The border question should be taken seriously
Stabroek News
November 30, 2001

Dear Editor,

Just before the last elections campaign, a cane cutter from Zeelugt demanded to be told the area of Guyana. After listening to my nonchalant, "83,000" square miles", he shot back, "You mean after Venezuela invaded and took over our half of Ankoko Island, our area didn't get less?" He then made the point he really wanted to convey - that unless we intended to retake our portion of Ankoko, which was not how it appeared to him, we should officially reduce our area as a reminder of our loss. I'm reminded of the lesson of that humble man whenever the topic of Venezuela arises, which it has, now.

We have been informed that the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, Mr. Luis Davila with his delegation will visit this week and according to our Foreign Affairs Minister, will discuss "the border controversy and economic cooperation." Sounds like a "carrot-and-stick" agenda to me. What controversy? There's only a Venezuelan claim of nullity of the 1899 Arbitral Award, which Venezuela has asserted but has yet to prove. Sounds uncontroversial to me. What should stir some controversy is, if our Government doesn't put Ankoko on the agenda - controversy between Guyanese and their representatives. We have pussyfooted around the Ankoko issue for so long that one President didn't know it existed! Not a blade of grass, but for a tank of gas, we're willing to take eye-pass. Venezuela, under their new strong-man President Hugo Chavez, has been very blunt about their claim to two-thirds of our territory; yet we talk about "good relations" and do

not raise the rape and seizure of Ankoko. Let's put this on the front burner.

I have written before about President Chavez' rabid nationalism and grandiose ambitions which fuel an adventurous foreign policy. Immediately upon receiving his new mandate last year, under the new constitution that gives him vaster powers, he announced that he was dissatisfied with the Good Officer Process of the UN Secretary General that is addressing the border question. He said he would look for other mechanisms to speed up matters but preferred to focus on direct talks. His bottom line, however, was that, "there is no discussion on the matter of borders... (and)... Venezuela needs a territorial re-vindication of that wide section of Guyana." You can't get clearer than that; forewarned should be forearmed.

Chavez has not been doing too well domestically, recently the price of oil which he had played the pivotal role in jacking up, has plunged to below that projected in his budget and combined with sluggish economic growth, will crimp his promises to take massive swipes at poverty. The major Trade Union, CTV, has fallen into the hands of an opponent who is supportive of the constitutional challenge to the validity of Chavez' election. The top generals have had to swear loyalty to him publicly to help quash any rebellion, which Chavez had vowed to fight "with a rifle in (his) hand". With all of this, Chavez' popularity has plunged from 80% to 50% in the polls.

What has this got to do with Guyana and Foreign Minister Davila's visit? Everything. Chavez has always been willing to play the foreign card to bolster his domestic standing. Some analysts believe that he recently tweaked the US's nose over the latter's policy in Afghanistan to do just that. That it also resonated with most OPEC members' sentiments, didn't hurt. But we all know that the US finally slapped him down publicly (after letting him get away with his other puffery) and he must be sullenly sulking. Guyana would be a convenient whipping boy for him; the border question could move to the front burner to raise his esteem and standing.

Changes in their new Constitution of 1999 relating to territory should have been the tip off to Chavez' seriousness. He replaced Articles 8 and 9 of their 1961 Constitu-tion which addressed modifications to their territory after their boundaries of 1810, with a most pointed new Art. 10 which will only recognize "modifications by treaties, arbitral awards and arbitrations not vitiated by invalidity/nullity." The words "arbitral award" and "invalidity/ nullity" are new; guess to what "situation" they refer?

The border question should transcend any narrow partisan view: it goes to the heart of our sovereignty. We may sometimes bicker as to who got us where but we should not be divided as how to move from there. During the elections campaign ROAR had made three suggestions on the border question which we proffer once again. 1) Constitute a committee of all parliamentary parties to review, monitor and make recommendations on the matter.

The committee should be able to co-opt experts in the field. (There was talk of such a border group, but we're told it has not functioned.) 2) Put Ankoko on the front burner and 3) Insert the Border question and our position on it in the curriculum of all schools.

Yours faithfully,

Ravi Dev, MP,

Leader of ROAR