Local, regional military initiatives needed amid Venezuela’s aggression

Last Updated on Tuesday, 7 November 2023, 12:31 by Denis Chabrol

Guyana’s Agent to the International Court of Justice, Carl Greenidge in the country’s case on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled the land boundary with Venezuela.

Guyana’s agent to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the border case with Venezuela, Carl Greenidge and former Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Retired Rear Admiral Gary Best on Monday cited the need for the country to do more to strengthen their local and foreign military alliances.

Their positions came several hours after Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton told the National Assembly that Guyana needed to beef up its military capacity, though the country could never match Venezuela’s.

Speaking at a University of Guyana-organised Turkeyen and Tain Talks on the topic ““Prepare Rather Than Fear- Venezuela’s Illegal Claim and Its Possible Effects”, Mr Greenidge said his “personal opinion” was that Guyana needed to find an ally or allies to signal to Venezuela that it would not be worthwhile to take military action against Guyana. “The truth is that nobody is going to-countrywise , nobody is going to really commit their soldiers to your defence if you don’t appear to be willing to mobilise proportionately in the way that, for example, Ukraine has, and that is the sense in which I think we still have a long way to go,” he said.

The issue of asymmetry was raised by retired Guyana-born American military officer, Brian Chin from the floor. He later explained to Demerara Waves Online News that he was concerned about the significant disparity in military capabilities between the two countries. He reasoned that the militarily weaker country, Guyana, traditionally would consider “asymmetric warfare” as both a deterrence and response option. At the same time, he noted that asymmetric warfare is heavily dependent on a highly motivated and unified populace, united with conviction behind a “just cause”. He said that “irregular force”, often alongside professional troops made up of national or private contractors could make it painful and high risk for the aggressor.

But I lamented that Guyana lags far behind Venezuela, on the border issue being a strong unifying and motivating issue amongst the rank and file. The Venezuelans see that and would consider that in any calculous to seize a piece of inhabited terrain. I commended the distinguished Panelists on their legal and diplomatic service to defend Guyana over the years. But I asked them to explain why Guyanese citizens lagged so far behind their Venezuelan counterparts on this issue.

Former Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Retired Rear Admiral Gary Best

Dr Best, speaking from the floor at the event held at the Pegasus Hotel, pointed out that the Regional Security System (RSS) Treaty states clearly that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” He also noted that even when Guyana was not signatory in 1990, GDF troops had been deployed to Trinidad and Tobago to help restore order in the aftermath of the coup led by the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen’s Abu Bak’r. “It means that we expect our CARICOM brothers that are part of that Treaty to be able to come to our assistance,” he said.

Guyana has been participating in the annual Caribbean military exercise, “Exercise Tradewinds”, under the auspices of the RSS and financed largely by the United States Army’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). At least three of those exercises had been held in Guyana in recent years.

Opposition Leader Norton called on the government to recapitalise the GDF, even as he admitted that Guyana has always been a weak State that could not take on Venezuela. “But is it is very important that we keep a ready force that instills hope in our people… Let us not operate as if we can do nothing outside of diplomacy. We have to take every measure to deal with this issue,” he said.

Former Guyana Facilitator in the United Nations Secretary General’s Good Officer Process, Ralph Ramkarran

Former Guyana Facilitator in the United Nations Secretary General’s Good Officer Process, Ralph Ram Karran told the UG forum that Guyana needs to spend some of its oil revenues to engage in military readiness. “We also have to prepare our military as far as we can, as far as the possibilities allow now that Guyana will be having more resources available, we all hope that in the near future some of those resources, despite the demands on those resources, that we would be able to strengthen our military to put more forces on the border,” he said.

Mr Norton also noted, in his contribution to the consideration of the motion that was passed unanimously, that the Nicolas Maduro administration was playing a “dangerous game” by holding the December 3 referendum on Guyana’s Essequibo County in an attempt to
regain popularity and appease a volatile people and end the apparent erosion among his political bases. The Opposition Leader indicated that there are lingering questions about what the Venezuelan leader would do if he wins the referendum, before or after winning the 2024 elections. “He might decide to take direct military action using a potential fifth column in our midst. Whatever happens in this neighboring State we must be prepared.

For almost one month now, Venezuelan troops have been deployed on its side of the border with Essequibo and they have even constructed a landing strip. While Venezuela’s official explanation was the deployment was part of efforts to crush illegal gold mining, top government officials have been posting videos on Social Media that appear to link the military activity to Essequibo.

The referendum calls for a popular vote on government’s questions of declaring Guyana’s Essequibo County a state of Venezuelan and for the provision of birth certificates of identification cards to inhabitants there.  Another key referendum question is for Venezuelans to support government’s position that the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction to hear Guyana’s case on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled the land boundary between the two neighbouring South American nations.

The People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administration, Mr Norton’s opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change, and The New Movement unanimously supported the motion rejecting Venezuela’s referendum and reaffirming Guyana’s support for the ICJ process.

The ICJ will on November 14 conduct oral hearings on Guyana’s request for that court to block those contentious questions in Venezuela’s referendum.