Guyana should have stayed neutral in the Falklands sovereignty issue

Dear Editor,

This letter is in reference to British High Commissioner Andrew Ayre’s letter on the Falklands  Islands dispute (SN, June 13). I studied the Falklands dispute in Spring 1982 for a course in international law at CCNY under Prof Martha Zebrowski (Columbia University scholar) and wrote a term paper about the dispute and there was a debate in class on the on the territorial conflict. (It was a required course for Political Science majors and my friends Baytoram Ramharack and Vassan Ramracha and Rennie Ramracha as well as other Guyanese took the class.)  My recollection is that the evidence presented in class and from my own research findings on the sovereignty claims showed more opinion favoured Britain’s right of sovereignty over the islands – and I stress opinion based on available evidence.  But it was felt that the islanders should have the right to choose their destiny with news reports during the 1982 war over the islands saying the residents prefer to remain under British rule. My personal position then, and remains so now, is that dispute should be settled by mediation and an international tribunal and not by force.

I think it is a diplomatic faux pas (in fact a diplomatic blunder if not worse) for the Guyana government to even think of considering the Falklands as part of a “united Argentina.”  The ownership of (or control over) the islands is in dispute and as such the diplomatically correct position should have been to take a neutral position.  I studied diplomacy, international relations, and international law at City College, NYU, and the CUNY doctoral school, and learnt that nations don’t make such definitive commitments (or take sides) or issue strong supportive statements in such a conflict unless it is in the national interest.  And Guyana has no vital interests in the Falklands or stands to benefit financially or diplomatically in siding with Argentina in the dispute. Argentina is not a major trading partner and is not a donor country in relation to Guyana. Thus, there was no need for Guyana to issue a statement supportive of Argentina in the dispute. Instead, Guyana should have issued a call for a peaceful solution to the conflict (even suggesting joint development of the islands) or just remain quiet as some 95% of the global community has done on the dispute leaving the UN to resolve it.

It is understandable why Latin nations back Argentina – ethnic and trading considerations and belonging to the same regional grouping, etc.  It is interesting to note that many other Caricom nations choose to back Britain in the dispute or stay neutral.  We should have emulated their position.  I recollect all Caribbean territories and the overwhelming majority of Commonwealth nations supporting Britain during the war in the Spring of 1982 after Argentina invaded the Falklands.  Forbes Burnham backed Britain during the war, fearing an imminent invasion from Venezuela. The US also sided with the UK during the war, although Latin countries felt the US should have backed Argentina under the OAS alliance. Reports say the US provided intelligence to Britain during the war.  Calls for the invoking the Monroe Doctrine in defence of Argentina were ignored.  The emerging big powers like China and India, two anti-imperialist giants, are silent on the Falklands dispute.  So why would ‘little’ Guyana want to get involved in a fight among elephants.

I should point out that most former colonies have backed Britain in the conflict.  And as a former British colony, and one that has been very supportive of us in financial aid, notwithstanding the treachery of twice toppling democratically elected PPP governments and remaining silent during 28 years of human rights abuses under Burnham, Guyana should have been sympathetic to the residents of Falklands (if not to Britain). Guyana has a territorial dispute with one of our neighbours and the other has created a controversy with us. We certainly would not like our neighbours to march in and seize territory, which is what happened in the Falklands in 1982.

With regard to international law, High Commissioner Ayre is right in stating that a country cannot claim territory just because it is situated 400 miles from its border.  International covenants do not support such a claim. The UN Charter recognises people’s right to self-determination. And Britain has honoured this. A vote was held last march during which some 99% voted to remain attached to the UK. I applaud Britain for allowing such a vote. Guyana should also laud Britain for the vote to allow the people to determine their fate – on who should govern them or whether they should be independent.

I should note that for the last several decades, the Falklands have had effective self-determination. The islands are self-governing with the UK only responsible for defence and foreign affairs. Britain allows them to run their own affairs. The residents, just a few thousand, are self-sustaining and don’t depend on Britain or Argentina for handouts, unlike some other colonies or former colonies.

Guyana should have adopted a politically correct position – stay neutral and call for dialogue on a peaceful solution that allows both Argentina and Britain to retain their national honour.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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