Guyana-U.S. military deal needed for northwest development
Stabroek News
April 16, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chavez is back! After a botched attempt by some well-meaning, but poorly prepared military officials, to force him into exile, Mr. Chavez returned to a second chance at power.

Appearing somewhat subdued and sounding conciliatory, Mr. Chavez certainly should have used his time away from power to do some deep soul searching to determine what triggered last Friday's military maneuver against him, precipitated by some street demonstrations.

Those demonstrations, which left over a dozen dead and more than 100 injured, were anti-Chavez in nature, while the subsequent demonstrations that brought him back were pro-Chavez, clearly confirming Venezuela is socially divided. And this is a problem Mr. Chavez has to resolve, hopefully not through his military, but by adjusting his policies and practices relative to the local business sector and the governance of the economy. Can he be an effective bridge and not alienate sides?

As a Guyanese, however, I remain leery about Mr. Chavez' next moves, and firmly believe he will quietly seek to consolidate his hold on power with covert help from the Fidel Castro regime. A constitution that provides for a president for life is not to be ruled out. But a long reign by Mr. Chavez could literally doom Guyana's chances of ever successfully exploiting our northwest region.

In fact, I am angry at Mr. Chavez for a blatant double standard that casts him in a light that says he should not be trusted. He came to power in the name of concern for his poor and suffering people. To his own people and the world community, here was a caring soldier who only wanted to lead and help his people. What a people-person!

But his neighbour to the east also has poor and suffering people, and its leaders want to do the same thing for their people like he wants to do for his own. You would think that this man who says he cares would empathize with us by signaling to the international community that he would not interfere with Guyana's desire to develop its northwest region. Not him! He chose to demonstrate that he is a hypocrite! He prefers to make Guyana and its leaders subject to him!

I think the time has come for the Guyana Government to take a mature and responsible stance by directly soliciting the help of the United States Government in the acquisition of military supplies, including air, land and sea equipment to help defend our sovereignty and our development programme.

We will repay the United States from the oil we will begin drilling from our northwest region over the next forty or fifty years. We will finally cut out the need for importing fuel, and at the same time, start shipping oil overseas. We will finally stop looking for financial and economic aid and start providing same to our less fortunate neighbours, near and far. We will come of age as a nation, not merely 36 years after Independence, but as a resourceful and responsible one in the world community of nations.

Now, before the 'naysayers' go jumping all over the place by crying arms escalation, need I remind us that during the Forbes Burnham era, when he embarked on his socialist journey in 1974 and eloquently mouthed anti-Western rhetoric at home and abroad, that the United States entered into an agreement with a then friendly Venezuelan Government to sell them forty-six F-16 fighter jets?

True, the deal never materialized, but it had a desired effect because Burnham got the message. Worse, by virtue of his behaviour, the Venezuelans seized the opportunity to use America's anger against Guyana to resurrect the border issue. "Not a blade of grass" may well have been Guyana's swan song on the issue, because both the United States and Britain turned their faces against us. However, while the reality today is that Guyana is worse off than in Burnham's time, (and he is partly to be blamed), and America is more amenable to us now, the message today is we need all the help we can get, and we need it like yesterday. Mr. Chavez also has to get our message that we do not want to play his game by his rules, by waiting for handouts in a publicly embarrassing way, while our people are suffering and all our resources to make things better are staring us in the face.

I do not expect all my fellow Guyanese to agree with everything I have said but since the chances of Guyana and Venezuela's business-to-business deals seem shot with the removal of the interim leader who was business-oriented, then what better suggestion do we have to develop our northwest region in our lifetime? Or is it that we are prepared to settle for 1% annual growth when we could be doing much better over the next five to ten years, with our northwest region leading the way?

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin,