It is by no means accidental that the beleaguered administration of President Maduro in Venezuela has chosen this particular time frame to make menacing signals towards Guyana specifically – at least so it seems – to seek to disrupt this country’s move to finally begin to initiate its oil recovery efforts. In fact, if precedent is anything to go by, this development is entirely unsurprising. Venezuela has always chosen what it has perceived as ‘awkward moments’ to make aggressive moves towards Guyana as a means of sending reminders about its territorial claim. That is why we cannot afford to drop our guard.
If it is regrettable that the Bolivarian Republic finds itself in the political and economic circumstances that prevail there, that is hardly good reason to employ heavy-handed militaristic tactics to threaten Guyana’s economic interests. It would appear, frankly, that President Maduro’s strategy in deploying Venezuela’s Navy to harass the research vessel operating in Guyana’s maritime space on an oil-related contract commissioned by ExxonMobil is to shift attention from his country’s steadily worsening circumstances and to cause its longstanding and spurious territorial claim against Guyana to return to the forefront of international attention hence the call from Caracas for there to be the re-establishment of direct dialogue with Guyana, its claim that the oil-related seismic activities being conducted by Exxon were occurring in its territorial waters being a well-rehearsed red herring.
Indeed, it would hardly have escaped the attention of the authorities here that whilst Venezuela is now saying that it seeks direct dialogue with Guyana it has shown decidedly less enthusiasm to show up at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as directed by the UN in order to have its claim exposed to the scrutiny and the ultimate judgment of the Court.
The quick response from the United States government calling on Caracas to respect Guyana’s sovereignty points, it seems, to a certain diplomatic alertness on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which, of course, has, over the decades, been well-schooled in its responses to Venezuela’s hostile attentions.
Given what is at stake here, however, both in terms of our territorial integrity and our national economic interests, the domestic dimension to the overall Guyana response cannot be overstated. It is not inconceivable that Venezuela’s latest round of harassment may be timed to exploit what they perceive to be our current political differences. They have sought to use this ploy previously. So that there is a pre-existing understanding regarding the collective national interest and the need to have that come first. At all material times our national response must be that when it comes to issues of territorial integrity, national sovereignty and the country’s economic interests, the people of Guyana are at one.
President Maduro, of course, has what he believes is good reason to be concerned about Guyana’s oil prospects, given the nexus between an oil-rich Guyana and the country’s ability to more adequately represent itself insofar as its territorial integrity is concerned. Those Guyanese who are familiar with the history of the territorial claim would doubtless be aware that part of Caracas’ strategy has traditionally been to threaten our economic interests. This time around and given what doubtless is Venezuela’s awareness of what access to oil can do for Guyana’s economy, that country’s recent actions can doubtless be interpreted as an intention on its part to seek to frustrate our oil recovery efforts.
The challenge that has been thrown down to Guyana is a diplomatic one. Arguably, in our favour, is the widespread international attention that the country’s successive oil finds have attracted so that it is unlikely that aggression on Venezuela’s part is likely to go unnoticed either in the region, the hemisphere or at the level of international organizations, that is, institutions like the UN, the OAS and CARICOM. The Foreign Ministry will know from experience, however, that while, the spurious nature of Venezuela’s claim has already been repudiated internationally, vigorous diplomatic support does not necessarily come as a matter of automaticity. True, some measure of international attention will accrue from the fact that the high profile US oil company Exxon Mobil is in the frontline. That fact, however, does not spare Guyana, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in particular, its responsibility to repeat the customary vigorous diplomatic effort.