The historic recall is, understandably, fragmentary. But there are two pieces that remain pellucidly clear.
The 1899 Award of land to Britain, of then British Guiana, which have now been proven to be rich in oil and other natural resources, remains one that is legally binding.
The 1966 Geneva Agreement, which calls on Venezuela to prove that the 1899 Treaty is null and void, has never been satisfied because Venezuela could never prove such nullity exists without unraveling all of the other parts of the Treaty; every single line; inclusive of the tripartite agreement between British Guiana, Venezuela and Brazil that the Peak of Mount Roraima marks the spot at which the borders of the three countries meet.
And, though the Mallet Prevost allegations in 1944 – forty five years after the 1899 award – of nullity of the Treaty on the grounds of it being an insidious agreement between Russia and Britain, remain unprovable, it is these contentions that are exhumed by Venezuela, ever so often, for political expediency and pick up enough traction to create the kind of angst and domestic disquiet in Guyana that reminds us of Venezuela’s disrespect for our nation’s sovereignty.
Now, apparently, it’s Nicolas Madura’s turn
There is no question as to the burning ambition of President Madura, who rose from bus driver to his country’s chief executive by climbing the rungs of the political ladder. This why, at this juncture in his presidency, we can question the motive behind his presidential decree # 1787 which has virtually “annexed” all of Guyana’s territorial waters for two hundred miles and blocks the country’s access to the Atlantic Ocean; the ultimate kidnapping of a country.
It was while Madura was under the tutelage of Chavez that the UN’s ‘Good Office’ process was reaffirmed by Presidents Chavez and Jagdeo; the process being the act of coming to an agreement over the dispute which, quite frankly, was a stall tactic – kind of like handing over your lunch money to the school bully, because Venezuela knows that it cannot invade without violating International Law.
It was in 1990 when we saw the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq for its natural resources. The UN Security Council voted unanimously against Iraq’s annexation. It violated international law. Hugo Chavez knew this and knew that saying, to President Jagdeo, anything less than he was willing to extend the ‘Good Office’ process would have further maligned him in the eyes of the United Nations.
And, as Hugo was extending hugs to Bharaat, Bharaat was making all sorts of agreements with Hugo, highlighting their promotion of peace but never giving us specifics, sparing us details; emphasizing that we would receive more oil for more agriculture; not quite revealing the math and never going in to how he was handling the details on the actual land in dispute that Venezuelan Presidents whip out like a licking stick to keep Guyanese in check.
On his one day state visit to Guyana in August of 2013, President Madura made his mission one that extended the plan of working together and one of neighborliness, dedicating his visit to the efforts of Hugo Chavez. He reminded us of Chavez’s distaste for war amongst nations in Latin America, decried the policy of war and racism as the instrument used by the Venezuelan oligarchy in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and saluted President Chavez’s approach to the land dispute as a new policy which paved the way for brotherhood between the two countries. Then President Ramotar lapped it up, just like his predecessor Jagdeo, following that political script that gave the appearance of working for the greater.
So, back to Nicolas Madura’s decree #1787 and his current bid to take over part of Guyana, which we cannot consider without reviewing his tenuous political standing, from the day he ascended to the presidency and his obvious gamesmanship to garnish votes in the upcoming election. When Hugo Chavez’s death was announced on March 5th 2013, Nicolas Madura crowned himself President. A special election was then held for a democratic election and Madura won by the sliver of 1.4%, amidst calls for a recount. Those calls were eventually abandoned but Madura has only been able to hang on to his popularity by that slim margin, now waning amidst Venezuela’s economic challenges.
Now, here comes motive
On December 6th 2015, Madura is forecast to lose 56.2% of the seats in Congress, a situation not faced by a ruling party in sixteen years. The opposition is campaigning for him to lose 66% – the percentage needed for the unilateral passage of laws and the appointment of court and electoral officials by the majority in Congress.
Madura is pulling out all of the stops and is now attempting to sway voter sentiment by reviving this old grouse that he said that Chavez supported as chose jugeé, – thing judged, – and is expanding his platform to a bigger Venezuela by annexing part of Guyana.
It’s a popular political platform in Venzuela, a go- to strategy when whipping up support is crucial. To get the picture, the history books in the classrooms of elementary schools teach that two thirds of Guyana is really Venezuela, and coming for their land always stirs up some patriotism and poll visiting
So, when Bharaat Jagdeo says at a press conference that there is no room for an “arrogant, pugnacious, belligerent foreign policy” and suggests that “trade flows…functional cooperation …getting us back to the rice market”- after Madura severed our rice supply contract as show of power, we have to wonder how he prioritizes; how he could say we have to “preserve the integrity of our borders with all the strength in our bodies”, then conflate a potential breach of border integrity with a rice contract.
We have a mixed bag here, not complex, just mixed.
Bharaat Jagdeo is now the leader the Opposition and we expect him to oppose more than lead. We must remember that he left office advancing the border issue no further than it has moved for decades. We must remember, too, that Hugo Chavez nationalized Exxon’s oil property rights back in 2007 and though we are fully supportive of any country asking for more revenue from the profits of the oil industry than companies are willing to pay, we know that Madura is using Guyana as part of a ‘two birds with one stone’ strategy…
going after the same Exxon that Venezuela has been forced to pay 1.6 billion in settlement to because they nationalized Exxon’s oil claims ….which has now found an extraordinary volume of oil in the part of Guyana that Madura has laid claim to; not complex, just a mixed bag of political ploys Madura has access to.
Bharaat Jagdeo was famed for neither diplomacy nor foreign policy.
So, it begs the question why is this two term ex president, who failed to implement a sound national agenda, who sat with Chavez and Madura without once advancing the open border issue past a Chavez and Madura comfort zone, is now preaching a no pugnacity, non belligerent, anti arrogance sermon -all traits that he demonstrates with enviable mastery – to the Granger administration?
No need for oblique or Churchillian references here, at this ebbing tide in the affairs of man.
Let’s just tell this Opposition Leader that the enemy – Madura -of his enemy President Granger –is, really, not his friend.
By Verian Mentis-Barker