Saturday, September 19, 2020
Guyana must avoid being an outcast little piece of cheese
In the context of geo-political realities – our location in the southern hemisphere, the development of our petroleum resources by ExxonMobil and the decades old threat to our sovereignty and territorial integrity – building and maintaining excellent relations with the United States should be a pre-eminent concern of the state of Guyana, and by extension, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
These were the rational considerations when both the 1999 and 2016 agreements with ExxonMobil were signed by successive administrations. Guyana cannot afford to experiment, gainsay, or trifle with this thinking as it has held us in good stead since the early 1990s.
It is against this background that the arrival of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the highest ranking sitting United States official to visit Guyana since 1966, though a big positive, must also be recognised as bringing potential risks and hazards, which we have a duty to protect ourselves against. The timing of the visit for one, is a cause for worry; given that the presidential election in the US is due within weeks and the world is bracing for the infamous and dreaded ‘October surprise’. This is ominously compounded by the ratcheting up of rhetoric against Venezuelan leaders and the moving of military assets and material into the region. Simply put, while we value our friendship with the US, we do not want to be complicit in the ‘October surprise’.
Another, and equally important, concern is that once again, Guyana, like many small states in the past, is being involuntarily coerced into taking a side in an emerging bi-polar world. Secretary Pompeo made no bones about the fact that Guyana is ‘expected’ to choose American companies over Chinese. Is this in Guyana’s best interests?
Recall, that it was Guyana, in 1972, that was the first Caribbean country to recognise the People’s Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations – something that both Guyana and the Chinese hold dear. Recall too the brigades of doctors and specialists in numerous fields who have supported our development for decades. Guyana and China have forged a strong and unbreakable relationship that goes beyond mortar and steel and is now a familial one, a special one, and we cannot be expected to arbitrarily put it aside on the demands of others. They too must understand that Guyana wishes to maintain good, healthy and peaceful relations with all super powers including China, and as before, we can do so without jeopardising individual relationships or compromising values.
As for Venezuela, while we have always looked at it with a mixture of trepidation and scepticism, we have never encouraged or developed feelings of hate or ill-will towards Venezuelans, seeing them instead as misguided Southern American brothers and sisters, and wish to keep it so, while having big brothers, the US and Brazil ensure that the peace is maintained.
The fact is, there are enough resources for the Guyanese people and for others to benefit – without us having to find ourselves boxed-in and made to trade and do business with a chosen few only so as to avoid the risk of incurring their wrath. Ironically, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) owns a 25% stake in the Stabroek Block and it is well known that it was CNOOC which stepped up with financial and other resources to support ExxonMobil to develop the Stabroek Block when other majors felt it was too risky to do so and unlikely to provide profitable returns.
In the end, and there is always an end, we must not find ourselves with egg on our face when, as they always do, opponents of the present, become friends and allies of the future and those who were forced to pick a side, find themselves ostracized, standing alone like the little piece of cheese.
At this delicate geo-political juncture, it is imperative that Guyana navigates, with diplomatic astuteness, building and strengthening wide-ranging global and superpower alliances and avoid being an outcast little piece of cheese.