MSJ: Venezuela-Guyana must not go to war for sake of “foreign interests”!

“[…] The Caribbean has, since the 15th Century, been a region of imperial contest and a theatre for wars between European colonial and imperial powers, and then later for US colonial and imperial military intervention. We cannot and must not allow this to be continued.

“The God-given resources of the region must not be the raison d’etre for foreign companies and powers external to the region to lead us into conflict and war. That is why we insist that the Caribbean is and must be a zone of peace…”

Venezuela president Nicholas Maduro has threatened to annex the Essequibo, which he has renamed the Guayana Esequiba.

The following is a press statement issued by the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) on the Essequibo dispute between Guyana and Venezuela:

For the first time in many decades our Caribbean Region is experiencing major tensions—conflict even—between states. We have had crises before that have threatened or caused great instability, but these have taken place within a state.

We cite, for example: the coup d’etats that have occurred in Haiti, Dominican Republic; the destruction of the Grenadian Revolution and the assassination of the Prime Minister and other leaders in October 1983; the 1990 attempted coup in Trinidad and Tobago.

And of course, there have been myriad military coups and civil wars in Central America and Venezuela which all share the Caribbean Sea with us.

Venezuelan violinist Wuilly Arteaga plays a tune of protest during civil unrest in the South American country.

The ongoing and developing conflict between Venezuela and Guyana, however, is a conflict between states.

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) wishes to state at the outset that we firmly stand by the position that the Caribbean must be a zone of peace!

This is a position that Caricom has adopted and reiterated on many occasions—long before today’s conflict arose. It is also the clearly stated position of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) of which all Caricom states are members as is Venezuela.

Photo: Venezuela president Nicholás Maduro.
(Copyright Reuters)

The MSJ therefore says that all the peoples of the region, all the citizens of the member states of Celac and Caricom must demand that Caracas and Georgetown fulfil their international obligations which are moral, if not legal, obligations to ensure that the Region is and remains a zone of peace!

This must be the first premise upon which a resolution of the conflict is arrived at.

There is a lot of wisdom in the old proverb that “it takes two to make a quarrel, one cannot blame an argument entirely on the other side.” The root of the problem lies in the old border definitions that were set out in the 1899 Arbitral decision.

Image: The Plum Pudding in Danger, 1805 by Gillray, James (1757-1815).
All the world could not satisfy the appetite of the British and the French crowns.

This was in the era of British colonial and imperial dominance in the world and when the US, as the rising power in this hemisphere, saw the region as “their backyard”—as articulated in the Munroe Doctrine, which incidentally was laid out almost exactly 200 years ago today.

Venezuela has long felt that this was unfair to the point where successive generations of Venezuelans have grown up verily believing that the Essequibo is an integral part of Venezuela.

At the same time, Guyanese, whether born after political independence, or before, and those whose fore-parents were born in colonial British Guiana also verily believe that the Essequibo is an integral part of Guyana.

Guyana’s Essequibo River.
Photo: Pete Oxford

These conflicting beliefs, however, never escalated in the 55 years since Guyana became independent to this level where “drums of war” are being sounded. What then has led us to this flashpoint?

In a word: geo-economic and political developments. More specifically, as soon as Guyana began—as is their right given that the Essequibo is within its borders—to issue licences to multinational companies to explore for oil and other valuable minerals in the Essequibo, Venezuela became disturbed.

They are of the view that Guyana should not have issued licenses in an area that is in dispute. The point must be made that the very rapid production of oil in Guyana by Exxon-Mobil in the last five years is not in the disputed region.

Photo: An oil rig.

Exxon-Mobil has a very fractious relationship with Venezuela. It refused to abide by decisions of the then Hugo Chavez-led government for new tax and other measures and the Chavez government then took control of their operations. Exxon-Mobil sued Venezuela in US courts and lost.

Venezuela views Exxon-Mobil as an extension of US foreign policy, particularly since the US secretary of state under president Donald Trump was Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon-Mobil CEO.

Tillerson, we must remember, visited Guyana but no other Caricom country at the time when the US heightened its efforts at regime change in Venezuela—specifically to remove President Nicolas Maduro.

Former Exxon-Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson was US secretary of state during the Donald Trump presidency.

The presence of Exxon-Mobil in the Essequibo is therefore perceived, rightly or wrongly, by Caracas as being the thin edge of a US wedge against it. Perception often becomes that person’s reality. And we must note that Venezuela has been under the US pump for years, so how they perceive a situation is different from how we would.

It is perhaps significant that the decision for the Referendum was made after Guyana announced that it would begin auctions for oil licences in the Essequibo region.

The Caribbean has, since the 15th Century, been a region of imperial contest and a theatre for wars between European colonial and imperial powers, and then later for US colonial and imperial military intervention. We cannot and must not allow this to be continued.

Photo: A British soldier (centre) walks the streets of Georgetown in 1953, as Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of then British Guiana.

The God-given resources of the region must not be the raison d’etre for foreign companies and powers external to the region to lead us into conflict and war. That is why we insist that the Caribbean is and must be a Zone of Peace.

The MSJ is deeply concerned about the increasingly noisy and belligerent positions being adopted by both Caracas and Georgetown.

The holding of the Referendum by Venezuela was a matter of their internal decision and it was, in our understanding done in accordance with their national Constitution. That is why the International Court of Justice (ICJ) did not rule that the Referendum by itself was a violation of international law—as Guyana claimed.

Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro (left) greets Venezuelans on the day of their referendum over the Essequibo region.

However, at the same time, the outcome of what was a Consultative Referendum cannot be used by Venezuela as giving it any right to unilaterally take actions over Essequibo, which it now is doing.

Unilateral action by a state against another state is wrong in international law, whether it is the US imposing unilateral sanctions or Venezuela issuing decrees.

What has been happening in the days before, and since, the Referendum is the beating of the “drums of war” by both sides.

Venezuelans lay claim to Essequibo.
Copyright Matias De La Croix

Georgetown has announced that it is establishing defence arrangements with the United States. The US Secretary of State has held discussions with Georgetown. The US Southern Command is involved.

This is definitely not helpful and will be seen by Caracas as a threat and facilitating US military incursion into Venezuela.

On the other hand, Caracas has announced that it has appointed a governor for Essequibo, who happens to be a general and has stated that it is inviting companies to bid for licences for mineral exploration and production. This is not good and is seen by Georgetown as a threat of invasion.

Guyana president Dr Irfaan Ali.

The MSJ calls on both capitals to take down their rhetoric. We say that there must be no foreign intervention or involvement—military or otherwise—in this conflict. Such involvement will only push us closer to the conflict escalating beyond words and announcements into deeds from which it will be hard to retreat.

External forces of whatever stripe will only pursue their interests, which history has taught us is never in the interest of our peoples and region.

The issue of borders that were arbitrarily drawn by colonial powers in their interest, without any consideration of the culture and life of the people who lived in those areas, has caused crises and wars all over the world.

The Africa land grab.
(Copyright Polyp)

However, reversing those decisions decades or even hundreds of years afterwards is also extremely problematic as this would alter, for example, every border in Africa and most in South and Central America.

The MSJ believes that the way forward lies in dialogue and diplomacy. Not war. Disputes can be best settled by dialogue and discussions.

In a war there may be victor militarily, but the loser will not accept the outcome which was imposed on it. While the issue of the substance of the dispute is before the ICJ, it is often better—as many trade unions would know—for a matter to be settled bilaterally between the parties in dispute, rather than having a court impose a judgment.

Venezuela and Guyana have disputed the Essequibo region for over a century.

The present situation with the ICJ has been made more difficult because Venezuela does not recognise the ICJ’s jurisdiction to determine the dispute while Guyana and Caricom definitely do.

Caricom is in a unique position to ensure that such dialogue takes place. For one thing, Venezuela and Caricom have had excellent relations especially since president Chavez took office just over 20 years ago. There have been important actions of collaboration: PetroCaribe, Operation Milagro, the T&T-Venezuela gas partnerships.

In the last six months three Caricom Heads of Government—PM Ralph Gonsalves, PM Mia Mottley and PM Philip Pierre—have been to Caracas and others have been previously. There are bilateral agreements between Caricom member States and Venezuela, often to our benefit.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (second from left) and Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro (right) dance to calypso after a meeting at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on 5 December 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2017/ Federico Parra)

At the recent UN General Assembly in September, several Caricom Heads spoke in defence of Venezuela and openly called on the US to end its illegitimate and punitive unilaterally imposed sanctions.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has, on several, done the same and the T&T Government has gone further to engage the US on removing or at the minimum easing the sanctions so that T&T and Venezuela can exploit our natural gas resources for the benefit of both nations and our peoples.

PM Ralph Gonsalves recently received Venezuela’s highest national awards and at present is the president of Celac. There are therefore possibilities to avert any further escalation of this dispute.

Photo: Caricom heads of government.
(via Caricom)

Most Caricom countries recognised President Maduro as the legitimate and duly elected president of Venezuela in spite of intense pressure from the US, Canada and the European Union. We stood by principle. Venezuela has to recognise and appreciate that.

For the record and in keeping with full transparency, we wish to state that the MSJ’s Political Leader, David Abdulah, publicly spoke about this border issue on 8 November—a month ago—when he was interviewed on WESN TV by one of T&T’s most experienced journalists, Mr Andy Johnson.

Since then, he has been interviewed by two US radio stations: WPFW in Washington DC and WBAI in New York.

MSJ political leader David Abdulah.

Secondly, the MSJ has stated on many occasions we are a member party of the Sao Paulo Forum which is a grouping of Latin American and Caribbean left and progressive parties. The PSUV—the party of presidents Chavez and Maduro—and its coalition partners in Venezuela are also members of the Sao Paulo Forum.

However, our relationship with them does not in any way bind us to adopt their party positions as each party can independently take positions on issues that affect their countries. It is to be noted that the current governing party in St Lucia—the St Lucia Labour Party—is also a member of the Foro.

Through our relationship with the PSUV and the Bolivarian labour movement, leaders of the MSJ also met with the two Venezuelan MPs who were in Trinidad last week for a public forum held at the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

The Essequibo River in Guyana.

Both MPs are long standing and senior leaders of the trade union movement and also are in the PSUV.

Our position to them was as we have stated in this release: that the Caribbean is and must be a Zone of Peace and that the conflict must be resolved through dialogue, diplomacy and not by war. We noted that this position was publicly articulated by them at the said forum.

So this suggests that in spite of all the rhetoric there is hope for a peaceful resolution.

Different to our open and transparent declaration, the Opposition UNC has been playing games on Venezuela.

UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) is flanked by MPs David Lee (left) and Rodney Charles.
Copyright Office of the Parliament 2023

It must not be forgotten that they backed the imposter Juan Guaido, were constant critics of the Dragon gas field negotiations, wanted the US to sanction this country for meeting with top leaders from Caracas, and now are pushing the drums of war.

This is not the example of statecraft that is needed at this time.

We have issued a very detailed statement on this situation since short comments and sound bites cannot do justice to what is a delicate and complex issue.

MSJ political leader David Abdulah.

We trust that his helps our people to better understand the situation at a time when emotional responses and some misinformation abound. We look forward to a progressive outcome from the Caricom Heads meeting.

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