Congressional visit

Last week a 23-member US Congressional delegation, including military personnel, breezed in here for reasons which were never officially explained. In the professional sketches made public, Guyanese learned that of the eight Congressmen who came, one sat on the Judiciary Committee; one could be described as a tech policy leader; one sat on the Small Business, Natural Resources and Foreign Affairs Committees, while another sat on the Energy and Commerce Committee and supported the military’s objectives for energy security; yet another was concerned with military and international security issues; two were members of the Budget Committee, among others; and one sat on the House Ethics Committee.

As for the large military contingent, one presumes that some of these were there for straightforward security reasons related to the safety of the Congressmen; after all, nowadays Washington does not send its government personnel into the field unprotected.  Career data was provided for four of them, all of whom derived from the Office of the Chief Legislative Liaison Congressional Travel Section, and two of whom were Legislative Counsel in that office. One presumes that for reasons which hardly require explication, personnel from this Section accompany every Congressional trip overseas.

What the public will not be told is whether any of the military members for whom a professional profile was not provided had assignments to make assessments about more sensitive issues related to our region. Given the crisis in Venezuela it seems not unreasonable to speculate that they might have been required to evaluate the probability or otherwise of certain unwelcome security situations developing, and if those did eventuate, how the US might be affected, and what the options for an appropriate response, if any, were.

As for the Congressmen, their commitments covered a range of issues, not all of which are noted above. However, the interests in energy, natural resources, Foreign Affairs and perhaps the military, would hardly have surprised anyone in this country, although the experience on the Budget Committee might have caused a frown or two of puzzlement in official ‒ and officious ‒ circles, not to mention membership of the Ethics Committee.

It was not as if the Guyana Government was particularly informative about the purposes of the visit, while the US Embassy was positively uncommunicative. “The Department of State and US embassies around the world,” said Public Affairs Officer Amanda Cauldwell unforthcomingly, “routinely support the travel of US government officials and their staff to other countries.” Which did not answer the question, of course.

As we reported earlier, Minister of State Joe Harmon’s answer to reporters was also not particularly enlightening, albeit in his own idiosyncratic way: “I believe what [the visit] … does is it signals a growing confidence in the relationship between our two states and the fact that there is a growing number of US companies that are operating here in Guyana, that the lawmakers would want to come to see what is taking place.” He went on to say that “it signals a very clear indication of Guyana’s importance on the US international scene that [nine Congressmen]… would actually choose to come at one time.” He summed it up by describing it as a “familiarisation” visit.

What undermined Minister Harmon’s bubbly account of how important we’ve suddenly become in the hemispheric arena, was the fact that the delegation travelled to Brazil after leaving here, which was the next stop on a regional tour. This indicated that what had brought it to Guyana had a regional component, which was likely the major component. It does not take too much hypothesizing to see that the issue was Venezuela and its descent into possible anarchy, and more especially the emergency generated by the exodus from that country. The refugee crisis, which will only get worse, is already causing major problems for nations like Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, among others, and even Guyana is experiencing difficulties on an infinitely smaller scale. Chaos in this part of the continent with an unmanageable refugee situation, is not something the US wants to see. 

As we reported on Thursday, what the objective data suggest was confirmed to Stabroek News by a source, who conveyed that the visit was directed at examining the current refugee crisis and how it could impact the Caribbean and neighbouring states.

One cannot forget, however, that the Americans have an additional interest in Guyana in the form of ExxonMobil. The first government minister the visitors met was Raphael Trotman, who holds responsibility for Natural Resources, although no longer for oil. He was at pains to assure them that the administration would not nationalize US businesses here, a reassurance perhaps deemed necessary given that a different ideology (now abandoned) had been espoused some decades ago by the PNC, and that ExxonMobil’s assets had been subject to nationalization under the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

That Guyana is to become an oil producing nation is not something which Caracas wants, and its vexation was all too apparent when it enlarged its maritime claim against this country in consequence. The security of a major US company in our waters must surely be something which Washington would not treat lightly, and as such, it would also by extension have an interest in border matters.

The most expansive of the government spokespersons on the visit turned out to be President Granger himself, who met the delegation and in a press release from the Ministry of the Presidency was reported as saying that the members were particularly interested in the energy sector. However, as protocol required, he appears to have set the agenda, and apparently gave them a “geographic overview” of Guyana, its hemispheric affiliations, its border controversy and dispute with Venezuela and Suriname respectively, this nation’s international relations and the Venezuelan migration.

He was also reported as identifying areas of cooperation, and giving them a tour d’horizon of the economy, among other things, along with Guyana’s pursuit of a green agenda. Where the last-mentioned was concerned, the President was quoted as saying, “They were quite impressed with our environment, our commitment to the environment.” 

Of course, we are not going to be the recipients of any perspectives on the visit from the US side; and to underline that, while the Congressional delegation was here it would not entertain any questions. It simply goes to illustrate the fact that the tour is a particularly sensitive one, and the less it attracts the attention of Miraflores, the better.

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