July 21, 2000
In retrospect it is quite clear that Suriname has committed an act of naked aggression against Guyana, by sending gunboats to expel an oil rig which was scheduled to commence operations on the basis of a licence granted by this government. As we have argued in detail already there was no legal basis for this action. It has potentially done enormous damage to our immediate economic prospects as there is reason to hope that exploration could lead to the discovery of substantial oil fields which could provide considerable revenue for Guyana. This is a major setback at a time when our economy is under pressure and we can ill afford to miss such an opportunity.
Has enough been done to counter this aggression? The answer is clearly no. Raising it in Caricom was useful and necessary and one cannot fault Jamaica for the time and energy it invested in trying to broker a solution. Yet one might have hoped for a more forthright stance from the Caricom heads of government against Suriname for its violent and unfriendly action against a member state. Indeed in retrospect it was quite unwise for Guyana not to have blocked the admission of Suriname to Caricom until all border issues had been settled. Previous experience with Suriname has shown its politicians to be unreliable and this was amply confirmed in the negotiations in Jamaica. Guyana should have caucused for a much stronger position against Suriname in Caricom on the oil rig incident.
And what about other major players? Has a strong enough effort been made to canvass diplomatic support from Brazil, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada, all of which must be predisposed to censure Suriname's action? It should also be raised with the European Union and the Organisation of American States and preparatory work should be done in case the issue surfaces at the United Nations. Even now it is not too late to explore these possibilities with a view to generating enough diplomatic support and pressure to make the return of the rig possible.
Guyana must move forward without delay on the diplomatic front by making its case and mobilising support and on the military front by improving its ability to deal promptly with this kind of incursion. Suriname can be said to have won the first round by striking without warning and treacherously but this is the only round it must be allowed to win. It has no case and this must be made quite clear and its bluff exposed. The government must continue to utilise all available local skills in preparing to deal comprehensively with this outrageous act of aggression from a neighbour, not the first it has been guilty of.
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