A country’s foreign policy is primarily influenced and dictated by its domestic policy and the political ideology of the ruling party. This is a truism that is understood by any astute head of state when considering the development direction of their particular state.
During the post-independence period, Guyana had a neutral foreign policy that spoke truth to friends and opponents alike. It was fashioned in an uncompromising nature, which ran counter both to Guyanese and to US interests in the Caribbean region, but was particularly shaped to counter Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory.
At its core was the development of closer relations with Brazil, coordination with CARICOM, the Commonwealth, support for African liberation movements and the pursuit of the Non-Aligned Movement, of which Guyana became a very active member from 1970.
On the wider international arena, Guyana established close reciprocal ties with Cuba, supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Maurice Bishop socialist regime in Grenada. It denounced Israel, backed the Arab oil embargo, and established relations with the ultra-radical Palestinian Liberation Organization and strong ties with Libya.
Guyana’s foreign policy was also directed at other significant areas of interest such as its opposition to the racist system in Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa to the extent that it stood in solidarity with Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress party in the struggle against the abhorrent apartheid system in South Africa.
Guyana also showed deep interest in the anti-colonial movements in other parts of Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique. It supported those countries at the United Nations (UN) and other international forums. Interestingly, Guyana donated US$50,000 annually to the cause and challenged other countries to do likewise.
This generous act from a poor country far from the African continent won for Guyana reciprocal support and solidarity from governments and liberation movements throughout Africa. It proved to be of enormous benefit in its border dispute with Venezuela since Guyana could always count on diplomatic support from the African countries.
It also catapulted Guyana into the position as a champion for the developing countries of Africa. Guyana stood tall among the small developing countries as a result of its foreign policy which had significance at the UN and in the corridors of world power.
Guyana is still respected as one of the first countries in the world to ban the importation of goods from South Africa, and along with Jamaica to suggest the commemoration of the International Year of Human Rights at the UN.
Under Forbes Burnham, Guyana’ foreign policy was understood by most people. Today, it has not only changed, but is also difficult to understand in regards to what stance the government will take on international issues. Foreign policy changes should be expected over time because the world is not static and is in effect a shifting goalpost, where the old solutions to modern, complex problems are no longer adequate.
The problem with this evolution is that there has been a decisive shift in our foreign policy that has left many to guess what the new direction is, due to the lack of a clear, unequivocal policy statement of its strategic objectives.
Any shift or changes in our foreign policy should be in our national interest by pursuing a Guyana first policy. It must be pragmatic and not sacrifice certain ideals and principles to expediency or fail to stand-up for what is right for the country.
Doing business with countries, whether its trade, or receiving aid or technical cooperation, does not require public endorsement of a country guilty of despicable conduct.
Guyana fully supports Israel’s rights to exist within its secure borders established before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War as the basis for the two-state solution, but its violence against Palestinians is unjustified.
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