By Courtenay Barnett
Dearly beloved, we are gathered once more at the place of the holy truth, to preach yet again about truth, rights and justice. The sermon today asks the question:-
What are friends for?
Many in the congregation may think that this is a simple inquiry regarding likes and dislikes – loyalty or disloyalty. To some extent that is correct, but the actual dynamics of friendships or lack of friendships or waning friendships or abuse of friendships is what we shall weigh and consider from the pulpit today.
May I use a personal example to get to the topic of concern – Venezuela/Jamaica relations are very much on my mind. The personal example shall lead to the broader and more important issue of political friendships on a global scale.
During my time at London University there were some eight Caribbean fellow students. We ranged from Black British of Caribbean parentage to latter day migrants’ children to British born to persons such as myself who had been shipped off to get an education. We bonded in that we realised that we were the so-called ‘minority’ and not necessarily with overt disapproval of our presence we were nevertheless colourfully noticeable, be this by dint of our complexion or the lively personalities of some of us. Not to say that the Anglo-Saxons had disavowed our right to be there, for we accepted them as friends to the extent that such friendships were invited and/or welcomed. So, within this demographic sub-group of said Caribbean students there was a person, like myself, who had sights ultimately set on a career in the business and professional world. The majority of the others went on to earn doctorate degrees, become a professor or lecturer in a university or in one way or another remained directly affixed to academia. Note that I have chosen not to call this person’s name. Some, like myself and this “friend” ended up back in the Caribbean – while others remained in Britain.
Thus, a young lawyer and a migrant from Jamaica to the Turks and Caicos Islands ( where I built my career), I would frequently visit Jamaica and spend time with my beloved ( now deceased) mother. On a Sunday my habit was to drive and visit friends and have discourse, meet their families and wish them the best for their futures. The kind of things friends normally do with true friends. Upon returning to my Mom’s home she asked this particular Sunday, “ So Courtenay, who did you visit today?” I was not in a pleasant mood for reason of something I had experienced and I shared it with her.
I drove to this “friend’s” home up to the security gate and sought entry to visit “X”. The security guard rang up and I replied, “Tell him Courtenay, he will know who.”
Word came back, “He is in the bathroom.”
I replied, “Tell him I will wait.”
Another message came back, “He says he won’t be out for another twenty minutes”.
Well, kiss mi neck back and another part of mi anatomy thereafter. Mi kiss mi teeth, tun mi vehicle and proceeded to visit true friends.
My mother understood fully my feelings, for she had visited me in London at my flat, helped cook food for my party guests, met friends ( including this “friend”) and remembered all, and did inquire at times how “X” or “Y”, as the individual may be, was getting on in life. She was like that; she meant people well and had genuine concern for human welfare. Her reply came to me in a memorable one liner, “Courtenay di higher monkey climb, di more ‘im backside expose”, and we proceeded to discuss more pleasant things and persons. I have not exchanged words with “X” since then, chalked him up as shallow and opportunistic, and have elected to walk through life on the other side of the road with true friends instead.
Dearly beloved, we must reflect in this fleeting passage of time we call “life” and ask ourselves, “ what are friends for?” For, it is sagaciously said, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” If I were in need when I sought to visit “X”, be assured, he was confirming – I am fine and rich and mighty; do not come knocking; I am fine; I don’t care how you are; I have neither time nor care nor concern for your piddling friendship for there are more important persons in life for me to engage. Yes – I heard and understood your message loud and clear.
Let us therefore reflect and now turn our minds to the really big question regarding Venezuela and Jamaica’s friendship with our said Latin American neighbour. I shall do so, not with any sense of grievance and/or resentment as I felt about my assumed personal friendship – but – by reference to standards of international law and global political values.
The post World War 11 era has seen several Latin American coups and dictatorships installed – and many of them were either supported by, approved of, or directly engineered by the United States of America.
Following the 1953 CIA led coup in Iran, the next one was in Guatemala to assist the preservation of the Dulles brothers’ interest in that country to the advantage of Chiquita bananas and to the manifest disadvantage of the Guatemalan people in this notable example which gave its literal name to the now well known phrase – ‘banana republic’.
The facts do reveal that be it the military in Argentina or in Brazil or in Chile under Pinochet, the patterns have only changed to the extent that elections take place and the question for the US is not one of real concern for preservation of democracy ( recall the US support for the short lived coup against Chavez and the overnight reversal when the OAS renounced the action of the military) – but for support of the supplicants who can support US foreign policy. This brief background serves well to address the current Venezuelan crisis with facts and direct questions:
A. Did a paper ballot validate the electronic votes in Venezuela?
B. Why when Macron in France was voted in with the same turnout at 48% as was Maduro voted in with is there an assumption that there is not a broad ( even as so declined) base of support for the elected government?
C. Why evidentially and in point of law are the Venezuelan elections fraudulent?
If there were European Union election observers, it would be interesting to read their assessment and analysis and conclusions about the Venezuelan elections. But, those are issues of the internal affairs of Venezuela, which interestingly, while I can discern same as being vital and important in getting to the truth regarding the ultimate question of legitimacy of an elected government ( leaving aside for the moment the paramount legal issue of ‘sovereignty’) – there is no such valid questioning and provisions of analysis which directly provide verifiable answers in the mainstream Western media.
My long-term observation is that the US has consistently embraced regimes across the world doomed to failure while threatening reformist and/or revolutionary governments which make the promise of betterment for their people more difficult to achieve in practical terms. Likewise, Britain and the other European powers reflect this same pattern of opposition, be that in Rhodesia or then Apartheid South Africa.
In the 1980s when Reagan was the US President, he had this to say about then President Mobutu of then Zaire and his ‘Kleptocracy’ – now Congo:-
Reagan, astonishingly, described the dictator Mobutu: “A voice of good sense and good will.”
Not in the least surprising for Mobutu Sese Seko, as a leader acceptable to both Belgium and Western multinational interests, was installed as President and dictator in 1965, when the democratically elected Patrice Lumumba proved objectionable. It was the Belgians and the CIA that had worked jointly and murdered Patrice Lumumba, a man who at the independence ceremony openly critcised the Belgians for their exploitation of the Congo. In 1956 the Congo had its first university graduate. Between 1908 and 1960, when the Congo became politically independent, there were a mere 17 university graduates from the already decimated Congolese population of some 13.5 million. Belgium was offended by the truth as spoken by Lumumba – and the CIA quite helpfully installed a compliant and plundering leader to continue the looting of the Congo (likely the world’s richest territory with its oil, uranium, minerals, gold and diamonds). That is the truth; that is the established historical pattern. Belgium subsequently acknowledged its wrongdoing and apologised to Lumumba’s children.
I was a student in the 1970s in London when I noted that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was working actively to prolog Apartheid’s racism in South Africa, which she found desirable and acceptable. Not surprisingly, it was no other than her husband, Denis Thatcher, who had substantial investments in Apartheid South Africa at the time.
All the above to give context. And now back to Latin America and Venezuela.
China now happens to be the world’s most dynamic economy. President Trump finds himself continuing to embrace failed and losing strategies. He is embracing Bolsonoro’s Brazil while confronting China, in a manner reminiscent of the ‘opium wars’ when the European powers unilaterally dictated to the minions and lesser breeds across the world.
What are Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro and President Trump trying to achieve? They both want to reverse nearly a century of state directed economic growth. They both believe that privatization of the entire – or – most as possible of the public sector, including the strategic finance, banking, minerals, infrastructure, transport, energy and manufacturing sectors – or – so much of it as politically they can in their respective countries force to take effect – is the path to greatness. In Brazil, priority is now given to the sellout to foreign multi-national corporations. Interestingly, previous authoritarian civilian and military regimes both had protected nationalized Brazilian firms as part of tripartite alliances which included foreign, state and domestic private enterprises. I use this example to contrast what had happened under Chavez in Venezuela, for he had significantly reversed foreign ownership and consequentially also reduced the net capital outflows from Venezuela while simultaneously raising living standards – which – now, admittedly for reasons both domestic and international are under serious threat of reductions, if not ultimate reversals. That is the truth; those are the realities being faced by the Latin American and more particularly, for purposes of this sermon, the Venezuelan people.
Venezuela and Jamaica
One does not need to be a student of international law to accept and recognise that Venezuela is a sovereign nation.
Jamaica, for its part, as a small state should be able to exercise its sovereignty in its best interest to command respect, trust towards finding avenues of constructive and beneficial of co-operation in and with the international community.
Have we done so in response to Venezuela?
- At a time when oil prices were souring on the global market, and when small oil dependent Caribbean nations, such as Jamaica, saw their entire economic future facing dire consequences once required to purchase oil at those prices – what happened? Under the Pertocaribe deal, it was Venezuela which came to the rescue of the Jamaican economy, and on generous terms of payment for extended periods of payment made oil affordable for the Jamaican consumer. What Jamaica received was in excess of US$3.2 billion in deferred debt.
- Venezuela paid Jamaica an equity cheque of US$63 million.
- It was Venezuela via the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica ( Petrojam) in 2006 agreed with Jamaica to a 49/51% ownership between Venezuela and Jamaica where the long-term objective was towards having the facility move from hydro-skimming to catalytic cracking technology – all to the advantage of Jamaica. Application of that technology would make the petroleum product more aligned to the energy-consumption patterns of Jamaica.
- Venezuela bought back Jamaica’s debt at 50 cents on the dollar where some US$3billion is accepted as satisfied for a mere US$1.5 billion.
Venezuela, way beyond the few facts stated above, has been a friend to Jamaica for a very long time.
So, what does our foreign minister do to this friend?
What does the Jamaican government do to this friend?
Recall the loving relationship between Presidents Mobuto and Reagan and note that genuine concern which Prime Minister Thatcher had for democracy in South Africa. Care? Concern? For those people?
First I ask, whether Jamaica’s Foreign Minister asked the questions I did above. Then if she did, did she bring her findings to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Jamaican people before rushing to judgment on the recent Venezuelan elections? At the very least, if a friend is flawed or coming up short, then as a true friend, would one not engage, discuss and then make an informed decision? International law recognises the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of all nation states, one to the other around the globe. If, for a small nation state, there were findings that a big power did interfere in the internal affairs of a middle range or small state’s domestic affairs, should not enlightened self-interest give pause for concern and questioning? Well, our foreign minister voted not to recognise the elected government of Venezuela.
Moreover, there are moves afoot to effect a hostile take over ( buy out – more like “sell-out”) of the Venezuelan held shares in Petrocaribe.
Are all these moves by the Jamaican Government, principled, enlightened, right, justice, fair, loyal – or demonstrating any of the attributes of true friendship?
As with my long lost once assumed “friend” – I raise these questions, for as a student I was proud of Jamaica’s stand against Apartheid, from the colonial days when then NW. Manley ( small as Jamaica is) took a stance of non-importation of South African produce through to the respectful relationship under both political parties in respect for and response to Nelson Mandela and the ANC. If Usain Bolt earned his respect on the international stage by virtue of sterling and consistent performances on the international track; then Jamaica did too earn its respect for sterling performances in joining with the global forces standing up for justice – as distinct from being supportive of – oppression.
Jamaica finds herself having to service debt, while education, health care and provision of other vital social necessities go wanting. Thus, did the Venezuelan government’s direct assistance in reducing the debt burden while assisting in securing energy security not serve well Jamaica’s long term economic and social developmental prospects?
Tell me – for I am truly concerned – my friend was not a friend. Does Jamaica show herself acting comparatively much the same as my “friend”?
Is that what friends are for?
And so endeth my sermon for today.
Courtenay Barnett is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over thirty years, has been arrested for defending his views, and has argued public interest and human rights cases. He lives and works in the Caribbean.