Coordinated national effort desirable in resolving oil exploration dispute with Suriname
Stabroek News
February 9, 2002

Dear Editor,

It would surprise me a great deal, if, as your editorial "Learning The Lessons" (6.2.2002) put it, "national expectations were firmly focused on the reaching of an agreement between the two Presidents (Jagdeo and Venetiaan) which would permit the early return of the (CGX) oil rig." Nothing that occurred prior to President Jagdeo's visit to Suriname suggests that such "expectations" would have been reasonable.

President Jagdeo went to Suriname with a weak diplomatic hand and, as your editorial points out, no prior commitment from President Venetiaan even to discuss the recent maritime controversy. The editorial further (and correctly) points out that President Venetiaan must continually be looking over his shoulder at a hostile parliamentary opposition and a coalition government that could collapse like an eggshell if he appears to be advocating anything remotely resembling a return to the status quo ante. Then there is the hawkish Surinamese military establishment that is unlikely to take kindly to the use of diplomacy to relinquish what was secured through its efforts.

Both President Jagdeo and Foreign Minister Insanally appeared to be aware of the fact that little could realistically be expected of the President's visit by way of either restoring the CGX rig to its position prior to June 2000 or of securing any short term agreement on joint oil exploitation. Both men were explicit in expressing that view. Where then was the justification for these "national expectations" to which your editorial refers?

If indeed President Jagdeo's Suriname visit was attended by any "national expectations," those "expectations" were no more than a figment of the imagination of sections of a state run media resulting primarily from their lack of understanding of the complexity of the issue and their misinterpretation/misrepresentation of the "gains" of the Foreign Minister's earlier visit to Suriname.

The expulsion of the CGX rig by the Suriname military amounts to a "victory" for that country that is comparable to the expulsion of Surinamese soldiers and civilians from the New River area in 1967 and 1969 by the Guyana Defence Force, a point which is also mad in your editorial. It is therefore entirely inconceivable that Suriname would seriously consider negotiating away that "victory" without seeking some considerable reciprocal concession on Guyana's part.

In every other respect your editorial is a sound analysis of the existing situation and of the difficult circumstances facing Guyana in its quest to restore the maritime status quo or at least to secure a joint oil exploitation agreement with Suriname.

Suriname has deliberately "ensnared" the joint exploration issue in the net of the Border Commission in order that it can bring to the negotiating table all the baggage it can pack (particularly Guyana's military occupation of the New River Zone, to which President Jagdeo inexplicably admitted in Suriname recently despite a 1970 demilitarization agreement between the two countries) on the wider border controversy. Talks at the level of the Joint Border Commission are likely to be characterized by the customary Surinamese "dead end" negotiating style that attended the post CGX expulsion discussions in June 2000 and will, in all likelihood, result in the same frustrations (for Guyana) that attended the June 2000 negotiations.

If it is indeed the case that President Jagdeo traveled to Suriname without a prior understanding that the issue of joint exploration of hydrocarbon resources was part of the agenda for his meeting with President Venetiaan and that the matter only surfaced in Suriname "at the request of President Jagdeo," then the achievements of the diplomatic groundwork that preceded his visit must be seriously re evaluated. Certainly, the reports published in the state media (though it would not be surprising if the state media was misleading in this respect) suggested that the Foreign Minister's earlier visit to Suriname had ensured that the joint exploitation issue was, in fact, on the Jagdeo/Venetiaan agenda.

While it may perhaps be overly harsh to suggest that the position in which President Jagdeo was placed in Suriname was the result of "some political functionary facing failure cleverly passing the buck upwards," what is clear is that the diplomatic preparation for his visit to Suriname was incomplete at best and slipshod at worst. No Head of State should be put in a position where an initiative that he takes (particularly on the external stage) and which has implications for "national prestige" or national security fails because of a lack of proper preparation by his "handlers."

"The future," as your editorial (again correctly) suggests, depends primarily on the quality of our diplomatic effort. I am, personally, not as optimistic as your editorial appears to be that the Guyana Mission in Suriname is qualitatively equipped to "take a major initiative in persuading some of Suriname's decision makers of the wisdom and realism of President Jagdeo's contention that turning aside from conflicts which cannot be settled in the short run, there should be joint exploitation of resources to the benefit of both peoples." (We desperately need a higher quality of diplomatic staff in our Suriname Embassy).

Setting foreign policy initiatives "in train" requires resources, both intellectual and material, which are simply not available at this time and which can only be mobilized with time and sustained commitment. The question that arises is whether the Government of Guyana is sufficiently seized of the importance of identifying "experts and sources including sources of funding" to begin to address the problems confronting the nation on its (not one, but two) borders.

In the immediate term the establishment of a Foreign Affairs/National Security Parliamentary Committee should be pursued with a sense of urgency. An equally worthwhile initiative would be the establishment of an extra parliamentary Committee of Experts that can support both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Parliamentary Committee in the areas of International Law, History, Public Communication and Negotiations.

The recent Suriname experience ought to have taught the political administration (I pray God that this is the case) that the protection of borders is fundamental to the role of the state and that partisan political considerations must be subsumed beneath the imperative of collective national effort in pursuit of this objective. The government must either recognise and accept this axiom or be prepared to face further setbacks on our frontiers. Territory or territorial rights lost to another country a invariably extremely difficult to recover.

Yours faithfully,

Conrad J. Griffith