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Why T&T needs better ties with Chavez regime

Since the time of Simon Bolivar, founding father of its independence, Trinidad has provided safe haven for dissidents and rebels against whoever or whatever has constituted the powers-that-be in Venezuela. For the most part, however, today's Trinidad and Tobago has all but taken for granted the mostly untroubling presence of its closest South American neighbour, whose shoreline across the Bocas is easily visible from various points.

T&T has harboured Venezuelan expatriates who were disappointed over President Hugo Chavez' fourth-term election victory last week. His re-election confirmed majority Venezuelan approval of his policies and practices that have won large numbers of friends, and equally influenced as many foes at home and abroad.

Physical nearness has not counted for as much as it might have in relations between Port of Spain and Caracas. President Chavez, thrusting toward gaining regional influence, rivalling that of superpower USA, has hardly singled out T&T for special attention.

Venezuela has maintained diplomatic relations throughout the Caribbean, and bolstered its presence, on the strength of its PetroCaribe facility, as an energy powerhouse who no country could ignore.

T&T and Barbados, having opted out of PetroCaribe ties, have been bastions of resistance to the Chavez-led thrust for political and economic clout in the Caribbean.

In other respects, the Bolivarian republic's drive into the Caribbean's energy market has actually occurred at the expense of T&T, which had complacently assumed an undisturbed preferential share of buyers of its own petroleum products.

With the footprint of state-owned Venezuelan PDVSA energy company discernible all over the region, as an investor and supplier with assured credit facilities, this has entailed competition for market share against T&T's State-owned Petrotrin.

Moreover, and with longer-term significance, Port of Spain retains its own sore points in its relations with Caracas. As a country and economy needing all the gas it can pump, the stalled development of the Loran Manatee cross-border gas project exemplifies relative unconcern in Caracas and diplomatic helplessness in T&T.

Like him or loathe him, President Chavez, has now been duly re-elected. Under his charismatic leadership and "socialist" policies, his country's underclasses have found at least a promise of salvation.

As of necessity today, the Chavez administration must be constructively engaged by T&T and other regional states, through the exercise of diplomacy at the highest levels.

It is now for the T&T government definitively to assert its interest in liberating the cross-border gas resources. Much more than the Venezuelans, plentifully blessed with oil,T&T has needed the exploitation and monetisation of gas resources about which oil-oozing Venezuela can afford to be indifferent.

In its own urgent self-interest, the T&T government must proceed to establish positive and constructive relations with the troubled energy powerhouse next door.

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