OPINION: Putin and Ukraine come to Guyana

Last Updated on Wednesday, 9 March 2022, 7:57 by Denis Chabrol

By GHK Lall

The war in Ukraine has now arrived in Guyana.  In days ahead, I believe that more of its effects and the surrounding visions generated will visit this land, and have several impacts on it.  They are all negative for the Guyanese people, and I start with the immediate: prices.

In times of war, commodity prices soar, with oil leading the pack, since its needs and uses are more in the present.  The fallouts come quickly, and already Guyanese are hearing rumblings of what is in store.  It is what will come at the pump and with power.  With oil futures at US$140 a barrel, and threatening to burst out stronger, the longer and tenser this war (or, according to the UN, conflict) rages, the greater the pressures on prices.

Already cash-strapped Guyanese-ordinary, unconnected and unfavored citizens-live in a financial straitjacket that squeezes the oxygen out of them.  Life is reduced to a daily struggle to breathe, with eating and spending having to be curtailed by poor Guyanese, since they lack the means to partake to the fullest, or anywhere near such, in basics.  When gas prices go up, transportation cost is the first victim, which means a slew of areas/businesses has to pay more to get their activities completed.  From baker to market vendor to food seller to shopkeeper, to name a few, all are hit.  Get ready, Guyana: because there is always the opportunity for the tacking in of some ‘extra’ to take advantage of the times, and gouge buyers.  Exploiting and profiteering are the usual labels attached.

And when the GPL is considering its energy (light bill) pricing levels, then Guyanese have to brace themselves for the worst.  As I see it, the GPL has no choice; not with oil at the levels reached currently.  To put in the simplest terms, when light bill goes up, everything and everyone is affected sharply.  Everything goes up in the traditional passing on of the additions to trapped and helpless consumers.  We are in for it, with this war in Ukraine now inside our pockets and homes.  It is going to be more than a hard pinch; more like many deep piercings.

It is ironic that Comrade Putin’s War will hurt and help here.  Our oil fund should benefit from those steep price spirals; but, on the other hand, this means that political oil mercenaries have more to work with under the banner of withdrawals for pet projects that benefit leaders and their insiders the most.  Guyanese lose everywhere they turn, while rulers get to dance some more on their grievous circumstances intensifying all the time.

On another note, as a Guyanese I cannot help being concerned at what could be possibly going on in the minds of Senor Maduro and company, as they closely watch developments in Ukraine.  Thinking like an ambitious and covetous Venezuelan leader, the weighing of the situation would indicate that the worst that is inflicted are sanctions.  For sure, they are powerful, comprehensive, and devastating.  But they are bloodless, and the pain is felt largely by the lesser members of the population.  That is, the masses, who are vulnerable and really don’t have much to offer in the bigger picture, other than their electoral support.

As a leader I could be tempted to get ideas.  Since the world is distracted and heavily occupied with what is going on in Ukraine, a little Guyanese adventure for Essequiba should not be so farfetched; particularly when biting sanctions have been endured for years.  Though I acknowledge signals of a possible thawing in US-Venezuela relations, there must be balancing against what Venezuelan leaders call their sacred national patrimony.  It is Essequiba, and it cannot be held off forever.  As Guyana readies to present its memo of merits to the ICJ, a lovely turn of phrase that is sure to gain domestic mileage, Venezuela’s longstanding position is well known here: the only development that matters is that Venezuela won, meaning, that Guyana lost.  Only that would find favor, be acceptable.  So, we would still have the Guyana-Venezuela controversy hanging over our heads, we the smaller party, we a terribly divided polity.  Who would be willing to make sacrifices now, with all these fabulous riches flourishing locally?   Who would rise to any national call in a nationally challenging occasion with the fullness of spirited patriotism, given realities of being left out?  These are contemplations that no Guyanese wish to face, but that doesn’t mean they are not there.  A surer test of ‘One Guyana’ there may not be.

Moreover, I am surprised that the American and European broad front coalition came about as it did.  My interest is regarding how long it would last, given global economic pressures, in what could be the biggest global reordering since World War II and Bretton Woods.  It is at times like these that the appreciation is emphasized as to how much of a bystander and observer Guyana is, billions of barrels of oil, or not.

My last point has many elements.  Comrade Putin has gambled heavily, and I am loath to believe that he considers retreating as an option.  If he does not persevere, then he must be content to be a second-rate superpower, a lesser power than he envisions for Mother Russia.  That doesn’t sit well in my evaluation of man and leader, Russian patriot and old-line Communist and KGB wunderkind.  What he would have left is Venezuela, and whatever rich pickings can be salvaged from there to regroup.  I don’t see this man as taking to losing too well.  In a word: desperation.  In another, the recklessness that sometimes go with those leaders whose visions drive them into disastrous corners.

When I contemplate all these circumstances, I think of Guyana First.  No matter how much I work at being positive, I detect that we are going to be caught up and sucked into the fallouts from Putin’s War on Ukraine.  From prices to land grabs to leadership crimes, Guyanese are in for it.