The administration finds itself trapped in relation to the Venezuela crisis

Dear Editor,

The meeting of the 38th regular meeting of Conference of Caricom Heads of Government is being held at a time when its foreign policy is under attack from various quarters.

Writing for SN in his weekly column ‘Latin View’ on June 27, 2017, Andres Oppenheimer launched a blistering attack declaring, “Carib-bean countries should be ashamed of supporting Venezuela at the OAS meeting.” He went on to add that “the June 19 vote [at the OAS meeting] was a disgrace for which most Caribbean countries should be blamed.” Oppenheimer’s attack had to do with the situation in Venezuela and the role played by Caricom member states at the recent meeting of the OAS at Cancun, Mexico.

Prior to the Cancun meeting, Cofcor met in Barbados to hammer out a common position on the Venezuela issue in preparation for a special meeting of the OAS in Washington. Reports emanating from the meetings both in Barbados and Washington revealed that at the beginning, there was no consensus among member states, however, by the time they arrived in Washington they managed to hobble together a united position in the face of the onslaught by the larger and more powerful OAS member states.

The defeat of a resolution condemning Venezuela was another manifestation of the power and influence of small states in a multilateral setting. This led Oppenheimer to lament: “How could a few tiny Caribbean islands defeat a resolution that was backed by the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina and 15 other major countries in the region?” His solution to overcoming this conundrum was that the US administration should offer “economic incentives”, a euphemism for bribes, and that it should pull its 32 per cent cut in foreign aid to “win over small Caribbean islands.”

At Cancun it was clear from the beginning that Mexico was not favourably disposed to have the Venezuelan situation overshadow its hosting of the OAS General Assembly, but its efforts at balancing the collective interests and issues of sovereignty and independence of member states soon collapsed in the face of pressure from the larger and more influential states.

Long after Cancun, Caricom unity and solidarity in response to the crisis in Venezuela continued to be affected by its underlying fragility. In the run-up to the conference of Heads of Government it was becoming clearer with every passing day that some member states were increasingly coming under the influence of the more powerful hemispheric countries whose efforts at influencing them went before and way beyond the Mexico meeting. From all the indications, it appeared that of all the Caricom member states, St Vincent and the Grenadines possessed a greater degree of diplomatic intelligence on the situation in Venezuela, than the region and the US itself. This allowed St Vincent to adopt a posture characterized by tact and intelligence and to advance a case for discussion and agreement on the crisis in Venezuela within Caricom.

What was Guyana’s role? Guyana is a founder member of the community but it lost its sheen and leadership role within the organization following the change of government in May 2015.

It’s chairmanship of the community over the past six months during the course of this year was less than stellar.  No creative initiatives or innovations were launched to shake the regional body from the comatose state affecting it for some time now. The effects of coalition politics, viz the competing political motivations and heterogeneous interests within the APNU+AFC at home has resulted in the withering away of the once robust and progressive nature of Guyana’s foreign policy. Its replacement by a timid, temperamental and ambiguous foreign policy has further resulted in that policy being crippled and placed in a rigid framework where stimulus is lacking, leaving no room for flexibility and innovation. The Granger administration thus deprived itself of the range of options at its disposal to address, by diplomatic means, complex foreign policy issues such as the crisis in Venezuela.

It is precisely for these reasons that the Granger administration finds itself trapped as regards the Venezuela crisis wherever or whenever it surfaces. The Guyana government can neither support nor defend Venezuela’s sovereignty as a neighbouring country. Its position on the question of non-interference in the internal affairs of that country has been compromised as a result of the narrowing of the range of its domestic and international interests. Having boxed itself into a corner with respect to the border controversy by refusing to adopt a positive asymmetric stand towards its neighbour, it denied itself the range to manoeuvre while its ability to exploit opportunities has dissipated. Consequently, the Government of Guyana found itself in an invidious position on the crisis in Venezuela within Caricom’s modus operandi.

In none of the reports emanating from the international meetings held so far, is Guyana perceived as a player of any significance in the international arena any longer. Moreover, it is not clear how Guyana voted at the OAS meeting at Cancun. In light of the aforementioned, Guyana is unlikely to go beyond its routine reporting responsibility on Guyana-Venezuela relations at the Caricom meeting in Grenada.

Unlike his founder leader, who made his mark at the international level and is known to have been a deal broker, President Granger’s foreign policy leaves much to be desired. The following extract from Margaret Thatcher’s The Downing Street Years would suffice: “…unbeknown to him, [it was] President Forbes Burnham of Guyana who provided inspiration for this in the course of the weekend retreat which the heads of government spent away from Melbourne in Canberra. In the course of this we were arguing about an issue to be reported in the final communique which we were drafting. At one point Forbes Burnham said that we must achieve consensus. I asked him what he meant by ‘consensus’ ‒ a word of which I had heard all too much ‒ and he replied that ‘it is something you have if you cannot get agreement.’”

In addressing his mind to the Venezuela crisis while in Grenada, President Granger may wish to draw inspiration from his founder leader’s role in multilateral diplomacy.

Yours faithfully,

Clement J Rohee

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