Commonwealth meeting a welcome development

Stabroek News
September 25, 2000

Earlier this month, ministers of the Commonwealth group established to monitor the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy met in New York and agreed to devise a plan to negate the scare tactics being employed by this country's western neighbour.

Venezuela's strident attempts to undermine the Beal spaceport investment and oil exploration off the Essequibo demand the strongest possible response from this government and its engagement of the Commonwealth in this cause is admirable. The group of countries keeping an eye on the controversy includes two heavyweights: the UK and Canada. It also comprises influential South Africa, Antigua, Bangladesh and Guyana.

While the nuts and bolts of the plan still have to be worked out, the decision must send an unmistakable message to Caracas that the international community is not prepared to stand aside and ignore the cross-border bullying that may have dissuaded two explorers from proceeding with their search for oil off Guyana's coast. It is a dollars and cents issue and one of a struggling third world country trying to make its own way while facing down unrelenting pressure from a much larger neighbour flaunting a centuries-old claim.

Foreign Minister Rohee at a press conference on Friday said that Guyana was looking for an activist approach by these countries to utilise their diplomatic outreach to explain our dire need for investment.

The interest of the Commonwealth in this matter must be nurtured at every step and used to maximum effect. This will inevitably raise the question of the intensity of the government's campaign internationally to have Venezuela censured for its behaviour. A lot of course depends on Caracas' future actions and those of its re-elected leader Hugo Chavez. If as suggested by some that domestic politics played a significant part in the sabre rattling that Chavez and Venezuela have ratcheted up in recent months, then his solid victory at the polls should dampen the belligerence. If it doesn't, the question of the intensity of the diplomatic lobbying by Guyana will arise. Should the campaign then take a more direct line against Venezuela at each and every international forum rather than behind-the-scenes lobbying one expects is currently taking place.

Caracas must not at all believe that its persistent hectoring will go unanswered. On the contrary, it must be brought to the realization that each and every measure applied will attract a response both from here and within the international community. We must show no more diffidence or unwillingness.

The Commonwealth meeting is also a timely warning to our eastern neighbour. Though the group was set up primarily to monitor the Venezuela controversy it did reiterate its support for Guyana in relation to the dispute with Suriname that blew up over the CGX oil rig. Paramaribo's truculence must not go unnoted and it should not underestimate the international support that Guyana can draw upon especially in light of the armed force used to evict the CGX rig.

With the new Venetiaan government taking office in Paramaribo it is still too early to discern whether Georgetown can be hopeful of improved relations. Mr Venetiaan's accession has been followed swiftly by an incursion onto Guyana's soil by Surinamese soldiers, continued aggressive patrolling of the Corentyne and the seizure of Guyanese boats and fishermen. These are clearly not hopeful signs. The key test will, however, be his country's approach to a resolution of the maritime dispute ignited by the CGX rig ejection.

Either way, the interest of the Commonwealth in these frontier matters is welcome and should provide Guyana with a much-needed brace.

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