When Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet touched down at Hewanorra International Airport on Thursday this week there were few here who truly understood the real purpose of her visit. Maybe not even those closest to the government that arranged it. The two-day visit saw the last female leader in the Americas, who is into her second term, having served from 2006 to 2010, paying a courtesy call on the Her Excellency Dame Pearlette Louisy at Government House. She also met with Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, his Cabinet of ministers and other members of Parliament. President Bachelet was accompanied by a high level delegation, including members of her own cabinet, as well as the Latin American media.
In an official press release on Tuesday, it was noted that the Government of Saint Lucia “viewed this official visit as an opportunity to enhance collaboration in several areas, including agriculture, education, climate change and renewable energy”. Saint Lucia first established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Chile in 1991.
However, all of this seemed vague diplomatic rhetoric. Regular folk at Constitution Park, at the market and on the buses are asking the same questions: “What exactly has Chile done for Saint Lucia? Why is the President visiting Saint Lucia at this time? What is this visit costing the government?” It is what it is; whatever the reasons, Saint Lucians expect something in return for hosting foreign dignitaries!
From all I learned from an ambassador who diplomatically requested anonymity, the real purpose of the state visit was to engage OECS heads in adopting a position on the Organization of American States and the U.S. on the stance on Venezuela. The unconfirmed but fairly reliable word (as opposed to “rumour”) is that intended visitor Venezuelans will soon encounter certain new impediments!.
A closed session luncheon meeting with the Chilean president and OECS Heads of Government was convened here yesterday at the Sandals Grande Beach Resort and Spa adding a certain degree of credibility to my source’s assertion. Michelle Bachelet visited Haiti in March, ostensibly to discuss with President Jovenel Moïse the future of United Nations troops in Haiti. Chile has 392 soldiers and 41 police on the island. It has since been suggested that Haiti’s involvement in the upcoming OAS meeting was discussed.
Also in March the OAS convened an extraordinary session at its Washington, DC headquarters to decide whether to sanction Venezuela for what OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said was the country’s “violation of every article in the Inter-American Democratic Charter”. Earlier Washington had enlisted the support of thirteen other nations to issue a declaration calling on President Nicolas Maduro’s government to release political prisoners, bow to the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s decisions, and set an electoral calendar – or else. Signatories included Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Chile.
Two thirds – or 24 – of the OAS’s 35-member nations were needed to invoke the “Democratic Charter”. However, most of the Caribbean member states have so far refused to take part in any meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela which provides 12 of the 15 CARICOM nations with cheap oil and other assistance through its PetroCaribe programme.
Nevertheless the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia, along with Belize and Guyana, supported placing Almagro’s Venezuela report on the March 28 extraordinary session’s agenda, suggesting that Washington is now just four votes short of what it needs to expel Venezuela. Alas the meeting ended without consensus.
In July Venezuela held elections that were won by President Nicholas Maduro’s constitutional assembly. However, the United States has described the process as a sham, vowing to take strong and swift action against the “architects of authoritarianism” in Venezuela after protesters and security forces fought deadly street battles during the run-up. But in a sharp twist from the OAS meeting in March, Chile has refused to endorse aggressive foreign policy initiatives against Venezuela.
“Chile will do everything it can to support Venezuelans in finding a peaceful path towards reestablishing democracy, but Chile will not support coups d’etat nor military interventions in Venezuela,” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said at a joint press conference following a meeting with United States Vice President Mike Pence on August 16.
The Chilean leader was the third Latin America leader Pence had met with on his regional tour. She opposes U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance earlier this month, that a “military option” was on the table to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. The presidents of Colombia and Argentina are also in her corner. And now, as Bachelet breaks bread with OECS heads, many of them well-oiled by Venezuela’s PetroCaraibe, ALBA and CELAC, it is anyone’s guess what the immediate future will bring.
Prior to Bachelet’s visit, Saint Lucia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sarah Flood Beaubrun had reaffirmed the island’s non-interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs, expressing support for a peaceful solution to the crisis in that country.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet in June expressed unease about the impact the tensions in Venezuela were having on national security in some of the countries of the southern Caribbean. During a pre-Cabinet briefing on Monday, the prime minister told reporters, “There seems to be an increase in money laundering, drug trafficking, arms – and this is a concern that we have.” Some heard ominous noises in the PM’s observation. Just last week Chastanet revealed he had asked local authorities to look at imposing visa restrictions on Venezuelans wishing to visit.
Can Michelle Bachelet be the power broker between the Caribbean and Venezuela and, by extension, Latin America on the one hand and the United States/OAS and Venezuela impasse on the other hand? As the last woman standing, will she become a pawn, much like former British Prime Minister Margarete Thatcher and Dame Eugenia Charles were in the Grenada invasion saga? Or will she become the power broker to bring about peace in Venezuela, backed by the Caribbean, without straining US relations?