INDEPENDENCE IN THE ERA OF OIL


The earliest manifestation of Guyana’s new status in the international community is the attention it attracted between the 21 December, 2018, and the 2 March, 2020. On 21 December, 2018, the majority of members of the National Assembly supported a motion of no confidence in the Government. This event attracted international attention, but not international intervention, as the refusal of the Government to resign and hold elections within three months in accordance with the Constitution played itself out in Court.

Eventually, elections were held on 2 March, 2020. Since 1992 elections in Guyana have been observed by international observers from the Carter Centre, Organisation of American States, the Commonwealth, Caricom and the European Union. There are also small, local, groups, such as the Guyana Bar Association, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Representatives, and others, that are officially accredited observer status. There is even a General Election (Observers) Act to facilitate and regulate the observation of elections. The elections of 2 March, 2020, were, like previous elections since 1992, observed by these groups and individuals.

The attempt to rig the elections was met by adamant observer resistance and the countries and groups they represented, including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Caricom, which played a critical role in ensuring that the results of the elections were upheld. It could have been the blatancy and crudity of the rigging attempts that triggered international concern and Caricom assistance.

The US played a high level role with the direct intervention of the US Government. After the successful conclusion of the electoral process, the United States Secretary of State Pompeo paid a visit and signed agreements. These developments suggest that the discovery of oil in Guyana may have played a major role in influencing the West to ensure that democracy prevailed in Guyana’s. After a long period of resistance, Guyana allowed US vessels to enter Guyana’s waters to intercept drug traffickers. This would also give the US the possibility of keeping an eye on Venezuela whose claims over Guyana’s maritime space is a threat to oil production by US-owned Exxon in Guyana’s waters.

Guyana’s newfound, US owned, oil wealth, the state of unipolarity in this hemisphere, the need for big power support against Venezuela, which has substantial economic ties to China and Russia, all combined to influence Guyana’s foreign policy in a specific direction.

The announcement that it would allow Taiwan to open a trade office in Guyana was quickly withdrawn after protests by China. The recognition of Morocco’s control over Western Sahara, a decision that caused the hearts of many to bleed, fared better because few cared. The Polisario Front’s anti-colonial struggle against Morocco since 1975 obtained wide international support from much of the Non-Aligned world, including Guyana and from the PPP during the late 1970s and 1980s. The Polisario Front still deserved the support of the progressive community. 

Guyana has also rightly taken a position against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even though a large number of smaller countries, whether or not they have taken a position against Russia, have not joined the West’s bandwagon against Russia. Guyana too declined in joining the condemnation of Russia’s alleged war crimes since there has been no concluded investigation. While Russia’s invasion could not be supported, or neutrality to it be sustained, statements and analysis from the West suggest that the West is conducting a proxy war against Russia. In this war Guyana has clearly not joined.  

While a group of countries headed by Mexico, included our own Antigua and St Vincent, have announced that they would not attend the Summit of the Americas in June in the US because of the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Guyana has announced that it would attend. Its constructively nuanced position on Ukraine was not followed in this case.

Guyana has been blessed with the good fortune of petroleum reserves which can give it the possibility of utilizing its Independence to influence economic and political developments in the Region. This, of course, will not occur immediately. Guyana’s role in Caricom and the wider region will expand exponentially only when Guyana becomes a significant oil producer, capable of influencing economic development, the possibility of which is only now emerging. The Jagdeo Initiative in agriculture did not succeed. But the Ali initiative attracted the attention of Caricom, not only because of the growing importance of food and its cost, but because Guyana oil wealth will make it a major force in the success of the initiative.

As in matters of the economy, Guyana can begin to utilize its Independence to take the lead in establishing an independent foreign policy for the Region, while at the same time recognizing the interests and importance of the US. An independent foreign policy does not mean an anti-US foreign policy. Its means the creation of a strategy and policies to engage with the US and all other foreign agencies on behalf of the Region. Guyana’s clout, if used wisely, can strengthen its Independence both in economic matters and in foreign affairs. While Guyana has to continue to recognize regional unipolarity and the interests of our friends, proclaiming our Independence with an independent foreign policy will strengthen Guyana and the Region and win us international respect.

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