The death of a friend
What is one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Certainly the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was poison to many people but he was also a hero to most. To his people he was the man who sought to eliminate poverty in his country, he tried to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and above all, took medical services to places where there was none. His country did not have enough doctors to deal with the needs of his rural poor so he turned to Cuba which has or do cross than it needs.
Outside his country there are many who are now mourning and wondering what the future would hold for them. Guyana is one such. From the time it became independent this country has had to contend with a Venezuelan claim to two-thirds of its territory. This claim was based on a contention by a man who was there on the arbitration tribunal that was to settle the borders once and for all.
This man, the official Secretary of the United States/Venezuela delegation, Severo Mallet-Prevost, by way of a letter that was Corbett opened after his death, claimed that what appeared to be the final border resulted from pressures brought to bear by the Russian president of the tribunal.
The Venezuelan claim never went away but it was Chavez who consumed Guyana to breathe easy. During a visit to this country in February 2004 Chavez made a statement that was to see Guyana really move to develop its interior and so aid national development through the exploitation of its natural resources.
Speaking in the Parliament in Georgetown, Chavez said that he had no intention of pursuing claims for Essequibo. “The Essequibo issue will be removed from the framework of the social, political and economic relations between the two countries. We will tackle each issue from a different perspective based on mutual respect.”
His comments did not end there. “The Venezuelan Government will not hinder any project to be conducted in the Essequibo once the purpose is to benefit the inhabitants of the area.” He identified the nature of the projects—water supply, roads, energy programmes and agricultural activities.
To appreciate what this meant, one only had to look back to 1973 when Guyana attempted to construct a hydroelectric facility in that corner of the country. Venezuela let its voice heard in every corridor and before long none of the international aid donors was prepared to make money available to Guyana.
Today Guyana is pursuing the development of a hydroelectric facility and this has not encountered any problem. Even the Inter American Development Bank is prepared to put up money for the completion of the project. Four years ago this was impossible. Chavez made it possible and it did not matter that there were those in his Cabinet who were not happy with his decision. His Attorney General, Jesus Petit Da Costa, accused Chavez of taking that decision to get a vote in the Organisation of American States.
Guyana also saw Chavez cancel a US$12.5 million debt and then gave an undertaking to favorably consider favorable terms for the Caracas Energy Cooperation Accord. The result is the Petro Caribe deal.
Guyana has a lot of money in its coffers because of the oil deal with Venezuela. If we are called on to honour that debt, in a hurry we would find ourselves where we certainly do not want to be.
Chavez has died and many of the things that this country was taking for granted may change. The hydroelectric project could become a casualty although one hopes that the successor would see Guyana in the same light as Chavez did. But Guyana aside, one cannot help but recognize that some countries are blessed with leaders who try to change the course of their country for the better. These men and women all die young.
Indira Gandhi, Forbes Burnham, Kwame Nkrumah, John Kennedy are all men and a woman who were indeed visionaries who died young. Chavez has joined this list.