London-based, British investigative journalist, Mr. Phil Miller, asked a timely and consequential question in the In the Diaspora column of Stabroek News dated January 28th. The question was titled, “Is Guyana in control of its ‘Oil Dorado’”? The answer(s) to that deep and not-so-profound question is sure to reverberate for a long time around here.
The short answer is: No! Guyana is not in control of its ‘Oil Dorado’. That’s it. That is not going to change materially anytime soon. And any Guyanese with a minimal degree of understanding, and some limited association with oil and its long transformational and transcendent history across the globe would be forced to agree. And this is regardless of which side of the contractual, political, or financial fence that they perch. Whether wiling agreement, or otherwise, that is the reality.
From John D. Rockefeller in Pennsylvania to Spindletop located in Beaumont, Texas to all the way over there and King Abdullah and the Ghawar (and other rich) oilfields in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East and Africa and Venezuela, it has been the same story of exclusive control and dominance; and the fusion of corporate oil interests with vital national economic, security, and strategic interests of America and the wider western world. There are other oil rich locales not touched upon in this quick writing. Military muscle, great power ascendancy, and the longevity of the capitalist system itself, to some extent, have all been heavily dependent on oil, from access to discovery to control to all the horizontal and vertical integrations and downstream effects made possible and which continue to be realized. Here is the first aside: the Cold War could not have ended the way it did and when it did, without the economic might made possible by cheap oil and lots of it for decades.
Kerosene lamps, Henry Ford and his Model T mass production and mass marketing, the conversion of the western military machinery (I think it started with the British navy) to oil power all followed in an unending chronology of power projection by the Westerners with America taking the lead, when it became obvious that the baton had passed through the fading of the British Empire and the economic ravages wreaked on Europe by two world wars. That intertwining of corporate and political and national interests was fronted by the Seven Sisters, of which Exxon is a survivor, partly fueled by corporate incest and marriages of convenience. It is called mergers and acquisitions or combinations or, when the wildcatters and big game oil hunters set their predatory eye on an alluring target, hostile takeover. They will not be thwarted; neither company nor a colluding government operating through shadowy arms of the State Department. They were not thwarted by Mossadegh or Gaddafi or Khomeini. Chavez tried and was neutralized; he lived to tell the tale. Maduro trudges along in an environment (part quicksand, part molasses, all trouble) made increasingly ungovernable. There were other generalissimos and politicos before these two socialist leaning jefes; in the instances where there were unfriendly politicos, the powerful juntas took care of them, and rearranged matters accordingly, with a special emphasis relative to the oil wealth.
Today, the Russians and the Chinese are owed; they have ideas, some investment in nature, others ideological in vision. Their day is not today. They will have to bide their time and cool their heels. They may not like it, but that is the way the cookie crumbles when oil is involved (and in that amount), and in this part of the world. As a second quick aside, I remind the knowledgeable that Richard Nixon at one time considered the nuclear option when it appeared that the Saudi fields were going to be out of reach. Further, when that business about Aramco and nationalization-the dirtiest word in the dictionary of free market enterprise-surfaced, there was thinking of clogging the wells with cement
mixture. With these contexts as primers, it should not be incomprehensible as to where matters stand with adolescent (or is it preteen, toddler, perhaps?) Guyana. The question posed is still there and addressed, if not answered, through using a range of incontestable historical events and moments as supporting evidence and postures. These are but a rapid superficial sweep of what went before, when oil was in the mix, and what is already here, with the same oil, albeit in lesser volumes, bubbling to the Guyanese surface and consciousness.
So where does this leave booming Guyana? I mean booming with one earthshattering (by Guyana’s standards) discovery after another, and with much more promised. Does it have control of its ‘oil Dorado’? Not now. Not just now. Maybe, sometime later; a lot later. Incidentally, that is a big maybe. Guyanese better get used to this.