagan order the US invasion of CARICOM member Grenada, an event that saw CARICOM split on supporting the move. Among the CARICOM members, Bahamas, Belize, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago opposed the US invasion, while other states either participated in the military occupation of CARICOM member Grenada or voiced support for it.
Trump’s recent hosting of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of Saint Lucia, President Danilo Medina from the Dominican Republic, Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica, President Jovenel Moise of Haiti, and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of the Bahamas at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago billionaire’s club in Palm Beach, Florida, had only one purpose: to peel away Venezuela’s supporters in the Caribbean region. Apart from the Dominican Republic, all the leaders at Mar-a-Lago are members of CARICOM. The Dominican Republic holds observer status in the organization. All five leaders who made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago support Juan Guaido, the unelected US pretender to the presidential palace in Venezuela.
Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, called the failure by the United States to only invite Saint Lucian Prime Minister Chastanet as the only representative of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States was “insulting.” Gonsalves also said that Chastanet, Holness, Moise, and Minnis, all leaders of CARICOM nations, would have to “answer to their countries.” Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said of the leaders who went to Mar-a-Lago, “I feel embarrassed for those weak-minded leaders, who allowed themselves to be used, by carrying out the agenda of others.”
In return for their invitation to Mar-a-Lago, the Caribbean Five took steps to bring their policies on Venezuela in line with those of Trump. The Bahamas rejected the credentials of the Maduro government’s ambassador to Nassau. Jamaica ordered the Venezuelan embassy in Kingston closed. Saint Lucia applied visa restrictions on visitors from Venezuela. The Trump administration is pushing for the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, and Haiti to sever all diplomatic and economic links with the Maduro government, particularly their involvement in Venezuela’s PetroCaribe energy and investment fund for the Caribbean states. Under pressure from Washington, in January of this year Jamaica bought back Venezuela’s 49 percent share in PetroJam, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Holness’s visit to Mar-a-Lago drew sharp repudiation from the opposition in Jamaica.
The leader of the Jamaican opposition People’s National Party, Dr. Peter Phillips, condemned the move by Holness, saying it betrayed an old friend of Jamaica. Before parliament, Phillips said, “The fact is, we have never expropriated the property of any investor in Jamaica before. It is a dangerous precedent for us to set. If we don’t behave honorably to our friends, we soon won’t have any friends.”
The current CARICOM chairman, Saint Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, wants the Caribbean region to remain a “zone of peace.” Harris, who was not invited to the Mar-a-Lago meeting, insists on CARICOM being of one voice on the Venezuela situation. It remains the intention of Trump and his two neocon chief meddlers in Caribbean and Latin American affairs—national security adviser John Bolton and Elliott Abrams, the “special envoy” for “regime change” in Venezuela—to pry away all of CARICOM’s allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Harris had his delegate to the Organization of American States (OAS) abstain on a US-sponsored resolution in support of the Guaido puppet government. In Trump world, there can be no abstentions and the Saint Kitts and Nevis abstention earned Harris a non-invitation, as both prime minister and CARICOM rotating chairman, to the Mar-a-Lago meeting. Also abstaining were Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago. Rejecting the US resolution were Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. Particularly vexing to the Trump crowd is the fact that the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana, continues to accredit the observer mission from the Maduro government, rejecting an attempt by the Guaido rump regime to assume control of the observer mission.
Chastenet replied to the criticisms of his attendance at the Mar-a-Lago confab by saying that he felt no need to explain his decision to the other CARICOM leaders. Holness said he went to Mar-a-Lago in the belief that the Trump administration would increase investment in the region. If Trump’s decision to cut off all US assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras is any indication, the “Caribbean Five,” who went “hat-in-hand” to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago throne room, will be sorely disappointed. Haiti’s Moise came in for heated criticism from his own nation, as well as from across the Caribbean. It was not long ago when Trump referred to Haiti as a “shithole” country. That was followed by the arrest in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, of armed US mercenaries with ties to the former Blackwater firm of Erik Prince, the brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
In fact, the only Caribbean “investments” Trump understands are his own failed resort properties in some of the islands, including an abandoned hotel, casino, and golf resort on Canouan, one of the Grenadines that was once called “Trump Island”; the abandoned Cap Cana hotel and golf resort in the Dominican Republic; the bankrupt Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico; the 70-floor Trump Ocean Club in Panama City, which shed its Trump brand after allegations of fraud lodged against the Trump Organization; and Trump’s unsold and largely unwanted Le Château des Palmiers villa in St. Martin.
Prime Ministers Gonsalves and Browne are well-aware of the pitfalls of negotiating any financial agreements with Donald Trump. They witnessed Trump’s mishandling of hurricane relief and reconstruction assistance for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. They and other CARICOM heads of government must have also shaken their heads over Saint Lucia’s Chastanet’s participation in the Mar-a-Lago meeting.
The last time Chastanet was in the United States was a hurried trip to Dallas in September 2018. A Saint Lucian national, 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean, was shot to death after a Dallas police officer entered his apartment, believing it was her own. Jean was an employee of the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. His mother, Alison Jean, was a permanent secretary of Saint Lucia and participating as a delegate of her nation at a United Nations conference in New York at the time of her son’s murder. While in Dallas, Chastanet spoke out against the anti-immigrant fervor sweeping the United States, saying that many immigrants “entering the United States were fearful for their lives.” Yet, Chastanet, a former tourism minister and manager of his family’s Coco Palm Hotel, traveled to the Mar-a-Lago royal court of Trump to pay fealty to the man almost singularly responsible for the xenophobia sweeping the United States.
Chastanet’s support for the Guaido “government” and Trump has brought about political troubles at home. In January of this year, Chastanet survived a no confidence vote in the Saint Lucia parliament. Former Saint Lucian Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste, a member of the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party, castigated Chastanet for aligning himself with the “Lima Group,” a right-wing bloc of nations intent on forcing Maduro from office. Baptiste, speaking in parliament, said that Chastanet was “making Saint Lucia a pappyshow.” Pappyshow is a Caribbean English colloquial term for “buffoon” or “fool.” Baptiste also reiterated that the OAS Charter specifically states that no member may interfere “directly or indirectly for any reason whatsoever in the internal affairs of any other state.”
As far as the Lima Group is concerned, Baptiste said, “Saint Lucia should never be part or be a member of the renegade mongoose gang like the Lima Group.” Baptiste’s use of the term “mongoose gang” is particularly instructive. From 1970 to his ouster in a 1979 coup, Prime Minister Eric Gairy of Grenada was protected by his own thuggish private militia, called the “Mongoose Gang.” The right-wing and pro-US Gairy, who once asked the United Nations General Assembly to investigate the UFO phenomenon, was ousted by the Marxist-led government of Maurice Bishop, a government that remained in power until the 1983 US invasion. The people of the Caribbean have long memories and Baptiste’s reference to the mongoose gang regarding the anti-Venezuela Lima Group has important historical underpinnings.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has been feuding with the US ambassador in Port-of-Spain, Joseph Mondello, a longtime Republican shady party operative from Levittown, New York, and a Republican convention Trump delegate in 2016. Mondello has infuriated the Trinidad and Tobago government by working with the opposition United National Congress (UNC) and its leader, former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, to press Rowley to join the Lima Group. Rowley responded to Mondello’s intervention in Trinidad and Tobago politics by pressing CARICOM to avoid being drawn into the Lima Group of reactionary right-wing regimes in backing regime change in Venezuela. The UNC, which largely represents the interests of Trinidad’s East Indian and corporate community, was always opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution of Chavez in Venezuela. Rowley wore his being uninvited to Mar-a-Lago by Trump as a badge of honor. He said, “We have never stood taller or stood prouder. If we’re being blanked or snubbed for steadfastly standing for the principles of the United Nations Charter, history will absolve us.”
The leader of the Opposition of the Bahamas, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell, also criticized his prime minister, Hubert Minnis, for participating in the “regime change” summit in Mar-a-Lago. Mitchell, a former foreign minister, pointed out the hypocrisy of Minnis going to Mar-a-Lago, saying it defied logic that Minnis claims a policy of non-intervention, yet supports regime change in Venezuela.
The Trump administration has only accomplished one thing in fishing in the Caribbean for regime change allies. It has managed to drive a wedge between the member states of CARICOM and bring trauma and troubles to tropical waters.
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).