Two can play the CARICOM game

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CARICOM HQ in Georgetown, Guyana

The 7th Summit of the Americas is just around the corner, and public attention will be focused on U.S. President Barack Obama, who will carry a huge diplomatic success under his arm: a tentative agreement (along with other world powers) with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

Before heading to Panama City for the Summit, Obama is traveling to Jamaica to meet the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). For what purpose? Mostly to offer those countries “energy security,” something we were supposed to be taking care of.

Earlier this year, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden hosted the first Caribbean Energy Security Summit in Washington, in order to promote private investment in “clean and sustainable energy sources.”

Is the U.S. seizing the opportunity to regain influence in the Caribbean?

The answer is likely yes, thanks to both the drastic fall in oil prices and the economic crisis in Venezuela, which is causing PetroCaribe to shake in its foundations.

But if you think that Nicolás Maduro is going to stand idle during all of this, you’re pretty mistaken.

Last week, the central government reinforced several agreements with Antigua & Barbuda, including not only oil shipments but free medical attention for those islands’ inhabitants.

At the same time, Venezuela gave a check for $16 million to St. Kitts & Nevis to compensate former local sugar workers.

In the PR front, there were recent public acts of support in Dominica and St. Lucia. And let’s not forget Maduro’s recent visit to Trinidad and Tobago, in which PM  Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced an “oil-for-toilet-paper” plan (or as CC’s Raul Stolk has coined is, “the Cornholio initiative”).

In spite of Venezuela’s near-bankruptcy, a recent report from Barclay’s still puts Petrocaribe shipments at 200,000 barrels per day, worth around $8.000.000 daily ($2.9 billion per year!). This is a huge figure still, but it’s down from an even greater amount.

Even if their cash flow has suffered heavily in recent months, the central government refuses to reduce their spending diplomacy drive in the region. They simply can’t afford losing their sphere of influence. It’s no big deal for them to gave away money for healthcare abroad when our hospitals are flat-lining. But that policy could still clash with their strategic national security issues.

Enter the case of our neighbor Guyana and a humid, mosquito-infested little thing called the Esequibo.

Last month, ExxonMobil started to explore for oil in the Esequibo waters. This is something that the Maduro administration isn’t too happy about, given the territory’s “disputed” status.

The official response from Guyana’s Foreign Ministry was to formally request Venezuela to “…desist from taking any actions that could only result in the stymying of the development of Guyana and its people and that would be in contravention of international law”. But that wasn’t the only major development…

The day before oil exploration began, Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett announced that the country is opting out of the UN’s Good Offices process regarding the resolution of the Esequibo claim, considering that it hasn’t achieved any meaningful results in more than 20 years. She claimed her country wanted to explore other options at its disposal. According to former Guyanese ambassador in Venezuela Odeen Ishmael, Georgetown wants to use the judicial road (which probably means going to the International Court of Justice in The Hague) to settle the issue. Caracas isn’t comfortable with that, as the chances of succeeding in The Hague are small.

What’s the full position of CARICOM on the matter?

This official statement from March 20th makes it crystal clear:

The Caribbean Community reiterates its firm, long-standing and continued support for the maintenance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana and for the unhindered economic and social development of all of Guyana.  In this regard, the Community, once again, expresses its hope for an early resolution of the controversy which has arisen as a result of Venezuela’s contention that the Arbitral award of 1899, which definitively settled the boundary between the two countries, is null and void.

The Caribbean Community has also taken note that Guyana has commenced a review of the options available under Article 33 of the United Nations Charter, as provided by the 1966 Geneva Agreement, including the judicial option, that could serve to bring an end to the controversy and  ensure stability in the relations between the two countries, relations that in recent years have seen positive progress through high-level political consultations and mutually beneficial programmes of functional cooperation.”

In other words: the Esequibo belongs to Guyana, the 1899 Treaty settled the issue, and Venezuela has been throwing a hissy fit for the last forty years or so. Accept it. Deal with it. Move on. And if you don’t, Guyana will take you to The Hague, and there ain’t no bozal de arepa you can give us that will make us change our minds.

Therein lies Maduro’s dilemma: either keep current political and economical ally Guyana happy and not alienate the CARICOM at large … or risking going down in history as the president who lost the Esequibo forever and ever, something completely incompatible with the uber-patriotic line of action the central government is using for almost everything.

In the end, the Caribbean is just another geo-political chessboard and both the U.S. and Venezuela are still playing. And guess what? It seems we have the losing card.

1 COMMENT

  1. Politically, there is no problem with loosing Guyana. That’s a 2 country fight that no one in the world cares about, there is no media to make a big buzz about it so who cares. There is more trouble if Obama kick his ass in the Summit, that will be internationally televised and media spills can make it into the country.
    One thing is to loose against little Guyana than been fucked by the empire and el negrito itself.

  2. Even us Yanks get PetroCaribe free oil:

    http://www.citizensenergy.com/news/press-releases/ninth-annual-citgo-venezuela-heating-oil-program-warm-thousands-families-during

    All you have to do is call: 1-800-JOE4OIL, and ask for a home visit. Then get out your portrait of Commandante and place it in a conspicuous place. Convince the interviewer you really, really need it, and you can get 100 gallons (400 litres) of heating oil free, thanks to the good people of Venezuela.

    Thank you all so much.

  3. What I have to ask is, what happens when Maduro and his gang finish selling off all natural resources of the country? I mean, we have to ask, what happens when all the oil and mineral fields are sold?

    • One scenario : Economically Venezuela becomes a chattel to service the debt owed all those foreign creditors investors while a grand carboard and tinsel fachade of soveregnty is erected to maintain appearances but the basic economic decisions are all subordinated to the need of sattisfying the countrys debts . We are fast approaching this situation despite all the proud ultra patriotic osturing and rethoric. !!

      Another scenario, at one point the regime is incapable of meeting its international financial obligations and goes in to default , the shit hits the fan and anything goes.!!

    • OpUno,

      What happens? One by one, various high officials start to file one-way flight plans on their private jets. When there is nothing left to steal, why stay?

      • Guaranteed impunity, if they can hang on to power.

        Sure, there are many places their pilfered $ could take them, but none in which they will wield the power they do in Venezuela. They will be guests anywhere they go. As such they would always have to worry about how circumstances beyond their control could potentially alter their host country’s view of them.

        Home is where the guaranteed impunity is…

  4. Well its happened before, the key will be in the legality of any sale / give away the Chavernment carries out. Recall when Gomez died many concessions were (successfully) legally challenged (ditto the ownership of 1/2 the country by Gomez and his relatives). Caveat emptor!

  5. If Maduro is nothing without his purchased influence, then he’ll most likely choose renouncing the Esequibo as the lesser evil. The fact that we’re sending free healthcare to other countries while our own goddamn hospitals are crumbling speaks volumes about the regard chavismo has for its own in the grand scheme of things.
    If and when that happens, the Maduro administration will probably state matter-of-factly that they let go of the issue through diplomatic negotiations with Guyana, after deciding that all our Caribbean sister countries deserve their sovereignty, as el comandante always said.
    And the morons listening to that speech in real time will just clap and cheer. As always.

  6. During the Chavez era, Venezuela enjoyed a large amount of soft power in the region. In part, this soft power was a result of Chavez’s personal charm, the promotion of the “heroic anti-imperialist” narrative in Latin America, and his courting of ideological allies amongst the ultra-leftists of the world. But the biggest contribution was always “checkbook diplomacy”. Chavez could buy allies and influence in the region with virtually unlimited access to petro-dollars. This allowed him to highjack the international institutions by buying the votes of the smaller nations of the Caribbean.

    Maduro may have inherited the political mantle of Chavez, but he inherited none of his personal charm. And now, his access to money is severely limited and projected to diminish further. When Obama visits CARICOM in Jamaica, the leaders will be provided with economic projections for Venezuela that inform them that Venezuela cannot be counted upon to continue their financial support. These small nations are not idealistic. Their foreign policy is strictly pragmatic. I fully expect that we will see a sea-change in this voting block.

    This will pave the way for the U.S. to peel off the moderate LatAm nations from their knee-jerk support of Venezuela. I fully expect that the U.S. teams will come to the Summit armed with mountains of documented intelligence about all of the corruption and financial shenanigans that have been going on — enough to cause a shock wave of scandals throughout the continent.

    The U.S. will be going to a Panama with a very strong hand of cards. Let’s see how well they play it.

  7. As for the “Esequibo”, although I get that, for many Venezuelans, the claim to this territory is a matter of faith and national pride, the legality of this claim is weaker than weak. Even “tenuous” might be an exaggeration. It would never hold up in any marginally impartial arbitration or adjudication.

    The very best result possible for Venezuela would be to concede, once and for all, the territory in return for extensive cooperation agreements on the exploitation of the resources, re-opening the border, trade and development agreements, etc… Unfortunately, Maduro will not even get that out of it.

    • …is a matter of faith and national pride…

      Is also a matter of 40 years of education on the country that says “The Esequibo is ours”. Open any book on Venezuelan history that was on a school program, see what it says.

      The Venezuelan people are learning the hard way that if they want the country to improve, they will have to support the leadership that tells them the truth, including the truth about the sacred mythos that a long succession of populist goverments told them

  8. Meanwhile in Panama. A huge american aircraft carrier arrived this morning to la Bahia de Panama, that anyone at the city could easily see.

    I guess that it is a subtle reminder to of who is the boss.

  9. Tom Shannon is in Caracas today. He is the architect of the U.S. policy. Tom is delivering a firm message to the right people before the summit. This is not about making nice. The president of the U.S. wants to make sure his message is being delivered. This is about facts and the reality of the situation. If Maduro wants to keep clowning around so be it. The United States remains unfettered with a full deck, IOW they have all the cards.

  10. Interesting… Thomas Shannon, a heavyweight in the U.S. State Dept. arrived in Caracas last night. Damn, but I wish I could hear the messages he is conveying today…

  11. Obama is in a full diplomatic blitzkrieg against Venezuela and the Maduro’s boys are not quite reacting or they just realized it a little bit late.

    Maduro diplomacy has major issues: he is loosing Cuba, he is loosing Iran, he is loosing Brazil, he lost Libya, he is loosing Guyana (better said: realizing he has lost Guyana), Venezuela oil production is not material anymore (thanks to diversification and debt exchange with China) hence he has not leverage at OPEC, he run out of cash and he is not Chavez. The uncommitted nations of the Caribbean have always been pragmatic and this time they are seeing a very weak Venezuela with a lot less to promise.

    Now, this is not news and the outcome of the SOTA may only erode the most external circle of the regime protection. Chavez created, as any more or less good military guy, many circles of protection for the regime: the first the LATAM nations including committed and uncommitted countries that will only be in Venezuela’s influence though cheap oil. The second, China and Russia and their need to influence LATAM markets. The third, middle east nations to balance power with OPEC and protect the only source of revenue and hence the protection of the first and second circles. The fourth, the complete control of the democratic institutions. The fifth, the militias to manage civil issues. The last or sixth (The Alamo), the military force.

    Obama will have to come to SOTA firm but not overly aggressive as Venezuela will play the imperio victim card. The argument is quite simple, Venezuela lost its appeal, the government is full of crooks and they are not longer a defined alternative, not even a long term alternative. Venezuela is not even a socialist alternative anymore, Maduros ideology is just a “grabastic piece of amphibian s##” and its survival is attached to the price of oil.

    The vision is perhaps simple, the days of the left in LATAM are ending: Maduro, Cristina, Vilma and even the Castros will be out within 5 years and their legacy is not good. Center-left or even strong right governments will follow and some will disrupt the already beleaguered LATAM diplomacy (call it ALBA). So, who are the Caribbean nations going to woo: the United States and its recently regained economic power.

    • I would not characterize it as “full diplomatic blitzkrieg” but there’s a plan and it’s been executed. Granted, nobody knows what the outcome will be but I’m confident in the Americans. The president has near-full support even though many involved do not believe in Cuba.

  12. oilhead, nothing has really changed. The threats are still there and may actually get worse. Lets fast forward a few years. The russians are not letting up on nuclear warhead development and their delivery vehicles: ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarines and bombers. We are approaching a time when the Chinese will have a nuclear ballistic missile capability from subs in the Pacific. The North Koreans will have nuclear warhead capability on top of mobile land based missiles. The Iranians will have the capability to continue covert military nuclear development. The russian nuclear cruise missile threat requires Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua landing and basing rights. Of these three countries, Venezuela is the one to watch. If these ever happens, the shit will hit the fan.

    Brasil and Argentina are top hemispheric priorities. If communism wins (Maximo and Lula) then the shit hits the fan.

    Guyana was never in the cards. Guyana is a Cuban sattellite state and Venezuela does not have the military power projection to invade and hold.

    The Bolivarians hope to weather this storm as the Iranians, the Cubans, the Russians and every other authoritarian fuck who is broke.

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