August 13, 2000
Last week the English-language version of the Paramaribo daily De Ware Tijd, reported that there was a possibility of Suriname embassy staff being withdrawn from Georgetown in order to protect them from what were described as "negative actions". The report went on to state that, "Prominent politicians in Guyana would have conducted a smear campaign directed towards Surinamese citizens" as a result of the "unsuccessful actions of that country against Suriname in the border dispute".
One must suppose that the use of the subjunctive "would have" is deliberate, and if so, it does the paper no credit since it suggests that it was prepared to print a hypothetical assumption without first checking the facts. And the facts are that no prominent politician from any party in this country has smeared Suriname citizens, let alone conducted a smear campaign against them.
The statements have more than a whiff of theatricality about them - a case of playing to the gallery of international opinion by reversing roles and portraying Guyana as an aggressor, and Suriname as an aggrieved party. And all this in a context where the whole world now knows (in case it didn't before) that we don't have a patrol boat to our name, while our neighbour boasts both gunboats and aircraft, the former of which she employed in the forcible eviction of the CGX rig.
The trigger for all this hyperbole was a robbery attempt last week on the Bel Air home of the finance officer attached to the Suriname embassy. Foreign Minister Snijders was reported as saying that he hoped the incident was not connected to the border dispute, which is an indirect way of letting it be known, of course, that he thought it was. In a crime-ridden society such as this one, the Guyana authorities should be going to great lengths to ensure the security of foreign diplomatic personnel. That goes without saying. However, to insinuate that the CGX rig incident has inspired the Guyanese underworld to refocus its energies on Surinamese personnel, rather than all those residents (including diplomats) perceived as being well-heeled, is nothing short of preposterous. Anyone at all familiar with this country would know it would be a truly exceptional member of our criminal classes who would rob a house purely out of nationalist sentiment.
So what was all this in aid of? Possibly the beginning of a trend (evident also on the western frontier) to build up a pattern of incidents, whereby Guyana is cast in the villain's role. Perhaps in the long term Suriname has her eye on building a case against this country.
Thinking short-term is the standard thing to do. However, long-term strategic thinking is essential to avoid being taken off-guard and being put in a position where one is forced to respond to events rather than anticipate them. Long-term strategies are required as well, of course, to create avenues for a possible solution to the problems with our neighbours. Hastily arrived at decisions to relieve immediate pressure, can sometimes limit options later on, and lock a nation into an approach which might not be in its best interest further down the road.
Is the Government thinking long term? If recent statements are anything to go by, there is some confusion in their assessments. The administration appears to have persuaded itself that current difficulties on the eastern and western frontiers had to do with elections in Venezuela and Suriname; it will find out in due course that this is not so. President Venetiaan is not going to be any more tractable than was President Wijdenbosch on the CGX issue, and we should anticipate more opportunistic incidents like the one last week over the burglary. In any event, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot found a policy on the premise that problems will blow over; it has to be prepared for the worst.
In somewhat contradictory fashion, the President has also gone on record as saying that the motive for our neighbours pressing their claims had to do with "Guyana exercising its right to use all parts of the country." If that is what he thinks, then he must know that the problem is not going to go away soon. If Venezuela and Suriname are determined to inhibit our economic development, then their actions must have a longer term purpose behind them. And that longer-term, unwavering purpose is territorial in nature. The Government should plan accordingly.
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