From a position of alternating diplomatic relations that ranged from periods of
sabre rattling to friendly ties, depending on who had occupied Miraflores Palace, Guyana-Venezuela relations can now be described as four-fold improved, very friendly, and excellent.
This was again emphasised by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, when he toasted Venezuela on the recent observation of its 202nd independence anniversary. He emphasised that the relationship had allowed for comfortable and regular political dialogue between the two states that has facilitated mutually beneficial programmes for the peoples of both countries.
It is indisputable that this current friendly state of ties must be credited to the late mercurial President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. One will recall the occasion of the first state visit of this very popular Latin American leader when, in his usual fiery criticism of the United States, he blamed the latter state for the historic tensions that had existed between his country and Guyana.
He not only recalled the examination of plans to invade Guyana while serving as an officer in the armed forces of his country, but reiterated that as the then president, he had been reviewing maps to determine the best route for a road link between Guyana and Venezuela.
But most significantly, he assured that new approaches will have to be found for the settling of border issues, agreeing with then President of Guyana Bharat Jagdeo that the two States must leave the controversy to the Good Officer process of the United Nations.
He further made the following important declarations: that his visit was about strengthening ties with Guyana, and that Venezuela was not going to hinder the conduct of any project in the Essequibo that will benefit citizens of the area, and that sensitive projects will be reviewed by a bilateral commission.
Indeed, these pronouncements were breaking new ground; for here was the leader of a neighbouring state, departing from the threat and aggressive posture by his predecessors, with regard to not only the settlement of the controversy, but also advocating that the geographic area in dispute, allow for social development programmes.
Almost 10 years since those historic statements, the border dispute is still engaging the attention of the Good Offices strategy, but Venezuela has remained true to what its then visiting Head of State had said on that first visit.
The fact that must be clear to observers is that Guyana has benefitted significantly from this new Venezuelan foreign policy as practised by the departed Chavez, and continued by his successor, Nicolas Maduro.
For instance, Guyana is a beneficiary of the Chavez innovative Petro Caribe deal, an arrangement that involves Guyana, and several Caribbean and Latin American states, whereby oil and diesel are purchased at reduced prices. Payments are made on a deferred basis that allowed borrowers to pay with goods such as sugar, rice, and bananas. This particular oil-purchasing strategy commenced at an opportune time in the economic plateau of Caribbean states, at a time when meeting the costs of their fuel import bills were challenging. It also provided a source of balance of payment support.
Rice, a backbone of this nation’s economy, has also found very special favour in this new era of basking Guyana-Venezuela relations. Since 2009, in negotiated arrangements that are renewed annually, local rice farmers have been selling their paddy and white rice to Venezuela, at very substantial percentages above market prices. From a financial trade package that started at a value of US$18.8M in 2009, and a first shipment of 10,000 tonnes of rice and 40,000 tonnes of paddy, is now worth US$140M, and 200,000 tonnes of rice, in accordance with the 2013 protocol.
The building of the Hugo Chavez Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintegration at onverwagt, at a cost of $2M, is another clear manifestation of the current status quo ante that exists between the two states.
What has been undoubtedly established in this relaxed diplomatic atmosphere between Guyana and Venezuela is that border problems need not be a hindrance to relations of a constructive and peaceful nature that can redound to the benefit of the particular states. And Guyana is a perfect example of the benefits derived from this understanding.
Suriname’s Desi Bouterse is also of this view, as highlighted quite clearly on his initial state visit to Guyana, that the border controversy between his country and ours, was not for discussion.
Instead, he discussed a range of mutual developmental issues that included an agreement for the construction of a bridge across the Corentyne River, to how the Dutch republic can benefit from the Low Carbon Development Strategy.