By John Beale
Nicolas Maduro came to power in Venezuela in the wake of the death of the populist leader, Hugo Chavez, but not without the insurance of rigging the election in his own favour.
He has been ruling Venezuela with the support of a small cabal of verbally abusive and ruthless persons, such as his vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, who, on more than one occasion, attacked every member state of the Organization of American States (OAS), because, apart from Nicaragua, no country gave support to the Venezuelan dictatorship.
That is the style of the Maduro government – attack even when you are wrong; attack even more when all stand against you. Their behaviour is the antithesis of how to win friends and influence people. This aggressive behaviour is once again obvious in the ‘noise’ coming out of Venezuela over its unsubstantiated claim for the Essequibo region of Guyana – two-thirds of the country.
Maduro has to face elections next year, with very little room in which to rig it again in his favour. In normal circumstances, he would have happily done so. But the US has lifted sanctions against Venezuela, in return for Maduro’s undertaking that he won’t fix the elections and that opposition candidates will be able to run against him without restriction. The US has warned him that, at the first sign of any backtracking on this undertaking, the sanctions will be clapped back on him so fast his head will spin.
The last thing Maduro wants is the return of US sanctions and worse. Already over seven million of his citizens have fled from Venezuela and his incompetent dictatorship that has plunged the economy into the doldrums and most of the people into poverty. Therefore, he is trying to find every way he can to rally the Venezuelan people behind him by creating a common enemy – Guyana. And by trying to feed a sense of unity among the people by offering them expansion into two-thirds of Guyana. It is a reminder of the expansionist strategy of Adolf Hitler that led to the second world war.
The Venezuelan claim to Guyana is false and unsubstantiated. That is why Maduro does not want the International Court of Justice to arbitrate the standing of the existing border which was settled in 1899 by a group of international arbitrators. Fully aware that he has no case to argue before the ICJ that would give him two-thirds of Guyana, he refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the world’s highest judicial body, and is coercing CARICOM countries to push Guyana into “dialogue.” That dialogue failed for 40 years before the UN secretary-general chose the ICJ as the proper, legal, and peaceful place to arbitrate Venezuela’s claim.
What Maduro really wants is to use his country’s superior military might and much larger population to the bully Guyana into ceding territory to Venezuela. If Maduro could achieve that before next year’s election, he would joyfully be able to present himself as the hero who secured Venezuelan expansion.
It would then be up to the people of Venezuela to decide whether his annexation of new territory counterbalances the ruination of their lives that is evident from the past years of his dictatorship.
Guyana is not conceding to return to failed dialogue, placing its trust and hope in the legal authority of the ICJ. Hence, Maduro is holding a referendum in Venezuela to secure a popular mandate to annex the Essequibo region of Guyana.
No right-thinking Bajan would sacrifice Guyana’s legitimate rights for the blandishments of Maduro, inherent in his Petro Carib offer of a pay down for oil needs and a pay later plan for the rest. That would be an act of support for dictatorship which we, in Barbados, have never tolerated.
What is more – the people of Barbados and Guyana – are kith and kin. Barbadians have lived in Guyana since the turn of the last Century, the fore-parents of many Guyanese. These historical bonds between the two countries are ties of blood. Further, Guyana and Barbados are both members of the CARICOM Community (CARICOM) by treaty, giving Bajans rights in Guyana, they would never have in Venezuela.
For all these reasons, Barbados must reject the ‘noise’ coming out of Caracas, and stand firmly with Guyana against the aggression of Venezuela, bearing in mind that a referendum in Venezuela to annex Guyanese territory, would be no more valid than a referendum in Trinidad to annex Barbados.