Sep 29, 2020 Letters
Guyana’s territorial/maritime integrity and sovereignty have definitely been enhanced by the Guyana/USA agreements on narcotics interdiction, on satellite surveillance of our Exclusive Economic Zone, and on expanded trade and investment.
In committing to a new mutually beneficial relationship, both Guyana and the USA will have to be balanced and fair about each other’s concerns and interests. President Irfaan Ali has confirmed in no uncertain words that his government supports democracy everywhere, including in Venezuela.
We Guyanese have to take a careful look so that Guyana will only support a democratic change that brings a better outcome for all the Venezuelan people.
‘Regime changes by force’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have resulted in political, economic, social and cultural regression, maybe for decades. The ongoing conflicts have spilled over into neighbouring countries namely Chad, Lebanon, Niger, Pakistan, Sudan and Turkey who now face major security and financial challenges such as terrorism, ethnic conflicts and the maintenance of huge refugee camps.
All of Venezuela’s neighbours, including Guyana, do not want a similar disaster that would spill over into their countries.
‘Regime changes by force’ have also been very costly for the people of the USA. An unbelievable four thousand billion United States tax dollars (US$4 Trillion) have financed those wars. This burden has negatively affected support for the American health care and social security programs.
Venezuela has had a long political, economic, social and cultural relationship with the USA. Venezuelans love American food, sports, music, and movies. Throughout the country, there are hundreds and hundreds of American-brand fast food restaurants. Baseball and basketball are their main sports.
From 1980 to 1998, in spite of that relationship with the USA, Venezuela became infected with the oil ‘Dutch Disease’, and was one of the worst economic failures in Latin America, even though it possessed one of the largest oil reserves in the world. The order of the day was grinding poverty for the majority of Venezuelans and corruption everywhere.
The main beneficiaries were the rich and the upper middle class people who were mainly of European heritage. Their leaders denied that there was rampant discrimination against Venezuelans of Mixed, African and Indigenous descent. They claimed that every Venezuelan was a “mestizo”, yet they highlighted European standards of beauty.
But after 1998 until 2013, there was significant change when President Hugo Chavez won many free, fair and transparent elections based on the unprecedented participation of millions of workers, farmers and the poor who were mainly of Mixed, African and Indigenous heritage, and who had previously been excluded and marginalized. Hugo Chavez was the first Venezuelan President who proudly talked about his African, European and Indigenous heritage.
Those elections were validated by international observers including former US President Jimmy Carter who publicly stated that Venezuela had then one of the best electoral systems in the world. President Chavez used increased oil revenues, which were earned from the high world prices in the early 2000s, to raise the living standards of the majority of Venezuelans. The government financed homes, schools, free laptops for every primary student, new universities with open free admission, public health clinics, hospitals and clean water services. Data from internationally reputable agencies verified the successful reductions in poverty rates, unemployment, infant mortality and inequality.
Most importantly, Chavez had the support of the majority of military officers who were from poor urban and farming families. The military was directly integrated on the ground with workers, farmers and the poor through their involvement in Ministries, state agencies and civil society organizations. The officers played a critical role in returning Chavez to power after the USA-backed opposition coup in 2002, and in overcoming the devastating oil strike in 2003.
Despite the economic mismanagement and corruption of the Maduro government, most of the Mixed, African and Indigenous workers, farmers and the poor continue to reluctantly support the Chavistas because they fear that a return to power of the opposition, led by the rich and upper middle class, would mean for them exclusion, dispossession, marginalization and racism.
A Bloomberg News article reported that a Caracas bus driver advised that the anti-government demonstrations are about “rich people trying to get back lost economic perks and the slums won’t join them.”
Likewise, the military continue to reject the opposition’s many attempts to turn them against Maduro because they do not support a return to the pre-Chavez status quo.
The Venezuelan army, navy and militia are well-supplied with guns, tanks, special amphibious vehicles, fighter jets, warships and two reconnaissance satellites from Russia and China, with whom Venezuela now has very close political and economic relations.
Consequently, ‘regime change by force’ in Venezuela will not be quick and easy and will most likely result in disaster for Venezuelans and for the peoples of our region because the country is deeply polarized, based on race and class.
So the key question is, if not ‘regime change by force’ then what? Guyana should continue to support the Lima Group of countries who are calling for non-intervention, a peaceful negotiated solution and a short-term Interim Government to implement free, fair and transparent elections. .
The main call for ‘regime change by force’ is coming from the Venezuelan political opposition who has ignored the advice of numerous USA governments that, if they want to win democratic elections, then they have to change and become united and inclusive.
As President Irfaan Ali stated, Guyana stands unequivocally for transparent, free and fair elections in Venezuela. Guyana should avoid identifying with any politician or party. Both the Chavistas and the opposition are equally responsible for ensuring that the Venezuelan Elections Commission is professional and non-partisan with fair and equal representation of all political forces. There must be a broad and non-partisan participation of international and national observers.
To meet the interests of all Venezuelans, before the election every political party in Venezuela should sign an agreement that, regardless of who wins the government, they will implement inclusive and anti-racist policies, adhere to the rule of law, respect the right of every Venezuelan to vote for any party of their choice, and practice non-aggression policies towards their neighbours.
In the end, Guyana’s primary concern and interest has to be the defense of our Essequibo. We will never compromise our principles and we will always affirm that the Paris Arbitral Award of 1899 on the border between Guyana and Venezuela is “complete, perfect and final”.
The USA-backed main opposition leaders Maria Machado, Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido (who is recognized by the OAS as the President of Venezuela) are very aggressive about the Essequibo. In November 2013, they led a team of opposition members of the Venezuelan National Assembly to cross the Cuyuni River and enter Eteringbang in Guyana’s territory, without permission from Guyanese authorities, to “claim sovereignty over the Essequibo”.
With the support of the USA and Lima Group, Guyana’s key consideration in supporting democratic change in Venezuela must be to obtain a signed commitment from the opposition that they will practice non-aggression against Guyana.
But if the USA has not been successful in convincing the opposition to become united and inclusive, then how can we be sure that, if the opposition is elected, they will not take aggressive actions against Guyana? The next letter will explore Guyana/Venezuela relations, which have been sometimes good, sometimes bad and sometimes ugly.
Geoffrey Da Silva former Ambassador to Venezuela
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