Gun-boat diplomacy?

Recent reports seem to suggest that oil-rich Venezuela might be hell bent on using gun-boat diplomacy in its relations with certain English-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) territories.

Guyana has had the ordeal of seeing a U. S-registered oil survey ship given a licence to explore for oil within its territorial waters being accosted by the Venezuelan Navy on the grounds that it was operating in waters being claimed by Venezuela.

In Grenada itself, there have been increasing reports from our fishermen of meeting up with hostility from Venezuelan navy ships as they fish within our territorial waters.

Prior to this, the President of one of the island’s fishermen organisations, Mr. Nicholas had made a statement on the Sundays with George Grant radio programme that our fishermen were making frequent reports to the association about seeing Venezuelan fishing boats engaged in open fishing well within our waters.

Mr. Nicholas’ public pronouncement seemingly fell on deaf ears as there was no response from Grenadian authorities on the claim.

However, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicholas Steele announced at a press briefing a few days ago that government has sent a formal note to Venezuela to ascertain a report by one of our fishermen about a recent encounter with a navy boat from Venezuela which requested them to stop fishing in what is clearly Grenadian territorial waters.

THE NEW TODAY notes that this kind of “aggression” by Venezuela to two of its English-speaking Caribbean neighbours took place after the death of the charismatic President Hugo Chavez who had a deep military background and was the architect of the PetroCaribe oil deal with several East Caribbean states.

The question which is uppermost in the minds of many is whether the new man in Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro, unlike Chavez, is not that influential with the Venezuelan army and navy and has no control over those who might have their own agendas.

The Caribbean should not take lightly these early signs of apparent Venezuelan acts of aggression and hostility after the death of Chavez.

Is post-Venezuela in the Chavez era using its military might and prowess to seek to extend its territorial waters well into the seas of the Eastern Caribbean and threatening our individual sovereignty?

This newspaper is suggesting a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) response to the current unfolding events with Venezuela since as divided small islands, we will stand little or no chance at all in hoping to influence those wielding power in this powerful oil-rich South American republic with a much more powerful army and navy at its disposal.

The unfortunate thing is that some of the islands are already at a serious disadvantage in their relationships with Venezuela in light of the millions owed to Caracas through the PetroCaribe oil arrangement.

The millions owed could turn out to be the big stick that Caracas might be holding over the heads of these debt-stricken East Caribbean islands.

As Prof Anthony Bryant, a senior fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies said recently, Venezuela is today the largest creditor for Petrocaribe members” and this programme “has also contributed to the unsustainable debt accumulation in some of the countries.”

In the case of Grenada, current Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, if truthful, can testify about the manner in which Venezuela treated him as opposed to other leaders like Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica who were considered more “politically and ideologically correct” in keeping with the thinking of late President Chavez.

A confidential memo from a former U.S Ambassador to Barbados, said that a frustrated Dr. Mitchell complained to the American envoy that he was not getting the much-needed help and assistance from Venezuela because “Ralph” was bad-mouthing him with Chavez.

Our islands are too small and divided among themselves to engage Venezuela individually on the current issue now at hand. We need to adopt a common position and speak with one voice to President Maduro and his colleagues.

It was folly of Dominica to accept Venezuelan hegemony of Bird Island which is really a part of Dominica and by no stretch of the imagination is located any way close to the shorelines of Venezuela.

The late Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Dr. Eric Williams was always suspicious of the true intentions of Venezuela in terms of its relationships with the English-speaking Caribbean.

Like Dr. Williams, we too are suspicious of the Venezuelans in light of moves by those East Caribbean countries now in economic and financial crisis to look more and more at searching within their territorial waters for oil and gas resources to take them out of their present predicament.

There is already a school of thought that Caracas might even be “sucking” from the oil veins of these resources that lie in and around the boundaries between Venezuela and its English-Speaking Caribbean neighbours such as Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada.

This newspaper urges the Mitchell government to take the bold step and engage Caracas in the same manner in which the former Tillman Thomas-led Congress administration, held talks with the former Patrick Manning government in Trinidad and Tobago to delimit the boundaries between the two neighbouring CARICOM member states.

The reaction from Caracas to such a request would give clear signals as to the true intentions of Venezuela which has long been suspected of having grand designs on its poor neighbours in the Caribbean.

It is time for Venezuela to understand that Gun boat diplomacy is not the way to foster trust, understanding and a true and lasting relationship with any of its neighbours especially those of us in this part of the world.

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