Jan 27, 2021 Letters
My conclusion is that Venezuelan’s political leadership has opted for low-level provocations to stir the pot and increase the heat in its border controversy with Guyana. For the longest while, with Maduro under siege and fighting to maintain his then feeble hold on his troops, the news was all rosy for Guyana. The oil discoveries kept coming, and with promises of more exciting finds. Politicians here were more concerned and looking over their shoulders at domestic critics of their leadership failures in managing Guyana’s oil. But, in recent times, a rejuvenated Nicholas Maduro, has returned to centre stage; he is talking up a storm, and up in arms. In view of recent developments, Guyanese must take that reference to arms literally.
I sense that Senor Maduro is bent on getting his position and messages across, with one foremost: Essequibo is ours. That it is theirs – belongs to Venezuela. Therefore, there is no negotiating, no listening, no compromising. Though the oil explorations and finds are in areas over which Venezuela has had no historical claim, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Guyana has bargained for and obtained the insurance protection of a big brother, the biggest one around. But Venezuela is nobody’s fool, and he wants no truck with America, including the new man-supposedly more temperate, more engaging, and more of someone with whom business can be conducted. This means that every effort is made not to collide with its people (Coast Guard) or interests (Exxon) that are partnering and operating in Guyana’s waters on Guyana’s behalf. The Venezuelan leader is also sensitive of American anger with how that same Exxon was treated with its oil holdings, under Hugo Chavez. As such, the provocations and aggressions (only accurate and realistic description and interpretation) are away from the Americans and aimed exclusively at soft Guyanese targets. This is a well thought out, safe, virtually risk-free approach with little downside, but the potential for huge upside psychological gains.
One such is the report of Guyanese fishing boats being seized. I would be surprised if those vessels and men are not detained at length, with Iranian-style adjudication, and the detention stretched out. The prospects are for that low-grade, low risk action to be repeated under different formats and in different places. Guyana can protest furiously and escalate to wherever. But Venezuela cannot be squeezed more than those draconian American sanctions. Stated differently, and in the words of Hobbes, “Covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength….” There has to be “coercive power” which Guyana lacks. There may be will, but the means are missing.
So attempts at intimidating and harassing Guyana, through fishing boat attrition, should be expected to continue spasmodically. Another way is to flood with continuing waves of Venezuelans, who come under the banner of seeking betterment. There is, therefore, that camouflage and possibly politically generated pretext to undermine here, through sinister men (sleepers) and with objectives menacing to the national welfare. In other words, there are bound to be those state operators from Venezuela, who can come and lay low, and then inflicting hit and run damages. If not clear enough, then I call them for what they are: saboteurs. Castro of Cuba did so.
I take the plunge in my belief that criminal gangs will also be deployed. It will be recalled that many such members are ex-Venezuelan military, which spells trouble for vulnerable Guyana. Again, I must be brutally frank and identify our Seawall, since nothing is off-limits. That could be disastrous. Let’s face tough truths. First, we cannot police our porous borders completely. Second, we can increase hinterland patrols, but they would be more reactive, unless they get lucky through interception. That would then deteriorate to a condition of who was where and who was aggressor (think China and India). The stakes would intensify with casualties.
This is what I see and where I stand: Venezuela is prepared to intensify matters through low key aggression. While Guyana is limited to the defensive. Maduro gets to apply relentless pressure, while Guyana is consigned to complaining. We have trouble on our hands. Still, we proceed before this existential danger in the usual political manner.
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