Cautious Optimism in Guyana
—A beacon of hope emerges amid fear, defiance and uncertainty
Despite Guyana's lingering fear, defiance, and uncertainty over Venezuela's territorial threats, a glimmer of hope emerged with the signing of the Declaration of Argyle on December 14 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
This joint declaration—facilitated by Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit, Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves, President of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)—established a three-month moratorium on force and tension escalation over the resource-rich Essequibo that Venezuela wants to seize.
The declaration hinges on three pivotal commitments:
• A pledge to refrain from any form of aggression, direct or indirect.
• A resolution to settle controversies in line with international law, including the 1966 Geneva Agreement.
• A commitment to fostering good neighbourliness, peaceful coexistence, and regional unity.
Nevertheless, Guyanese mistrust Venezuela's President Nicholas Maduro deeply because of his ultra-aggressive rhetoric towards Guyana, the controversial December 3 referendum approving a hostile takeover of Essequibo, allocations for the disputed lands in his 2024 Budget, and intense military mobilization near the border. Therefore, the cautious optimism triggered by the declaration flows into a complex cocktail of emotions among Guyanese people, tinged by fear and defiance.
The chilling potential for armed conflict drives their fear. Social media buzzes with anxieties about loved ones in the disputed region, the prospect of massive displacement of Guyanese, and economic disruption. Memories of past skirmishes linger in the populace, and one image looms large—an erratic Latino strongman toying with powerful weapons.
Despite the undercurrent of fear, symbols of defiance abound. National flags flutter from homes and cars. There is a deluge of trending patriotic hashtags like #EssequiboIsGuyana. Imagery highlighting territorial integrity adorns walls, fences, bridges—everywhere. But a murky future raises painful questions: Will diplomacy prevail? Will sanctions bite? Will Venezuela push further?
A framework of nuanced perspectives sustains the atmosphere of cautious optimism in Guyana.
Oil giant ExxonMobil (Exxon), the operator of the world-class Stabroek Block, is ramping up production in offshore Guyana. On December 4, Exxon affirmed, "We are not going anywhere – our focus remains on developing the resources...as per our agreement with the Guyanese government."
The local business community worries about economic stability and potential sanctions but supports a firm stance against Venezuela. Two of the largest business groups, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association, have called on Guyanese to present a united front in the face of their neighbour's threat.
Closer to the border
Closer to the disputed border, residents of rural communities and indigenous groups, who are experiencing a more immediate sense of vulnerability, have expressed fierce attachment to their land and way of life. Indigenous groups, whose ancestral lands straddle the border, have asserted their Guyanese cultural identity and territorial rights.
Guyanese are highly concerned about the seemingly unchecked entry of Venezuelan migrants, leading to over 19,000 Venezuelan refugees living in Guyana, and many are supported by the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM). Guyana's Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo noted their presence and said the government is guarding against a 'Trojan Horse' effect.
Guyanese hopes rest heavily on the efforts of international allies, particularly the US, because of its geopolitical standing and Big Big Business interests in Guyana. US Ambassador to Guyana Nicole Theriot, asserted that her nation would "stand in Guyana's corner when it comes to threats to its territory and sovereignty."
Meanwhile, CARICOM leaders ended a summit on December 8 "firmly" supporting Guyana. They also issued a statement urging Caracas to respect the conservatory measures determined by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) until the court's final decision on the border dispute. Now, CARICOM and CELAC have successfully brokered a stay in hostilities.
As tensions with Venezuela dominate public discourse, Guyanese society remains disturbingly divided along racial and political lines. Many express frustration with the government's political leadership, supported by Indo-Guyanese and the Afro-Guyanese-supported Opposition. Each side accuses the other of mishandling the crisis while calling for a peaceful resolution.
A spectrum of voices - online and offline -rises above the din. Intellectuals and activists advocate for dialogue, legal solutions, and regional solidarity. Religious leaders appeal for calm, unity, and respect for human rights. At the same time, artists and musicians channel their anxieties and hopes through creative expression.
But opinions mirror the political divide. The Opposition is flaying the Declaration of Argyle, contending that it refers to "territory in dispute", and this description, such verbiage, distinctly disadvantages Guyana.
Amanza Walton Desir, the Opposition's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, argues that Venezuela could block Guyana from granting a mining license in Essequibo as a "matter with implications for the territory in dispute" under the meeting clause. "Does this mean that if the Government of Guyana wants to grant a mining license...Venezuela can trigger this clause and call Guyana to the table...?"
Despite the undercurrent of fear and uncertainty, cautious optimism flickers like a candle in the wind. Guyanese resilience shines through in acts of community support, displays of national pride, and unwavering faith in their nation's future. While Venezuela remains a complex and evolving situation, some aspects offer hope for Guyana.
Regional and international support for Guyana's territorial integrity is strong. CARICOM, the OAS, and the wider international community condemned Venezuela's actions. Diplomacy and legal channels remain the preferred avenues for resolving the dispute. The International Court of Justice is currently considering the matter, and both sides must commit to a peaceful process.
Regardless of political differences, all stakeholders prioritise national security and territorial integrity. The crisis has shaken Guyana, but it also revealed the extraordinary depth of the nation's spirit. As the world watches this unfolding drama, fear and uncertainty are unmistakable, but also the determination, resilience, and unwavering love for their land that bind the Guyanese people together.