APNU parliamentarian Deborah Backer has called on the government to ensure CARICOM remains firmly in Guyana’s corner on the border dispute with Venezuela in light of the political uncertainty in Caracas following President Hugo Chavez’s death.
Her call came on Friday as debate on the 2013 budget estimates continued in the National Assembly.
“We urge this government to continue to ensure that CARICOM countries are fully mobilised and stand behind us.
We know that basically at every Heads of Government meeting, the most recent being the 33rd last year in St. Lucia, that support was given and stated but sir APNU says this, particularly in the context of the evolving world and the fact that even as we speak today several of our CARICOM members belong to other regional bodies, for example ALBA which Venezuela is a major player,” the APNU’s lead on foreign affairs said.
According to Backer, CARICOM’s commitment to Guyana must be ensured irrespective of their involvement with other bodies.
She also pointed out that like Guyana, many of those CARICOM states were also parties to the PetroCaribe Agreement with Venezuela in which the oil-rich state provided the commodity on preferential terms.
Backer noted that Venezuelans would be going to the polls on April 14 to elect a successor to Chavez and added that that event should be important to Georgetown.
“Should the opposition win the polls our PetroCaribe Agreement may well be re-evaluated and the Venezuela/Guyana border may be, moved to the front burner, we don’t know,” she said. Backer said the importance of the Agreement instituted by Chavez with CARICOM could not be overstated.
“Under this agreement Guyana receives approximately 50 percent of its oil and we pay parity by rice and paddy. In that context it is also worth noting that Venezuela is now our biggest creditor. Should the incumbent President (Nicolas) Maduro win our relationship with Venezuela vis a vis border and PetroCaribe may also change,” the APNU MP said. Maduro, who served as foreign affairs minister and vice president to Chavez, had been recommended by the populist president to succeed him.
Backer said they expected the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be discussing contingency plans for whatever came out of those elections.
Foreign minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, who followed Backer, said she had “absolutely no doubt in her mind” that relations with a Maduro-led Venezuela would continue to flourish.
“It is sensible to ensure that we cater for any eventuality and in the foreign ministry I can tell you that we have been discussing this but based on the relations with Venezuela over the last 12 years I have every reason to be confident.
But let me say this Guyana is willing to work with any government of Venezuela for the advancement of our two peoples,” the minister said.
She added that Guyana had benefitted tremendously from the sale of rice and paddy to Venezuela and they hoped to conclude a new agreement soon while working on other cooperation initiatives. Venezuela had also contributed US$2M for the completion of the centre for the reintegration of homeless people at Onverwagt.
Venezuela has historically laid claim to Guyana’s Essequibo region, some two thirds of the country, rejecting an 1899 arbitral award that settled the border between the two countries. The 14-year reign of Chavez had seen good neighbourly relations between the two countries with his political opponents accusing him intermittently of relinquishing their country’s claim.
Chavez died on March 5.