“It’s going to be a change. No other country in the history of Latin America will see such a change of the magnitude that Guyana will see and in per capita terms, Guyana will become the country in the world that will produce the most barrels of oil per capita than any place else in the world…more than Kuwait. “There is a space by the way for tremendous cooperation in the future with Venezuela. Venezuela needs a lot of light oil to blend with its extra heavy …Guyana has some of the best light oil around with no sulphur and if the two can come together it would be a massively profitable business for both of them. Of course, with all the nationalistic tensions ….but in Venezuela reasonable, thinking people know that it would make sense….in a sense Exxon protects Guyana and even though I think the contract with Exxon is pretty good for Exxon, I will say on the other hand it does offer some protection for Guyana.”
The quote above is a comment made by renowned Venezuelan energy expert Francisco Monaldi, Fellow in Latin American Energy Policy and Director of Latin America Initiative, Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University during a conversation last Thursday with Ms. Melinda Gordon, secretary of the Guyanese-American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) following a forum titled Venezuela 2020, put on by the Americas Society/ Council of the Americas (AS/COA) in Miami, Florida.
I was unable to attend this forum but requested Ms. Gordon to attend and to pose certain questions to the panel. She was not afforded the opportunity to ask questions of the panel but was able to have an on-the-record conversation with Professor Monaldi at the conclusion of the event, from which the above quote was taken. I specifically requested that certain questions be asked since, in my view, too many in our society, and encouraged by some international non -profit organisations, are deliberately and mischievously attempting to mislead the Guyanese population about the influence of the Venezuela claim on Guyana’s rush to award licences to Exxon ( President Janet Jagan awarding 600 blocks when the spirit of the law provided for only 60 to be awarded) and the signing of the contract by the current Guyana Government.
In my view, both then President Janet Jagan and the current Government of Guyana did the right thing given the geo-political landscape at the time of their actions. I doubt whether Mrs. Jagan benefitted personally from her actions and all I see from various quarters are accusatory and unsubstantiated comments that suggest Minister Trotman did the right thing for the wrong reason. If there is any credible evidence that Minister Trotman benefitted personally and corruptly from his engagements with Exxon, then that evidence must be presented and if proven the minister must suffer the consequences punishable under the law.
The quote from Professor Monaldi clearly demonstrates that there are key players in and out of Venezuela who see the importance to this day of Venezuela being able to access and share in Guyana’s oil and gas resources. Some opt for a more collaborative approach to achieving this objective, while others still see the need for the achievement of this objective by any means necessary. Yet, Global Witness, Jan Mangal, Christopher Ram et al continue to try to fool the Guyanese people about the legitimacy of the Venezuela threat, suggesting that the rush to sign the May 2016 contract with Exxon was based on incompetence and corruption, and that the Venezuela claim is just an excuse. That Guyana should not have rushed to sign that contract and that Mrs. Jagan should not have awarded the 600 blocks is nothing but unadulterated hogwash.
Fellow Guyanese, yes I say fellow Guyanese even as a dual citizen whose birthright can be stripped according to the Guyana Constitution, I urge you not to be fooled by Global Witness and their cohorts. The Venezuela threat was and is real. That country needs access to Guyana’s oil and gas resources and some in Venezuela are prepared to get it by any means necessary. President Janet Jagan knows why she encouraged Exxon to commit to exploration by “sweetening” the incentives. She was advised about the possible Venezuelan shenanigans toward Guyana and the critical importance of having the announcement of an American presence in our maritime space. In fact, I know of an American official who shared some intelligence with her on this matter. The bond between women can be strong at times.
It must not be forgotten that as much as late President Hugo Chavez professed to be a friend of Guyana, it is he who, many years before becoming president, during the Falklands War said: “The British are busy in the Falklands. Now is the time to move on Guyana. We will make easy work of them, for after all they are a small country with only a few hundred thousand Muslims, Hindus and Blacks.” This quote is a translation provided at that time.
It also cannot be lost on Guyanese that then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon spoke of developing the resources for the mutual benefit of the two people and that there is evidence that, UN personnel involved in the preparations for a decision to refer the controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), were advocating a solution that would provide for joint development of the resources.
Today, Trump is president of the United States, he is apparently a great friend of Putin who is a greater friend of Maduro. The Russians are heavily involved in Venezuela and its oil sector as are the Chinese. The global oil-and-gas architecture is very complicated and has significant geopolitical intricacies. Guyana is now a major player in this architecture. Global Witness says Guyana will lose $55 billion (US) over 40 years. If so, this is unfortunate, but we could have lost everything and in fact still have to be careful that we don’t lose more than 55 billion to our western neighbour.
Christopher Ram in a recent article questioned what I think of Exxon writing the cabinet memo regarding the contract. Mr. Ram is aware I am sure that in business and in the conduct of international relations when two sides agree in principle to pursue an agreement or a joint communique, one side is usually asked to do the first draft which the other side would consider. This draft usually forms the basis on which the negotiations would proceed. So I don’t find it unusual, unethical, fraudulent or insulting for Exxon to have prepared a first draft.
Fellow Guyanese, the award of the blocks and the signing of the contract with Exxon, in my view, were done in the interest of protecting our territorial integrity, including our maritime space and the resources therein. In time, the Exxon contract will be revisited to increase the benefits to Guyana and Guyanese. In fact, we have seen some improvements regarding protection of the environment and the monitoring of the quantities of oil being pumped and shipped. Head of the EPA, Dr. Vincent Adams, was able to conclude an agreement that provides for his officers and specialists to visit the rigs without prior notice and Godfrey Statia was able to have put in place arrangements for GRA officials to monitor our oil production. I think both Dr. Adams and Statia are dual citizens with a wealth of experience in their respective fields. I hope they are retained should there be a change of government after March 2. Step by step there will be improvements to our deal with Exxon, and we would be in a better position to negotiate better deals with the other companies knocking at our door to be involved in our oil and gas sector.
As we prepare for elections, the electorate must seriously consider which political parties will deal with Exxon in a collaborative manner on the basis of protecting our national interest and which parties would want to deal with Exxon ” like a bull in a china shop.” Just remember that the resources from oil and gas will provide for better infrastructure…roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, hinterland airstrips etc., as well as improved health care, education, public safety and security and investment in the agriculture, forestry and tourism sectors, among others. Thousands of jobs stand to be generated for Guyanese!
Can we really afford to lose everything?