Strange declaration

It is true, of course, that when the representatives of the Falkland Islands flew in here in March to garner support following a referendum in the territory where nearly all the inhabitants voted to stay British, they were given something of the diplomatic cold shoulder. Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett never emerged from her Takuba Lodge fastness during their visit, and neither did her ministry usher the island visitors through a postern gate for a discreet encounter with her so she could divest herself of harmless platitudes.  Instead, they were swept off to meet Ms Gail Teixeira, the Presidential Advisor on Governance, presumably because she was the one best qualified to explain why it was that the Guyana government no longer subscribed to the principle of self-determination, and had abandoned its commitment to the will of the people being expressed through free and fair elections – or in this case, a free and fair referendum.

In fairness, Ms Rodrigues-Birkett did have something to say on that occasion, albeit at a distance at the behest of Stabroek News. “We support the UN resolution on this matter… from our own experience with border issues, we know that the countries should sit down and talk it out to try to find a solution,” she was quoted as saying. There have been several UN resolutions since 1960, but even the earlier ones, drafted in an era of anti-colonial fervour, place the emphasis on negotiation in relation to the sovereignty issue.  So presumably Guyana’s latest position is that we support Argentina and believe that Buenos Aires should talk Britain out of retaining the sovereignty of the Falklands.

Now this is all very strange, because at no point has the Government of Guyana gone to the trouble first of all, of telling the electorate here that it has a new stance on the Falkland Islands,  and secondly, why it has done a seismic shift in policy terms. After all, it was only last year that at a UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum in Grenada, Guyana joined her Caricom colleagues in expressing support for the right of the Falkland Islanders to self-determination.  Whatever Ms Teixeira said to the Falkland Islanders, will she kindly enlighten Guyanese this time, about why the government has abandoned the principle of self-determination – a principle long held by the PPP and a critical clause in the United Nations Charter (among other human rights documents). And would she explain to us too, why a free and fair vote has no standing any longer in the PPP’s estimation, more especially considering the party built its political reputation on that particular bedrock.

Of course, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner inevitably griped from her capital in the south, that the Falklands referendum had no legal value. So as a member of the chorus for Argentina, perhaps some elucidation could be forthcoming from the corridors of OP or Takuba Lodge as to why it has no legal value. Could it be that the powers who make mysterious decisions in this country are taking cover under the colonial argument, saying that the Falklands have to be decolonized? If so, do they believe that the Cayman Islands, and various other small territories like Curaçao should be ‘decolonised’ in the same way as the Falklands, even though some of them too have held referendums indicating they wanted to maintain their political associations with the European colonisers? Is the government incapable of moving itself out of the Jurassic era to accommodate circumstances which are rather different from those of the 1960s and the anti-colonial movement? And in this case, let it be remembered, to accept Argentina’s claim would in practice be to consign the Falkland Islanders to a new colonial power which invaded them in 1982, and caused considerable pain and damage. So again, just what is the government’s position on Aruba, French Guiana, the Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico, etc, etc?

Furthermore, exactly how long does the OP believe settlers have to have lived in a territory before they acquire the right to vote on their own future? The earlier history of the Falklands has all the hallmarks of European changes of status with which the Caribbean states are familiar, but the current inhabitants for the most part are descended from settlers who came there in 1833. That is two years before the first Portuguese landed in what was then British Guiana; five years before the first Indians arrived; and twenty years before the first Chinese appeared.  Why can more recent arrivals here have rights denied to older ones settled elsewhere?

The real mystery as suggested earlier is exactly why there has been this change in policy. It is not as if we have anything to gain from Argentina; far from it. It is true that those Caricom states which are members of Alba, while voting one way at the UK-Caribbean Ministerial, have done quite the opposite in Alba. They did it, of course, for economic reasons because of the aid they were receiving from Venezuela and most important because of the PetroCaribe agreement.  President Chávez, who was still alive at the time, would not have tolerated any deviation, and both he, and Venezuela going back to the Falklands War have been strong supporters of the Argentinian position.

If it is not simply a case of this country displaying a total lack of backbone in the face of Latin solidarity on the Falklands issue, then could it be that we have come under the influence of Venezuela, and because of PetroCaribe, our rice exports and our naïve belief in the benignity of Caracas’ overall intentions, we have agreed to join the continental choir?  Will the government say exactly what we have to gain from this volte face?

Unlike Guyana, it seems, Venezuela has always had a grasp of the analogy in certain respects between the Falkland Islands claim and the Venezuelan controversy over Essequibo.  If the advisors and the President in Vlissengen Road think that the Essequibo controversy has been laid to rest for good, they had better think again. Venezuela is politically unstable and going through an economic crisis, with no Chávez to hold the fractious groups together.  At this stage one can never know when the controversy will rear its head again, or in what form. And when there comes a point when Guyana desperately is seeking international support, she may find that those to whom she would normally turn are indifferent to her plight. She certainly can expect no backing from her continental friends; they will be standing with Venezuela – especially Argentina.

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