BY: RALPH RAMKARRAN
The Opposition’s theory in relation to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Guyana, appeared to be that the US could or may be contemplating an invasion of, or some sort of intervention in, Venezuela and that if Guyana were to get involved, it would somehow jeopardize Guyana’s current case in the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). How any action by the US, even if Guyana supports it, would affect Guyana’s case, when Venezuela has declined to participate in relation to an issue that occurred in 1899, and has not recognized the jurisdiction of the ICJ, is still to be explained.
The US would certainly be sensitive to Guyana’s situation and, far from creating difficulties for Guyana, the US has supported the 1899 Arbitral Award and Guyana’s territorial integrity. The US has also supported Guyana’s efforts to peacefully resolve the controversy by seeking a ruling from the ICJ on Venezuela’s claim that the 1899 Arbitral Award is null and void. The Opposition knows all of this but it is still smarting from the devastating setback of its efforts to rig the elections, the strong stand of the US against the attempts and the revocation of visas of many leaders. It now harbours more than ordinary hostility and outrage against the victors, the PPP/C, which conducted a steady, patient, and in the end successful, campaign against the rigging.
The underlying theme of the Secretary’s visit was the promotion of democracy and, as always, the economic and security interests of the US in so far as they coincide with Guyana’s. We are all aware of the US interests in Venezuela – democracy, security, narco tarfficking. Guyana’s interests have an additional, complicated, dimension, which involves security and Venezuelan aggression and the dangers of further aggression, which Guyana can competently represent.
The visit is also to celebrate successful elections in Surinam and Guyana. In Guyana’s case, the US’s important and supportive role was a significant event in the US’s continuing support for Guyana’s democracy since 1992 and of Caricom’s crucial and principled role in the process. In addition to the success of democracy in these two countries, their newly discovered petroleum resources will transform Guyana, Surinam and the entire Caricom Region in the coming decades and will enhance the US’s economic and security interests in the region. The Secretary’s visit indicates that the US understands these realities and is seeking to underline its long term interests.
Designated as a new Shiprider Agreement signed between the US and Guyana, President Irfaan Ali denied that it would be a cover for operations against Venezuela. But he emphasized that it will help Guyana with its “sovereignty” issue and will give us the ability “to protect our Exclusive Economic Zone.” Those expressing fear that the Shiprider Agreement will provoke Venezuela, appear to have conveniently forgotten Venezuela’s numerous provocations, including in Guyana’s maritime space.
The Venezuelan Government by its Decrees 1787 of May 16, 2015, replaced by 1859 of July 7, 2015, define maritime spaces off the coast of Venezuela as including all of Guyana’s maritime space, including the Stabroek block. The Decree’s “sole purpose and exclusive range of concerns are protection against threats, risks and other vulnerabilities,” says a Venezuelan statement, exposing its aggressive intent. The Shiprider Agreement allows US entry into Guyana’s maritime and air space, with Guyana’s permission.
The Shiprider Agreement will inevitably offend Venezuela, which has consistently undertaken aggressive and hostile activities against Guyana’s territory and economic interests and the development of its petroleum industry. Shouldn’t Guyana be offended by Venezuela’s decades long behavior? Since the Shiprider Agreement is confined to Guyana’s lawful, internationally recognized, maritime boundaries, it cannot be argued that it is directed against Venezuela as its objective is only to protect and defend the interests of the signatories.
The Framework Agreement seeks to strengthen cooperation on energy and other infrastructure finance and market building between the two countries. It underlines the importance of promoting foreign investment for economic and social growth and development. The agreement emphasizes that open, competitive procurement processes promote competition, transparency and investment and offers US assistance in addressing the various policy, legal, regulatory, institutional and market barriers that can impede the flow of private capital. The Procurement Commission, a sore issue for the PPP, will hopefully be reconstituted.
The Government did not see it fit to notify the National Assembly by way of a Statement by Minister of the Secretary’s visit, one of the most important in Guyana’s history and of historic significance. Even if details of the visit and agenda had not yet been settled, broad areas of interest between the two countries are known to exist and could have been emphasized. Such a Statement welcoming the Secretary of State of the United States to Guyana would have added the necessary gravitas to the visit. Having regard to the Speaker decision to decline to entertain Opposition Questions on the ground that they were not urgent, the visit of the Secretary being the following day, the Minister could have held an immediate press conference to answer them. They posed little or no difficulty and the public and Opposition were entitled to an assurance that in the discussions the US, Guyana’s national interest will be safeguarded.