By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST JOHN’S, Antigua — Antigua and Barbuda’s exclusion from the visa renewal interview waiver with the United States is based on its support for Venezuela, the Antigua government has claimed.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet discussed the US government’s decision to exclude citizens from Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, three of six Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) countries, from an announced waiver that eliminates the need for citizens to pay in-person visits to the Barbados Embassy in order to renew visitor visas.
“The Cabinet is firmly persuaded that the exclusion is connected to the friendship which the three states have developed with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” a statement from the Cabinet said.
“Further, the decision by these three states to adhere to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member-states has been identified as the principal reason. It cannot be that Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent can be persuaded to abandon principle and a solid friendship, in exchange for a compelled trip by their citizens to renew visas,” the statement continued.
The statement said that Antigua enjoys good relations with the United States “but the USA cannot compel Antigua and Barbuda to act in a manner inimical to Antigua and Barbuda’s interests, and contrary to good international law.”
The government said relations with Caracas are solid.
Venezuela recently forgave a debt of US$250 million dollars, owed to it by Antigua and Barbuda through the PDV Caribe, coincidentally a similar amount to the unpaid World Trade Organisation (WTO) award that the US now owes Antigua and Barbuda for unfair trade practices but which it has refused to pay for some 15 years.
When Hurricane Irma struck last year, Venezuela airlifted hundreds of tons of relief and emergency supplies, and provided a military aircraft to fly nearly 600 Barbudans to Antigua in order to escape from another impending storm.
In 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rescued Antigua and Barbuda from the brink of collapse by lending US$50 million to the Spencer administration.
The State Department has as yet neither confirmed nor denied the assertion by Antigua and Barbuda.