Kaieteur News – May 2015 was a momentous month for Guyana. The Coalition Government took the reins of power, Exxon discovered oil, and on May 26, Venezuela issued Decree 1.787. The latter essentially expanded Venezuela’s maritime footprint across the territorial waters of Guyana. Seven weeks later, Venezuela issued Decree 40.696, which maintained that vast footprint over Guyana’s waters, but without any specifics identified.
Over a year later, Guyana sealed an oil deal with Exxon on October 7, 2016. The terms, provisions, and conditions of that contract have been the subject of endless commentaries, almost all of them negative. It has always been my position that the discovery of oil in Guyana’s waters prompted the unveiling of Decree 1.787 in Caracas, which heavily influenced the favorable numbers and unbelievably controlling clauses in the Guyana-Exxon oil contract. Stated differently, the American oil whale used the decree developments in Venezuela to extract every pound of flesh, along with every drop of contractual blood, to its incomparable advantage. As whales go, Exxon is a killer whale. In pondering these oil developments in Guyana-a weak, vulnerable, unready, and unsteady Guyana-I discern more than coincidence in the sequence of events. I think that there was a continuum in motion, and the confluence of circumstances propelled this country to where it is today. The large shadow of Exxon loomed every step of the way back then, over eight years ago.
Today, it is eight years later, and Guyana is in the waning days of 2023. For the entirety of this year, and for long stretches before, a single sentence of immeasurable intensity and compelling proportions has intruded upon, and come to dominate, the consciousness of Guyanese. Renegotiate the 2016 Exxon contract. It is an incendiary proposition in both Guyanese and Exxon circles. There has been a relentless march of newspapers articles, radio programs, social media postures, which has familiarized Guyanese of the wrong-sided and lopsided character of the Exxon contract. It has been called all manner of savaging names, with the recreations of Exxon and its top people barely escaping being burnt in effigy. Though there are deep divisions of a partisan nature in Guyana, the passions of countless Guyanese run high on both sides of the issue. Even Guyana’s parliament reflected how lacking in patriotism, how pathetic, some of this nation’s lawmakers are.
All of this has forced Exxon on the defensive, and the public relations battles have not been in its favor, locally or internationally. In response, Exxon has dug in its heels, and offered the dreadful (a good deal), the baleful (bad message to investors), and the resourceful (spending Guyanese oil money to brighten its image before Guyanese). If all of this considered combustible and scorching, I now put before the whole world, the possibly explosive, and what could likely embody the repulsive at its inconceivable worst. For there is Venezuela retuning to the forefront, and spreading its wings (with talons bared) in the face of Guyana.
Now, though locked in the throes of crippling sanctions only recently partially relieved, through the benevolence of the United States, Venezuela is back to its old 2015 ways, but with more than decrees this time. The language is rattling, with sabers rattling even more. There have been troop movements, a December 3rd referendum all but over, and of which the visions and ambitions could not be clearer, and more dangerous to Guyana. Whether the forces in control (or with meaningful influence) in Venezuela did this unincited and unpropelled may, perhaps, never be known. After all, border controversies unleash terrible misjudgments, and land is land, especially those loaded with known and unknown treasures. What I do know, however, as is now obvious from developments in Guyana is that the Venezuelan referendum has distracted Guyanese from passions about renegotiation. Venezuelan troop massing at the border (with rhetoric to match) has diluted the attention of Guyanese about renegotiation. And the focus on representations before the international court and the court of foreign opinion have all served to diminish the pressures Guyanese brought to bear for renegotiation of the Exxon oil contract. I am weighing whether the coincidences and continuum of 2015 have repeated themselves in 2023, and again to the massive disadvantage of Guyana.
For those who recoil from such a likelihood involving American companies, I refer them to ITT and Pepsi in Chile in the time of Allende. If and when citizens are instigated to madness against their fellow citizens in many places (including the old British Guiana), then it is but a small leap to incite one country against another. The usual denominator has been that Holy Grail known as profits. The quest for riches has driven self-glorifying civilized men to extreme ruthlessness from time immemorial. Considering Guyana’s riches and its giveaway oil contract, it is not an exception. It cannot be allowed to be precedent. In 1793, the Haitians rose up. Three hundred years later, look at what has been made of them.
Separately, I assert two more things. First, Maduro did not last so long by being a patsy. There must have been some credits, some promised American goodwill for him in raising the bar on the border controversy. He has answered the call, now he must find a way to stand down safely. Second, in absorbing the ratcheting up of tensions from the Venezuelan side, this is astonishing, considering the limited easing of sanctions. Jeopardizing that could lead to reversal. Of conspicuous note, the US has been muted, other than for an initial contribution. Though its hands are full, the expectation is that the Assistant Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs would have been vocal and visible. Strange, given all that is at stake for American and regional interests. The question troubles: coincidence or confluence? I recall the reach of Exxon, and how one of its own ended up as Secretary of State. Indeed, Exxon does operate by its own rules, fires its own shots to suit its interests.
Timely or untimely, connected or otherwise, calls for renegotiation could have contributed to the unveiling of a referendum of open-ended potency and peril. The referendum is as good as done, the ICJ will decide, and Venezuela has made its position clear. For their part, Guyanese will have to decide how they want to be, and where they go from there. Some renegotiation ground has been lost in the swirl and fog of Venezuela escalations. It must be regained, and then surpassed with energy, courage, and wisdom.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of this newspaper and its affiliates.)
Keep your eyes on Venezuela!
Dec 08, 2023By Rawle Toney Kaieteur News – Tulsa Woodham, Senior Operations Manager at the International Cricket Council has stated that the global cricket governing body is actively monitoring the recent...
Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
Kaieteur News – Days after the results of the referendum in Venezuela were announced, there has been a crackdown against... more
By Sir Ronald Sanders (The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.