Some tough de­ci­sions con­front Chile’s pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet, with the U.S. on one side and the OAS on the other. For how much longer can she stand against “in­ter­fer­ence” in Venezue­lan af­fairs, es­pe­cially by Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica? Bachelet ar­rived o

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Toni Ni­cholas

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?

Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet (left) with Pres­i­dent of Chile Michelle Bachelet dur­ing her visit to Saint Lu­cia this week.

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