March 28, 1999
On Tuesday, March 30, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel will touch down at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri. According to the Caracas daily El Nacional he is coming to discuss the border, among other things, with President Jagan and Foreign Minister Rohee.
El Nacional had other things to say as well. It would appear that Sir Alister McIntyre visited Caracas, and the Venezuelan authorities are now endorsing the role of the Good Officer in the search for a means to a solution to the territorial controversy with Guyana. This, of course, is in direct contrast to statements made by President Chavez prior to the Venezuelan election, when he expressed his impatience with the process, and indicated his preference for bilateral negotiations with Guyana's administration on the matter.
President Chavez' volte face in relation to the Good Officer process may originate from several motives, but one of them must surely be the fact that the Guyana Government in a fit of myopia last year committed itself to negotiating an environmental treaty with Venezuela under the auspices of Sir Alister McIntyre. Dump Sir Alister, and the proposed environmental treaty could possibly be dumped too. After some reflection on the part of the new Venezuelan President, however, he must have recognized the enormous lever the treaty would furnish him to undermine Guyanese sovereignty in the Essequibo.
Having cornered Guyana at last, therefore, President Chavez is likely to harry President Jagan and Foreign Minister Rohee until he gets what he wants; he comes new to boundary matters and will perhaps prove to be both restive and results-oriented.
And what about the Guyana Government itself? Caught in a trap they still have not made any attempt to look for a national consensus on boundary matters. At this stage the question of their mistake last year is a secondary issue; what is critical is what posture they adopt towards the Venezuelans in the current situation, whether they are prepared to retreat from their earlier enthusiasm for the environmental accord, and whether in conjunction with other parties they can manage to map out a coherent frontiers policy. The Government's best move would be to bring in the other Parliamentary parties, so that this country - whatever its squabbles in other arenas - can present a united front to those of our neighbours whose eyes are illuminated by the flame of avarice.
On Tuesday, President Jagan and Minister Rohee will get the first intimation of how the Venezuelan Government intends to proceed, and whether its modus operandi will be similar to that of its predecessor. Current evidence suggests that it will not be, but be that as it may, its aims as publicly announced do not differ from those of its predecessor. Earlier this year President Chavez followed former President Caldera to restate Venezuela's claim to the Essequibo.
President Jagan needs the support of all Guyanese if she is to avoid the pitfall of the environmental treaty, and to maintain the sovereignty of the nation. That, at least, is something on which unanimity can be achieved in this country. Let her take the nation into her confidence; there is no political party of any significance in Guyana, or other group for that matter, which will not support her unequivocally on the matter of preserving our territorial integrity.