Oil games

Stabroek News
November 5, 2000

Venezuela is playing games. Exactly which countries (other than Cuba and those already encompassed by the San Jose Accord) are to benefit from the concessionary oil facility being offered by Caracas is still not altogether clear. The confusion has its origins in remarks attributed to Foreign Minister Rangel by the Venezuelan daily El Universal. He was reported as saying that historically oil had always been used as a political weapon, and as suggesting that Guyana was being excluded from the deal because Venezuela had conversations of a different nature with this country - a clear reference to the border controversy.

Somewhat inadvisedly, Foreign Minister Rohee precipitately called on other Caricom nations to decline the Caracas offer as an expression of solidarity with Guyana. Even supposing that the Government's record with the regional organization had been rather less flawed than it was, expecting our sister states to forgo an economic benefit in these difficult times was unrealistic, to say the least, and left Guyana open to be snubbed.

The situation became murkier when Jamaica accepted the Caracas offer, and Prime Minister Patterson was reported as stating in a letter to the Community's chairman, Mr James Mitchell, that "it does not appear that the non-inclusion of Guyana in the Caracas Energy Accord, is due to its territorial [controversy] with Venezuela." He went on to say that the Venezuelan Foreign Minister had declared that Caracas was willing to include Guyana.

Some days later a news release from the Association of Caribbean States, quoting the Venezuelan newspaper La Hora, had President Chavez as stating, "We have no interest in excluding Guyana and I think the Caribbean Community understands this and has applauded the Caracas initiative." As far as is publicly known, Caracas' only direct communication on the subject to Takuba Lodge does not make it clear whether the concessionary offer is intended to embrace this country or not.

Last week Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington expressed the view that since Caracas had made it clear that Guyana was not embargoed in relation to the deal, this country should apply to access the facility. If Guyana "doesn't get it," he said, "we are sure they are excluded ... This will probably be the only way."

So here we have a situation whereby everyone except Guyana, it would appear, has been told that this country has not been barred from the new accord. Furthermore the only way that we can find out if we are in or out, is if Georgetown performs a volte face and humbly asks the Venezuelans if we can be numbered among the chosen. Surely if President Chavez is serious he would have clarified the situation with the Guyana Government on a bilateral basis, and invited us to apply. As it is, he has succeeded in embarrassing this country, and in driving a wedge into Caricom on this issue while conveying the impression that he intends no discrimination.

From the outset the Government should have given serious attention to the issue of whether attempting to be included in the Caracas offer was at all prudent. Given the uncompromising statements on the border controversy which have been emanating from Miraflores since President Chavez took up residence there, the question has to be asked as to whether oil dependence on our neighbour to the west represents the best of wisdom.

The ideal solution from Guyana's point of view would be if Trinidad were to offer a similar facility - a concession which that country's Energy Minister is reported to have said would be actively considered. Trinidad has done it before, of course, and it was the late President Burnham's abuse of that credit line which resulted in our huge debt to the twin island republic. Should Trinidad decide to resuscitate the scheme, we would not, of course, be allowed to be so irresponsible the second time around. Properly managed, however, such an arrangement would have benefits for Port of Spain, more especially when the next oil slump comes around, while the gains for the region would be self evident.

Once again this recent sequence of events illustrates the need for a comprehensive border policy which takes into account all dimensions of our relationship with our neighbours. Until that is done we will always be operating from the back foot.

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