St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet Tuesday defended his decision to meet with United states President Donald Trump on the ongoing economic and political situation in Venezuela, saying, “At the end of the day I was elected by St Lucians to represent St Lucia.”
Chastanet, along with the Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica, his Bahamas counterpart, Dr Hubert Minnis and the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moise held a two-hour meeting with Trump at his private residence in Miami last Friday.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders at their inter-sessional summit in St Kitts and Nevis last month had reiterated their position of non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela and said they were prepared to mediate in the process to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
The United States is leading the effort to replace President Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn into office for a second consecutive term in January, by Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself the interim president of the South American country.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has described the recent meeting between Trump and the four Caribbean leaders as “troubling” saying there was no true representation of the CARICOM grouping given that its current chairman and St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris had not invited to the meeting.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his Antigua and Barbuda counterpart, Gaston Browne had also commented on the meeting.
But Chastanet, who came to power in June 2016, told reporters he did not share Gonsalves’ concerns that the meeting was “troubling”.
“I don’t, at the end of the day I was elected by St Lucians to represent St Lucia,” he said, adding that the topics discussed were of national and regional importance.
He told reporters that the meeting was not a gathering for CARICOM, adding “this was a meeting by invitation by the President of the United States of America”.
He said that the United States is this island’s largest trading partner, St Lucia’s largest diaspora and the country that offers St Lucia the greatest opportunity for growth.
“So if I am invited to put forward St Lucia’s agenda, I will do so,” Chastanet told reporters, adding that he has always been “extremely respectful” and will continue to be respectful on CARICOM’s positions.
But Chastanet asserted that CARICOM is “very divided” on the Venezuela issue as evident in the way members of the organisation voted at the Organisation of American States (OAS).
The Caribbean leaders invited to the meeting with Trump had in January supported the OAS resolution in not recognising President Maduro’s second five-year term. The four countries joined members of the Lima Group that has been opposed to Maduro.
Chastanet said that this is not the first time that CARICOM leaders and CARICOM countries have held different positions on issues.
“There are those who support China; there are those who support Taiwan; there are those who support the CIP (Citizenship by Investment) programmes; there are those who don’t. Unanimity at CARICOM has never been a problem in terms of us working together,” Chastanet said.
He reiterated that St Lucia believes for Venezuela to be able to “get on with its life”, there must be fresh elections.