By Kiana Wilburg
Mere days after putting a US$15M bounty on the head of President Nicholas Maduro, the United States of America announced that it would be sending naval ships to Venezuela as part of an anti-narcotic operation in the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean, “in partnership with 22 partner countries”.
Many observers in Guyana have wondered whether this military exercise is a subliminal message to Guyana in the wake of its stalled March 2 general elections. Strong statements have been made by representatives of the US government, including Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who declared that “the individuals who seek to benefit from electoral fraud and form illegitimate governments, regimes will be subject to a variety of serious consequences from the United States”.
These sentiments have been linked to the ramped up “anti-drug” war by the USA in which battleships have been placed in the Caribbean Sea, near Venezuela, with speculation that it is a prelude to an invasion of the Spanish-speaking nation whose leaders have faced years of sanctions from America.
GUYANA’S ELECTIONS AND THE US
To discuss the implications of these developments, Kaieteur News contacted veteran diplomat and writer on Caribbean affairs, Sir Ronald Sanders.
Asked about an imminent invasion of Venezuela by the US, Sir Ronald dismissed this possibility, saying, “the United States is not about to invade Venezuela. No country in the world, including those in Latin America that are opposed to the Maduro government, would approve a US invasion. Further, Venezuela poses no security threat to the US and, therefore, there would be no justification in international law for a “pre-emptive” strike on Venezuela”.
The Senior Diplomat, who is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US, explained that drug interdiction exercises, such as this present one, are nothing new. “They have been occurring for years”. But he added “The US government is probably using the exercise around Venezuela to rattle the Maduro government, but it knows that an invasion would be internationally condemned and would result in the loss of thousands of innocent lives, including US ones”.
Probed on whether the military exercise could be meant to send a subliminal message to Guyanese authorities over the March 2 elections, Sanders, who is also Ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS) that fielded an Observer Mission at the elections, responded, “These military exercises have nothing to do with Guyana, and they should not be interpreted as any sort of message. What is more realistic for Guyana are economic and financial actions on all persons identified as participants in declaring elections results that are not verified as credible by at least representatives of CARICOM”.
FALL OUT WITH THE USA
On the matter of sanctions, the Congressional Research Service has noted that the United States has imposed sanctions on members of the Venezuelan government for more than a decade in attempts to push the Nicolás Maduro government into internationally supervised general elections.
As of January 22, 2020, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on at least 144 Venezuelan or Venezuelan-connected individuals, and the State Department has revoked the visas of hundreds of individuals and their families.
The Trump Administration also imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PdVSA), government, and central bank. Sanctions have also increased economic pressure on the Maduro government, accelerating a decline in oil production.
The US government has since made it very clear that its treatment of democratic governments is different from the way it treats undemocratic governments.
The US Assistant Secretary of State, Michael Kozak, underscored this message to the Guyana government when he called-in the country’s Ambassador Riyad Insanally in Washington on March 26. Kozak stated “Any government sworn in based on flawed election results would not be legitimate. Every vote must be counted”.
Against this background, Kaieteur News asked Sir Ronald if, in his years of experience, Guyana would do better or worse should it fall out with the US government.
In his response, Sanders observed, “Guyana’s trading and financial system is intertwined with the US. If economic and financial sanctions are imposed on Guyana by the US, an alternative system could not be established by Guyana without the cooperation of its other major trading partners which are the EU, Britain and Canada, acting together, and that is unlikely to happen”. He added, “A small economy such as Guyana’s would suffer immensely in all sectors should its trading and financial links to the US be eroded”.
Sanders, who has written extensively on US-Caribbean relations for many years, said “In any event, the US is not seeking a confrontation with Guyana, it is trying to urge the authorities in Guyana to count its elections ballots in a transparent manner, overseen by independent bodies to produce a credible result on the basis of which a government can be established, and accepted domestically, regionally and internationally”.
OBLIGATION TO ACT ON CONCERNS OF OBSERVER MISSIONS
Kaieteur News put it to Sir Ronald that local observers believe that Guyana’s authorities have made a mistake by disparaging the electoral missions that condemned the tabulation of votes in the Guyana elections.
In response, Sanders said, “The Guyana government invited Electoral Observation Missions from the Commonwealth, the Organisation of American States, the European Union, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Carter Center specifically to verify to the world that the general elections were free and fair and its processes, including counting of the votes, were transparent and credible. These organizations, representing the majority of nations of the world, did not invite themselves”.
The veteran Caribbean diplomat emphasised that “They were not interfering in Guyana’s domestic affairs; they were invited to be involved in the elections process. In this regard, they have an obligation to Guyana as much as to themselves to state clearly any reservations they might have”.
Clearly concerned about a serious rupture of relations between Guyana and nations of the international community, Sir Ronald concluded that “the authorities in Guyana also have an obligation to the people of Guyana to respect, and act on, the findings of these invited Observer missions. Otherwise, the Guyana authorities create an impression of a lack of irregularity and transparency that encourage the international community to demonstrate its collective concern by salutary actions”.
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