The irredentist claim of Venezuela
As Guyana celebrates its 46 years of independence, it is time to reflect on the major changes which have occurred during the last few decades. Our institutions are still largely shaped by the British, although we have sought to distance ourselves from British institutions. However, the lack of institutional strength and expertise in key areas has moderated the zeal to be truly independent. After becoming independent on the 26th May, 1966, Guyana went further and declared itself a Republic on the 23rd February, 1970. The county even went further to distance itself from Britain by passing the Termination of Appeals Act 1970, which effectively terminated appeals to the Privy Council in England.
However, notwithstanding these measures, it is still difficult for Guyana to completely severe most of its ties with Britain. Guyana’s history and political culture has been, and continues to be inextricable interrelated with Britain. Several examples illustrates why this is the case.
Guyana is too small to completely sever all ties with Britain. A major challenge to Guyana’s sovereignty and independence occurred on October 12, 1966, when Guyana discovered that Venezuela’s military and civilian personnel had occupied the Guyanese half of Ankoko Island in the Cuyuni River. Apparently, the Venezuelans had begun developing an airfield and mining facilities on the island.
On January 4, 1969, a major disturbance occurred in the Rupununi region of southern Guyana. The ranchers of the Rupununi’s savannah had unsuccessfully attempted a secessionist revolt. The police station in Lethem was attacked. Four policemen and one civilian employee of the police were killed. The insurgents then seized and blocked most area airstrips. The airstrip at Manari, eight kilometers from Lethem, was left open, apparently for the insurgents’ own use.
This was when the British-trained Guyana Defence Force displayed superior military skills. They moved quickly into the area and restored law and order. The insurgents retreated from the area. Some of these insurgents flew to Brazil and some flew to Venezuela. They were seeking to establish a separate state in Guyana. This attempt failed and Guyana was able to successfully defend its territorial integrity.
Other challenges to Guyana ‘s sovereignty have occurred, but the international community, including the British have supported Guyana’s territorial rights. Guyana has been largely successful in defending its border. Hence, there is a legitimate reason for Guyanese to be proud after 46 years of achievements. The Venezuelans are still pushing a claim which the world community considers to be an irredentist claim.
This defiance is reminiscent of Ian Smith of Rhodesia who once made his famous remark “not in a thousand years.” He made these remarks when he was questioned on when he will gave up power to blacks in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.
On the diplomatic front, Guyana has made progress. This progress is reflected in the quality of the diplomatic efforts of Norman Girvan. Mr. Girvan, who served as CARICOM Secretary General, is now the United Nations Good Officer. He has quietly sought to defuse tensions on Guyana’s borders.
Some of these tensions have been brought about by increasing mining activity on the Guyana’s borders with both Venezuela and Brazil. As a result, the reports of Venezuelan military amassing troops on Guyana’s borders warranted special attention. These issues have been dealt with through quiet diplomacy.
However, in order to maintain its territorial integrity, Guyana still needs to increase funding for the military. Quiet diplomacy and reliance on Britain, are not enough to guarantee Guyana’s territorial integrity. In the final analysis, it is the ability of the nation to utilize its resources wisely and to adequately prepare its military for any eventuality, notwithstanding the irredentist claim of Venezuela.
President, Guyana-Associates, Inc