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Commentary: Venezuela divides CARICOM - Implications for Guyana
Published on July 5, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Ray Chickrie

Venezuela divides the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and it was obvious at the recent Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting of foreign ministers in Mexico when at the last minute, according to diplomats present at the meeting, Suriname alleged that one sentence in the CARICOM document “interfered in the internal affairs of Venezuela.” Then three other CARICOM states joined Suriname. CARICOM unity ended and it was an embarrassing episode displaced publically.

Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East
Guyana looked with keenness and kept a neutral stand on the issue of Venezuela. For Guyana, there is nothing to lose if there is a change of government in Caracas or not. Guyana has always been the propaganda card used by all political parties in and out of office to whip up Venezuelan nationalism by reopening the century-old border dispute between the two countries that was settled by international arbitration in 1899.

Thus, rumours in international circles that Guyana is working with the US to destabilize the Maduro government is ludicrous. And it's a matter of when, not if, the opposition comes to power in Caracas, and they will also bully Guyana. When Hugo Chavez was in office, the opposition accused him of being too soft on the Guyana/Venezuela disputed frontier.

Suriname is not idly standing on the fence observing all political maneuvering taking place. Both Suriname and Venezuela used gunboat diplomacy to remove surveying vessels off the coast of Guyana that they both claimed. Guyana took the issue to the international court in The Hague and was awarded the bulk of the disputed coast.

The Bouterse government has devoted much resources in its foreign policies to help de-internationalize the ongoing unrest in Venezuela. This is due to the Maduro presidency chipping away democratic institutions in Venezuela to cling to power and lack of food and medicine in Venezuela.

Why so much investment in Maduro? Many CARICOM countries are getting free oil and other things from Venezuela, and they have been hard and staunch allies advocating Caracas’s interests. Suriname, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia have gambled big in showing much support and confidence in Maduro by defending him from international condemnation. But is it pragmatic?

Maybe it's only a matter of time before Maduro goes. Venezuela is economically fast crumbling and there are street protests daily. There have been deaths too. The government blames it all on the United States, the opposition, Peru, Mexico, Guyana, Exxon and Mobil and other forces working to “destabilize Venezuela” and topple Maduro.

For Guyana, CARICOM’s division over Venezuela is of great concern. Guyana is a poor and defenceless country facing Venezuelan aggression and it can't afford to lose CARICOM, a cornerstone of its foreign policy. But Guyana is due to receive US$5 billion in oil income revenue yearly. Economically, Guyana should be transformed in the next decade. The government will be more than able to provide citizens with free electricity, gas, education and healthcare.

Infrastructure and economic diversification should top the government’s economic agenda. Maybe if Guyana’s oil revenue don't end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials like in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea, Guyana may be able to unite CARICOM and not let the Venezuela issue divide the bloc.

But it is quite understandable why many CARICOM nations remain skeptical of Washington’s “involvement” in Venezuela considering its history of imperialism and subjugation of many Caribbean countries. This is why St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, in a recent statement, claimed that a small group of powerful nations was seeking to “dilute the collective strength” of CARICOM to oppose “regime change” in Venezuela based on an “agenda of naked self-interest”.
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