By Dr Kumar Mahabir
The writer is an anthropologist who has published 12 books on Indo-Caribbean identity.
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago (IDN) — In March 2020, Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T’s) relation with Venezuela shot into the spotlight. It was sparked by a secretive and suspicious meeting by Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. Another controversy was sparked by the fuel shipment from T&T’s Paria Fuel Trading Company to Aruba, which was then surprisingly sent to Venezuela.
In Guyana, Venezuela is claiming the Essequibo region and most of the country’s maritime space. This dispute was taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018, with Venezuela arguing that that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction to rule on the matter.
And where does neighbouring Suriname stand in these disputes? Remember that the former Bouterse government had close ties with Venezuela. What will be the new Santokhi government’s approach in this changing geopolitical landscape?
The following are highlights of a ZOOM public meeting held recently (on January 24, 2021, on the topic “Trinidad’s, Guyana’s and Suriname’s current relations with Venezuela.” The Pan-Caribbean meeting was chaired by Sharlene Maharaj and moderated by Bindu Deokinath Maharaj, both women of Trinidad.
The Speakers were Senator Anil Roberts from Trinidad, a former Minister of Sport and Youth affairs, now opposition senator; Professor Daniel Gibran from Guyana, Professor Emeritus of International Security Studies at Tennessee State University in the USA; and Angelique Ali Hussain Del Castillo from Suriname, a former Ambassador to Indonesia and Chair of the Democratic Alternative91 (DA’91) party.
Senator Roberts from Trinidad said: “Trinidad and Tobago has become an ‘enabler’ to the illegitimate Venezuelan government because of the actions of the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) government and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s relationship and fraternization with President Nicholas Maduro.”
The T&T government was caught allowing Delcy Rodriguez—the vice president of Venezuela—to enter the country under the pandemic-lockdown. Her immigration papers were signed by the Minister of National Security, Stuart Young.
Meanwhile, thousands of Trinidadian citizens were locked out of their homeland, suffering, starving and sleeping in subways with no access to food, clothes and medication. They were kept out by a regime similar to that of Maduro’s. Rowley and Young have been following Maduro’s policies and turning T&T into an undemocratic State.”
Dr Gibran from Guyana said: “The current and continuing impasse between Guyana and Venezuela over ownership of a sizeable piece of disputed real estate is traceable to two strategic blunders: one by the British Government in 1966, and the other by Forbes Burnham also in 1966. Both blunders were incubated within the larger geopolitical and geostrategic context of the Cold War. And both were avoidable.
Today, Guyana is facing an existential territorial threat that is at the heart of its existence, a threat that will not simply disappear into thin air by the waving of a magic wand. In short, Guyana’s security, the security of the State in the context of its physical space, is threatened by an unstable, belligerent neighbor that claims two-thirds of its territory. This sharp and heavy sword of Damocles continues to hang over Guyana.
Venezuela’s claim to the Zona de Reclamation is not simply Maduro’s claim and boisterous fulminations. It resides in the soul of every Venezuelan citizen. It is a national feeling; unlike anything we have seen demonstrated in Guyana.
Two strategic blunders—both committed in the same year—have burdened Guyana and stymied its path to economic development. The Ali-Jagdeo Government is well-placed to strengthen its relationship with the United States. In doing so, it would also allow the US to unhook itself from a Venezuela that it once strongly supported, especially during the Cold War.
Today, Washington is eager, ready and willing to support and defend Guyana. And the current governments on both sides of the Atlantic are ready to do business.”
Hussain Del Castillo from Suriname said: “In October 2020 when there was an almost universal call for free and fair elections, the Santokhi coalition party, in its political campaign, had promised that its position towards Venezuela would be drastically changed.
DA’91—the political party that I chair—has over the years made many calls to the government and parliament of Suriname, as well as to the representatives of Venezuela in Suriname, to condemn and leave the path of destruction and the violation of human rights.
It fell on deaf ears. In recent developments regarding the border issue between Venezuela and Guyana, Suriname supported Guyana. However, the questions are: Does Suriname support Guyana’s claim on its land or does Suriname support Guyana’s position that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has jurisdiction on the issue?
This is especially important since Suriname still has an important border issue to settle with Guyana. The expectation of President Santokhi that standing with Guyana will not have any consequences on its relationship with Venezuela, remains to be seen.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 March 2021]
Collage: A collage of pictures of (left) Senator Anil Roberts from Trinidad, a former Minister of Sport and Youth affairs, now opposition senator and (right) Professor Daniel Gibran from Guyana
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