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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley addresses the Atlantic Council’s Front Page event on US-Caricom relations yesterday.

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is calling on the new United States government to begin dialogue aimed at removing sanctions against Venezuela.

These sanctions, Dr Rowley says, are contributing to a widespread humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean.

Speaking virtually as chairman of Caricom during a Question and Answer segment hosted by the non-partisan organisation The Atlantic Council on Thursday, Dr Rowley said the entire Caribbean would benefit from a significant thawing of the relationship between Cuba and the US.

“Cuba is the Caribbean. Venezuela is the Caribbean. We know the nature of the issues and the history of the challenges in both areas however we were very disappointed when the US recently reversed the very welcome, halting steps towards normalisation of the relationship; and most recently the announcement of the unconvincing designation of Cuba as a terrorist–sponsoring state,” Dr Rowley said.

He added, “As for the Venezuelan relationship we would like to see a dispassionate early review of the US “scorched earth policy” here since, as the United Nations’s assessment confirms what we always knew, and that is, that the ineffective harsh policies of unilateral sanctions are contributing immensely to widespread additional indiscriminate human suffering in this Caribbean Nation which needs help, a compassionate ingredient which is not beyond US leadership.”

Saying Caribbean governments “anxiously look forward to the United States playing that leadership role with CARICOM and the nations of Mexico and Norway to assist Venezuelans in solving their seemingly intractable political problems,” Dr Rowley said the way forward was through continued collaboration.

He revealed that early in his tenure his government succeeded in convincing Venezuela to export its natural gas.

However, he said, everything fell through because of US sanctions.

“All we ask of the new administration is to reset and give the dialogue a chance.

“Norway has encouraged that, so did Mexico,” Dr Rowley said, noting that the United States could bring all Venezuelan parties to a table with the support of Caricom and other nations, “read the Riot Act and agree that Venezuela must solve Venezuela’s problems in the interest of Venezuela and all of us who are co-dependents.”

He added, “I will ask the administrator to not be overly influenced by the dogma of the recent past and hawks of the recent flyings but to look at it with a clean tabletop.

“We are convinced that it is possible and some solutions can be had so sanctions can be removed and the sanctions that are increasing the hardships and creating humanitarian crisis as identified by the United Nations independent assessment and that the United States be influenced by that.”

He also appealed to the banking community to desist from blacklisting and de-risking activities resulting in the withdrawal of correspondent banking services from the CARICOM Member States.

“Severing of these services, without acknowledging ongoing actions to comply with international standards, is to cut off our proverbial oxygen supply,” he said.

On behalf of the region, Dr Rowley also called for the refinancing of COVID-related debt and the postponement of debt servicing payments; comprehensive debt relief; and appropriately priced funding to build economic and climate resilience.

He noted that concessional lending will also allow for expenditure on public infrastructure and training to support CARICOM’s digital transformation.

This, he said will allow Caribbean governments to pursue investments critical for nutrition and food security, and energy security.