Jan 15, 2021 Letters
As I observe recent Venezuelan agitations about decrees and the rest from its still embattled leader, I would hope that my fellow Guyanese are paying attention to what has been made public by our neighbours, and the substance of some contrarian positions I had taken a while back upon which I think it is now appropriate to elaborate.
What originated with the Venezuelan leader was nothing short of the hostile and which I would go so far as to term warlike. It is not a word that I use lightly, especially when the surrounding atmosphere, the tone, and the timing all pointed to the bellicose and that well bandied about one-sabre rattling. I think that it is sufficient to say that it was not friendly in the least. There was this flurry of sharp words and positions, but with a significant underlying difference that was distinctive.
Our neighbour spoke of Essequibo and what is in mind with that large swath of rich Guyanese territory, from a Venezuelan perspective and vision. He also spoke of willingness to engage in dialogue. And let us all agree on one thing: the man and his compatriots are serious. They hear and see and know of these billions of barrels of oil sloshing about, and of other discoveries, which have to be in the pipeline, all associated circumstances considered. It is enraging and greed-triggering. No Venezuelan political participant struggling and hustling to maintain some degree of relevance in his society before peers and adversaries could be otherwise, such as appearing complacent to the point of being unstirred and untroubled. He or she cannot be silent, which is as good as surrender on any claims.
Having said this much, I now want to place before my fellow citizens a few situations, which are not new but timeworn for me. The Venezuelan leader is talking. I would go so far as to say he thrilled to a good raving and ranting. But that was it. He was careful to not go beyond that; despite serious concerns about the presence of the U.S. Coast Guard and joint exercises with Guyana, again that was it, and great care was taken to register disagreement and distrust with that presence, but there was nothing beyond the official public releases. To put differently, there was and is a limit past which Venezuela and its leaders are hesitant to go, and for powerful reasons.
The country is in trouble with America, which I do not foresee easing in any material manner, incoming administration and all, and which brings me to this place where Guyana is concerned. Venezuelan powers will talk and rattle whatever, but that’s it. They will not mess with America. Exxon is an American icon, an American asset, and the projection of American power. Given the existence of sanctions and sharp conflicts with its leader, the situation is unstable, as well as an unhappy one for our neighbour. It is, therefore, very circumspect on how loud it speaks and how far it is going to push any hot buttons. The man is talking about decrees and much more, but he is not going to risk any more American wrath. Thus, he has to content himself with making noises and that is about it.
On the other hand, I submit again that if it were any other company but an American one, then there would have been more action and less speechmaking. This has happened before, but it is not going to be tried now, not with matters on tenterhooks with Uncle Sam. If it was an Indian or Chinese or European company, even a British one, out there exploring for this oil, it is my belief that it would have been run out of town already. As I compress all this, I remember Teddy Roosevelt and ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ and two things come to mind. An authentic big power can afford to do so, because it can back up whatever it speaks, however softly uttered. It does not have to prove anything. The other side of that is that those who talk big, but lack the wherewithal to do something in support, has just lost face, which is what I think is happening here. Still, as I say this, I watch to detect possibly destabilizing forays across the border under criminal cover.
Last, as I looked at pictures of that joint exercise involving American and Guyanese vessels, I cannot help thinking that this is the 21st century version of ‘gunboat diplomacy.’ The visit of that Admiral also is not merely a courtesy call, but of ties and messages. The wise in the area should know what I am talking about and pay heed.
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