In an insightful editorial in yesterday’s edition of this newspaper, it was observed that unlike the past there is in place in neighbouring Venezuela a government less committed to confrontation.
Citing the example of the development of hydroelectricity in the Essequibo, the editorial observed that even though this newspaper has reservations about the position of Chavez on the border controversy, unlike previous Venezuelan governments, the Chavez administration has acted very maturely in its relations in Guyana.
The Chavez administration has in fact ushered in a new era of relations between Venezuela and Guyana. The Venezuelan government has not been aggressive towards Guyana, but has been a friendly partner in developing closer hemispheric relations.
This is a far cry from the days when relations were soured and almost every statement on Guyana emanating from Caracas was studied as if it represented a decree of foreign aggression.
The Hugo Chavez administration has in fact adopted the position that it would not be opposed to development in the contested Essequibo Region. As such, Guyana can assume that it is free to pursue projects which can bring benefits to the people of Guyana. This shows the Venezuela’s government commitment to human development and demonstrates the considerable strides that have been made in relations between Guyana and Venezuela.
This improvement in relations has nothing to do with the Guyana Government. It is almost exclusively the handiwork of the new government in Venezuela who despite obviously sensing the decline of Guyana’s diplomatic corps over the past twenty years has not attempted to run roughshod over the local administration.
The Guyana government would be hard-pressed to respond diplomatically to any hostile stance taken by the Venezuelan authorities. The Guyana government simply has neglected important aspects of its foreign service which today lacks direction and is severely short of the skills and experience necessary to effectively conduct foreign relations in the modern world.
The overwhelming preoccupation of our foreign relations has been concerned with boosting the standing of the political leadership of the country, instead of creating the sort of linkages, ensuring Guyana’s diplomats are in positions whereby they can exert influence and Guyana’s role in international relations is so pronounced that if and when the time comes for it to enjoy support from other nations, that support will be willingly forthcoming.
Diplomacy cannot be built around a single personality. This is like a flag on a shaky pole. The flag may look good but it the pole in not firmly anchored and there will come a time when it may not be able to support the flag.
The PPP came to power at a time when the expenditure on the foreign service and foreign mission did not justify the returns and were bloated in relation to overall public spending.
One of the first acts of the PPP administration, and justifiably so, given the economic conditions that it inherited, was to slash the spending on the extravagant and underperforming foreign service.
But the world had changed and there was a need for a more intensive diplomacy. Over time therefore the administration should have moved towards increasing significantly the resources that it dedicated to the foreign service, providing greater exposure to a young corps of diplomats, ensuring that Guyana was represented at as many meetings and conferences as a affordable, and trying to have Guyana’s principal diplomatic representatives gain far more important positions that they presently hold.
Instead the foreign service for a long, long time, lacked vision and direction and it is to good-heatedness of the Venezuelans that they have not taken advantage of Guyana’s diplomatic weaknesses and try to exploit this to their advantage.
The bulk of the credit for this tremendous improvement in relations between Guyana and Venezuela has to go to the incumbent President of Venezuela. He has clearly indicated that Venezuela is not going to be an aggressive neighbour and is committed to the peaceful resolution of problems at a time when the use of force seems to be employed with abandon in so many other parts of the world.
Guyana must use this period to therefore build a stronger foreign service, one that more importantly knows where it is going, one that is not simply going to react to situation but has some policy objectives that it hopes to achieve.
Right now it is not clear just what Guyana’s foreign relations objectives are.
The good relations with Venezuela must not be taken for granted and diplomacy must never again be centered around personalities but always on the basis of interests.
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