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A tale of two Venezuelas: Maduro's supporters, opponents speak out

Maduro visits T&T
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
President Anthony Carmona looks on as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro signs the visitors book during a courtesy call at the Office of the President, St Ann's, February 24, 2014. Photo: Kristian De Silva

Two groups of protesters with opposing agendas gathered outside the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s this morning.

About nine members of the Movement of Social Justice (MSJ) and about 18 Venezuelans led two very different protests from 10 am to 2 pm.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro arrived in T&T this morning for bilateral and energy talks with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine.

One feale protester, a Venezuelan national who has lived in T&T for more than 10 years, said she could not understand why Persad-Bissessar would want to meet with Maduro.

Heidi Hernandez, 40, of Caracas, said she wanted to remind the citizens and government of T&T that Persad-Bissessar was meeting with someone leading a government with a questionable human rights record.


“We think no government should be speaking right now with our government that is corrupt and criminal," she said.

"We are suffering for those in Venezuela. We have a mayor in jail. An opposition leader in jail. One has been there for a year and the other was jailed last week. And you know why? You know what Maduro’s excuse was for taking him to jail? Because he is against the peace of Venezuela. So imagine Rowley in this country going to jail for saying what he thinks he should say to avoid and to stop corruption in the country.”

Opponents of Maduro poured into the streets on February 20 to condemn the surprise arrest of Caracas' mayor for allegedly participating in a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government. The protests came a day after an armed commando unit dressed in camouflage raided Mayor Antonio Ledezma's office and hauled him away.

Maduro is also facing domestic and international pressure over the imprisonment of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed a year ago for leading protests against the socialist government.

Critics say the increasingly unpopular President Nicolás Maduro is seeking to distract his supporters and spook opponents by jailing political rivals ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. Maduro has countered that the opposition is backed by Washington and is plotting violence against his socialist government.

Caribbean leaders converged in Washington last month for the first Caribbean Energy Security Summit, hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, an event that aimed to end region's decade-long dependence to oil subsidised by Venezuela through Petrocaribe, a trade program started by the late President Hugo Chavez in 2005.


Money talks

The future of Caracas' Petrocaribe was expected to be high on the agenda when Persad-Bissessar and Ramnarine sat with Maduro and his entourage of government ministers.

Through Petrocaribe, Venezuela supplies crude to several Caribbean nations, offering deferred payment at favourable interest rates. But the Venezuelan economy was hit hard by the recent fall in global oil prices. Caracas has imposed less generous terms on the receiving nations: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Suriname.

The MSJ convened “in support of the people of Venezuela and their government.”

MSJ public relations officer Gregory Fernandez explained why the MSJ members was not with those protesting against Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

“They (PSUV) are trying to adjust social inequities in Venezuela. We are the MSJ and we support that general principle. So we would support the struggle in Palestine and in other places,” Fernandez said.

MSJ and PSUV are among several political parties aligned to the São Paulo Forum, a convention of leftist political parties that met in T&T in January, Fernandez said.

“In Trinidad, we have a lot more equity, in terms of the distribution of resources of the country. In Venezuela, it was the complete opposite. It was a small elite controlling all the land, you know, and what the Government is trying to do is to address that. Now, I am not saying that in terms of economic planning, they haven’t made mistakes. I can’t judge that,” he said.

“In terms of their intent, in terms of their respect for the democratic process, they cannot be faulted and that is why we are in support. If they were a dictatorship, we definitely would not be in support.”



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