At an online meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) meeting on Wednesday, the US principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie J Chung, warned T&T businesses that they must comply with US sanctions on Venezuela.
"The purpose of our sanctions is to identify those entities that are providing material support to the illegitimate (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro regime." She also said, "It is critical that the Trinbagonian business community track and comply with US sanctions to the full extent possible."
Chung said Venezuela's general election in 2018 was illegitimate and left the presidency vacant. She said Maduro refused to transfer power peacefully to the president of the National Assembly, plundered Venezuela’s wealth for private gain, impoverished its people and caused one of the largest forced displacements in recent history.
Identifying TT as one of the countries in the region where Venezuelan migrants have gone, Chung said this is not an ad-hoc US government policy decision.
She said, "Our goal in Venezuela is clear." She explained that goal included new presidential and national assembly elections under conditions recognised internationally as free and fair and a gradual lifting of sanctions so that the new government will be allowed to function.
"Until that time, however, our sanctions remain in place, and I know the Trinbagonian business community is concerned about the reputational risk caused by sanctions."
Amcham CEO Nirad Tewarie told Newsday, the impact of breaching sanctions, regardless of one's philosophical view on them, could be severe.
"Having sanction-breaking companies operating here would make the overall business environment more difficult." Tewarie also observed, "From a pure business perspective, the risk does not outweigh the reward. Therefore companies should heed the advice."
While Amcham is not aware of any company that is seeking to do business with the Venezuelan government or any of its entities, he said, "The sanctions do not preclude businesses here from doing business with the private sector of Venezuela."
Referring to the arrest of three Venezuelan DirecTV executives earlier this month after the Dallas-based company left Venezuela, citing US sanctions against the government, Tewarie said this should be "enough of a warning of the risks of being in the orbit of the Venezuela state, even if conducting legitimate business."
Former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine said the US is sending signals to TT that "we ought to be careful in our dealings with the Maduro regime." He said while some people will claim TT is a sovereign nation, "We must also remember the US is also a sovereign nation and can decide to trade or not to trade with other countries."
Ramnarine added that the US is "our largest trading partner, the source of most of our food imports and home to hundreds of thousands of our citizens."
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