Dec 01, 2023 News
Kaieteur News – Venezuela’s Referendum on December 3 which seeks to galvanize support to take unilateral actions that could annex Guyana’s Essequibo Region has left several Trinidadian parliamentarians concerned.
During a recent parliamentary sitting on November 28, 2023, Senator Wade Mark moved a private motion calling on the Trinidad and Tobago government to provide a detailed account of the arrangements that underpin the project that would see the development of “the Dragon field” which lies along the maritime border of Trinidad and Venezuela.
Trinidadian authorities see this project as a critical lifeline for their ailing economy as it holds up to 4.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The development of the gas from the Dragon field involves entities such as Shell, Trinidad’s National Gas Company, Venezuela and the US Government.
In addition to demanding greater transparency on the financial arrangements for the project, senators sought to understand how the government intends to respond to the implications of the Venezuelan Referendum on the Dragon Gas project.
The parliamentarians reminded that it was the United States of America (USA) that had to grant approval to Trinidad and Tobago to develop the Dragon Gas Field as well as ease sanctions on Venezuela to allow its state-run oil company, PDVSA to receive payment from Trinidad and Tobago in any currency or in humanitarian aid.
However, several international reports note that the sanctions were eased on a conditional basis, the two main ones being that Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro would release U.S. citizens that remain in wrongful detention as well as the hosting of free and fair elections in 2024.
Maduro was actually required to define the specific timeline and process for the reinstatement of all candidates who want to run for president, ensuring their freedom of movement and physical safety. This was supposed to be done by November 30, 2023.
Instead of lifting its ban prohibiting a number of top opposition leaders from running for public office, the Venezuelan government, through its Supreme Court, issued a ruling that suspended the results of a primary election held by the opposition in September, in which main opposition leader Maria Corina Machado won more than 92% of the votes.
While the U.S. has already warned that it would return sanctions if Venezuela does not honour its part of the bargain, Trinidadian politicians expressed fear that the Dragon Gas deal which many are pinning their hopes on, could be in grave trouble.
Specifically, Senators such as Wade Mark, Sunity Maharaj, Dr. Tim Gopeesingh and Anthony Vieira, raised concerns about the possible implications of Venezuela’s referendum. While Guyana has approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for protective measures, the parliamentarians expressed concerns about the possibility of any reckless action by Venezuela.
Senator Sunity Maharaj in her contribution to the debate said, “The government’s challenge is deepened by geopolitical considerations. It is not going to be easy and I do not envy anybody who has to navigate the waters that are beginning to bubble around us. The ICJ said it will give a ruling on Venezuela referendum (today).”
Maharaj added, “…Now I don’t know what will be our position if at the ultimate moment, we are asked by Maduro to come out with a statement supporting Venezuela and we wish to never get there because we have so much riding on these negotiations because we have found ourselves in a position where we have very little choices. We have failed to develop our economy and we have to deal with the hard fact that if the plug is pulled then we are in tough times with gas supply because we don’t have enough for our own industries.”
Maharaj said Trinidad has found itself in a tough position where it has dwindling gas resources and must hasten to develop more so that the economy is not drastically affected.
The independent senator said, “…We have to hasten to build out the economy and at the same time, we have to try to carry this ship to safe harbour as much as we can…We are not in a position to force anything and we can only have to hope that Mr. Maduro becomes a tiger that can be tamed.”
Maharaj also expressed the view that Maduro’s posturing over Guyana’s Essequibo has to do with the elections he must face next year in a free and fair manner.
Opposition Senator, Dr. Tim Gopeesingh also raised concerns about the geopolitical conundrum facing Trinidad and Tobago. He explained that the Dragon deal is off if Venezuela does not host free and fair elections. It is also off if Venezuela acts in a reckless manner with Guyana.
Furthermore, Gopeesingh urged his colleagues to consider some key questions which include: Will the Trinidad government still be willing to work with the Maduro government if it acts by seizing two-thirds of Guyana’s land? And will the Trinidadian government be willing to place its energy security into the hands of the Maduro regime if violates its CARICOM neighbour?
As for Senator Mark, in his contribution he was keen to note that Trinidad is facing a natural gas crisis. He said, “Natural gas production has collapsed to around 2.5 to 2.6 billion cubic feet per day, and from all indications, will likely fall even further in 2024 and beyond. This is all manmade. The companies involved in gas activity have not been properly incentivized by the administration to drill and to explore …Even oil production is now heading to less than 55,000 barrels per day, the lowest since early 1940s…”
Given such a troubling state of affairs, Senator Mark said Trinidad has been pursuing the Dragon Gas deal with Venezuela since 2016 as a game changing solution to the economic and production woes facing the CARICOM state.
With the Venezuelan Referendum poised for December 3, armed with worrying aspects, Senator Mark and his other political comrades believe the T&T authorities can no longer see the Dragon Deal as a panacea for the crisis facing the legacy producer.
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