There is no doubt that the core aspects of Guyana’s foreign policy will remain unchanged, save for a few new challenges. The PPP had always known of the importance of the role of Britain and the United States in Guyana’s politics. The British suspended the Constitution in 1953 and opened the door to US interference in 1962. The PPP was aware that it was US support and British silence that sustained the PNC dictatorship in office and that it was the withdrawal of their support that ended its 28 years in opposition in 1992.
But after 20 years in office, a new PPP leadership, forgetting the PPP’s choices in the Cold War, unburdened by the memories of the traumatic struggles and suffering engendered by the struggles for democracy and intoxicated with a sense of its own invulnerability by its longevity in power, began to imagine that it had a degree of flexibility that really did not exist. Hence the PPP did not, or could not, have understood what surely would have been Washington’s horror at the Government’s attempt to establish relations with Iran and its abstention on the vote in the UN condemning Russia’s seizure of the Crimea. This ‘independent’ foreign policy course culminated in the public humiliation of the US’s Ambassador at the celebration of US Independence. The PPP lost office.
The US proved its enduring interest in Guyana by reversing its 25-year course by supporting democracy in 1990-1992 and again in 2020. The failure of US diplomacy in Guyana in 2020, too horrible to contemplate, would have led to suffering for years, or even decades, based on past experience. It is not known whether the alacrity with which the new PPP/C Government supported the US nominee, Mauricio Claver-Carone, as head of the Inter-American Development Bank, signals that the PPP has finally absorbed the lessons of relations with the US over the past 50 years, or whether it is merely passing gratitude for the US’s support for democracy in Guyana. Time will tell.
Important though its relations with the US are, the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy will continue to dominate Guyana’s foreign policy energies. It is the major threat to Guyana’s safety, security, territorial integrity and economic development. While it is quite likely that the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, will accept jurisdiction and then go on to rule in Guyana’s favour, it is not likely that Venezuela, which is not participating in the hearing, will accept the verdict.
It is to be noted that Guyana is not asking the ICJ to rule on Venezuela’s claim to two-thirds of Guyana. The ICJ is being asked to determine whether Venezuela’s claim that the 1899 Arbitral Award is null and void and, at the same time, pronounce on Venezuela’s seizure of Guyana’s half of Ankoko Island. If, as is hoped and expected, the ICJ eventually rules in favour of Guyana, Venezuela’s claim, unsupported by any credible evidence, will be denuded of the limited legitimacy it holds in some countries in Latin America, but this does not mean that Venezuela will not persist in its claim. The greatest victory for Guyana will be the reduction of the potential of any military invasion of Guyana by Venezuela. Who knows, it might even lead to a settlement.
But as the late Dr. Mohamed Shahabuddeen, Guyana’s revered jurist and World Court Judge, who knew more than most about the subject, once responded in his engagingly paternalistic way to my enquiry as I caught up with him ambling slowly, in his usual style, along Avenue of the Republic while on vacation from the Hague: “My boy, if we make a modest concession now to settle the matter, how do we know that in 60 years a new generation of Venezuelans will not claim that the settlement is null and void.” The wisdom of Dr. Shahabuddeen and Sir Shridath Ramphal, later that of Rashleigh Jackson and Cedric Joseph, more recently Carl Greenidge, has guided Guyana’s policy on this issue since 1966. Thankfully, all but Dr. Shahabuddeen are still available for Guyana.
For the entire period during Guyana’s authoritarian era, Caricom remained silent as rigged elections followed one after the other, as Walter Rodney was assassinated, as Guyana’s economy unraveled and as Guyanese flocked, mostly, to Caribbean countries for trading and illegal work and residence. Caricom’s intervention in 1998 in Guyana’s PNC inspired post-election turmoil by way of the Herdmanston Accord came to be seen by the PPP as more favourable to the Hoyte’s PNC as it lopped three years off the PPP’s term of office. But by this time around, Caricom had evolved with the end of the Cold War, the enshrinement of the Charter of Civil Society, the symbolization of Justice by the CCJ and the emergence of leaders like Owen Arthur and Bruce Golding. Caricom could no longer allow the Caribbean’s placid sea of democracy to be roiled by the turbulent waves of stolen elections.
Guyana owes Caricom. Hopefully, Guyana will ensure that its oil economy brings benefits not only to the Guyanese people but to all Caricom. Guyana should be happy to become Caricom’s ATM, except that Trinidad probably has its own.