Opinion: Capping the number of  Venezuelan Economic Migrants/Refugees entering Guyana is in the interest of National Security: Unity in effort required for National Defence 

Last Updated on Monday, 30 October 2023, 6:32 by Denis Chabrol

by Dr Gary Best, a Retired Rear Admiral and former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force.

Dr Gary Best

There is no doubt that the proposed five questions referendum (5QR) by the Venezuelan government scheduled for 03rd December 2023, poses a clear and present danger to the Territorial Integrity and National Security of Guyana, particularly sovereign Essequibo.  Consequently, an immediate cap on the number of Venezuelan migrants/refugees entering Guyana is a key step in protecting national security. Importantly, it is not lost on the Guyanese population, and hopefully the government of Guyana, that immediately prior to, and after the launch of President Maduro’s unlawful and reckless 5QR, the number of Venezuelan migrants/ refugees landing in Guyana, all of whom have been educated to believe that Essequibo belongs to them, has increased significantly. 

The government of Guyana needs no further evidence of this clear and present danger to Guyana’s national patrimony, a duty, it is sworn to protect by virtue of holding executive power. While there is some government effort on the international front, which is our first line of defence, otherwise called defence diplomacy, protecting our citizens is of equal importance. Therefore, a three-pronged approach is required- national, international and judicial- simply because the Venezuelan threat is two pronged. This is nothing new. The nation is reminded of the words of the then Foreign Affairs Minister, Rashleigh Jackson, who articulated that Guyana’s national interest required a pursuit of “parallel tracks, one requiring vigilance for the defence of Guyana’s territorial integrity and a search by diplomatic and political means for a resolution of the controversy by peaceful means. This represented a two-pronged approach to national defence. Guyana’s recent historic move to have the matter determined by the ICJ, elevates our defence of Essequibo to a three-pronged approach. 

Sir Shridath Ramphal, Guyana’s Co-Agent, on the Guyana-Venezuela case before the ICJ, stated before that court that the “collective patrimony [of Guyana] is at the centre of this Hearing, and [the people of Guyana] are united in defence of their sovereignty and the territorial integrity of their Homeland.” It is now the duty of the government and people of Guyana to defend this patriotic submission and begin to thwart Venezuela’s subtle, overt, and reckless attempt at annexing sovereign Essequibo, or any other lesser part/portion of the Republic of Guyana, by imposing an immediate cap on Venezuelan economic migrants/refugees entering Guyana. Such an action is no threat to diplomacy. It is specifically in the interest of national security, by providing a deeper sense of confidence by the Guyanese people that their security is paramount. The nation expects no less. 

On the issue of the national security threat, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, on a recent GBJ & CPC webinar, reminded us that “Venezuela’s claim undermines four key factors of nationhood, Land, People, Resources, [and] Identity.” In other words, Venezuela’s 5QR is an attack on our national security, national interests, and national values. In short, our national patrimony. Further, looked at historically, Venezuela has always posed an existential threat to Guyana given its history of operating as an economic hitman against this nation. 

Of note, international treaty and convention obligations are not meant to put nation states in peril. Any such situation, which is the current Guyana case, represents the antithesis of why they exist. While Guyana has obligations under international law and conventions, nothing in them commands Guyana to allow its population to be overrun by large number of Venezuelan economic migrants/refugees, threatening its national security in the process. Further, the concept of sovereignty is national and not international. National interests must come before international obligations. 

The government therefore needs to recalibrate and put an immediate cap on Venezuelan economic migrants/refugees, while the nation’s defence and security forces conduct internal vetting/investigative operations to identify and separate those with verified familial ties to Guyanese from those who are economic migrants/refugees. The next stage is to collectively determine the number of economic migrants/refugees and the specific type of rights to be given to them, that Guyana can accept without any threat to national security. The remaining numbers would be repatriated to Venezuela.

Ironically, the government of Guyana is subsidizing Venezuela’s economic crisis by extending a hand of humanity to its people, while their President, Nicolas Maduro, is preparing a 5QR to annex the Essequibo county in Guyana. Who knows whether these large numbers are part of Maduro’s annexation plan! This action by the Venezuelan President is the beyond the epitome of bad faith, it is a clear and present danger to the Guyanese people and their national patrimony. The government of Guyana must act now! 

Dr Best is also a member of the Central Executive Committee of the People’s National Congress Reform.