OPINION: Immediate moratorium on issuing Guyanese Citizenship to Venezuelans and a halt to participation in national elections are critical to National Security. Government and Opposition must collaborate on an amnesty and number of Venezuelans to remain in Guyana

Last Updated on Sunday, 5 November 2023, 7:41 by Denis Chabrol

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

Dr Gary Best

A moratorium on issuing Guyanese citizenship to Venezuelan nationals and any type of participation, by them, in the next Guyana national and regional elections should be immediately put in place by the government. The nation expects no less, given this threat by human invasion of our country. This moratorium must remain in place until there is a verified transparent account and record of Venezuelan nationals with legitimate claims to Guyanese citizenship; illegal Venezuelan nationals eligible for ‘refugee’ status; illegal Venezuelan nationals who can become economic migrants, and illegal Venezuelan migrants who will be deported back to Venezuela. At all times, the decisions to achieve the above outcomes must be subject to a decided number, by the government and opposition, of additional persons, the nation of Guyana can absorb at this time.

It is beyond unpatriotic for the government, in the height of this grave Venezuelan threat to annex sovereign Essequibo, to even suggest Venezuelan nationals’ involvement in our national elections, unless the government of Guyana and President Maduro are aware of something that we, the Guyanese people, are unaware of. Further, it is not lost on the Guyanese nation the challenges that we already have with a bloated national voters list. Additionally, no amount of political rhetoric by the government changes the fact that tens of thousands of Venezuelans entered and remain in this country illegally, making them illegal migrants. That is their status until it changes through verification. However, the government has, thus far, provided no information to this nation that changes this status. In the face of such a serious threat, how can the government of Guyana be so reckless with the nation’s national security? Except, political gain is more important than protecting Guyanese from this human invasion.

Notwithstanding, this human threat is a fixable one. The Venezuelan nationals who fled Venezuela for fear of being persecuted by their government could have applied for ‘refugee’ status (evidence by a refugee certificate) through the office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Venezuela. We have no information from the government that that was done. Therefore, it is critical to gather the required data to drive the necessary decisions. Further, the government of Guyana with support from the opposition,
should offer an immediate amnesty to all illegal Venezuelan migrants, and in collaboration with the UNHCR office in Guyana, call on them to register their presence at determined centres and undergo an interview process to determine eligibility to become a Guyanese citizen, a refugee, or an economic migrant.

Those who meet the constitutional requirements for Guyanese citizens, will be granted Guyanese citizenship. Those meeting refugee requirements will be issued with a refugee certificate by the UNCHR office and thereafter benefit from refugee rights under the convention, which excludes any voting rights. Of course, the government reserves the right to return refugees to Venezuela when their original threat situation is no longer present or send them on to a third country.

Those who fail to meet the standards for refugee status will remain as illegal Venezuelan migrants eligible to be deported back to Venezuela. However, the government of Guyana, with the support from the opposition, and in collaboration with the International Office of Migration
in Guyana, can determine how many illegal Venezuelan migrants can qualify to become economic migrants, subject to the overall agreed to number, which excludes any voting rights. At all times, the priority for settling in Guyana will be Guyanese of Venezuelan extraction, followed by those of refugee status, and lastly, those who are economic migrants.

Critically, the tens of thousands illegal Venezuelan migrants pose serious risks to the socio-economic Guyana fabric. This includes our health care system, designed for a population of 800,000, which it currently underserves, exponentially providing less and less services to the Guyanese people. Without any proper central interviewing and verification of the status of illegal Venezuelan migrants, new diseases could be entering the country, placing even more stress on our overtaxed health care system; new and sophisticated criminal activities beyond the scope of our police capabilities are likely to dominate the illegal landscape; rampant discrimination against Venezuelan nationals can be expected, including trafficking, along with smuggling of persons and their use in supplying services to increased pleasure houses.
The government of Guyana must stop playing politics with Guyana’s national security; abandon its ‘only the government way’ to national development and demonstrate that it is capable of securing the Nation State, its people and its resources. It is time that the government of Guyana takes the side of the Guyanese people!

Dr Gary Best is also an executive member of the People’s National Congress Reform