In geopolitics it is the long game that matters
It istherefore not surprising that Guyana’s President, David Grainger, andVenezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro met separately in Riyadh with Saudi Arabia’s KingSalman Bin Abdulaziz in Al Saud when they attended recently the fourth summit ofArab and South American Countries.
In part,the interest of both men was in Saudi Arabia’s decision to continue pumping oilin quantities that will maintain its global market share but with the effectthat world energy prices will remain low. It is a decision that touches thestrategic interests of many states from Iran to Russia as well as non-stateactors like ISIS.
ForPresident Maduro a return to much higher oil prices would not only improve hiscountry’s economic fortunes, but also facilitate the expansion of PetroCariberelated programmes across the region. Any significant increase in the price ofoil would also offer the opportunity to promote his alternative social thinking,change hemispheric relationships, and broaden resistance against what Caracas regardsas ideological and economic pressure from the US and multinationals.
For thisreason the global oil price and what follows from it is set to become a centralstrategic component in the Caribbean’s future relationships; whether in respectof PetroCaribe, its allied development aspects, the export of natural gas fromthe US, the encouragement of alternative energy, and new finds of offshore oiland gas.
For thisreason the border dispute with Venezuela can in some respects be seen as aproxy for more significant changes taking place globally that are altering thebalance of power and have long-term implications that are not always wellunderstood.
This mayalso not augur well for healing divisions in an increasingly divided Caribbean.
In a recent statement President Grainger whenasked if he believed if Venezuela was attempting to undermine his country’sties to Caricom, suggested that Caracas had been trying to do so for the last40 years.
“We will continue to take a principled stand,principled position on the territorial matter”, he said. “We will also continueto work with our Caribbean colleagues; we expect them to be true to their word.They gave us their support at the last Heads of Government meeting in July andI expect that that support will not fail,” he was quoted as saying.
However, despite President Granger’s confidence, it ishard to remember a time other than when the US invaded/intervened in Grenada in1983, when the Caribbean found itself potentially conflicted over a matter asimportant as the sovereignty of a regional nation.
While Caribbean diplomats point out that Caribbeanviews would change rapidly should any incursion take place and that Caribbeansolidarity would prevail, it is far from clear where in practice the line will be drawn given the rapidly deepeningeconomic importance of Venezuela’s economic role in the region and inparticular with the Eastern Caribbean and with Trinidad and Suriname.
Emphasising this recently, the Guyana Chronicle noted thatCARICOM’s less than emphatic support for Guyana ‘brought into focus theviability and survival of that regional body’ and the ‘difficulties ofbalancing regional integration with the sub-nationalism’.
It also astutelyobserved that the region had developed separate political identities that nowserved to obstruct robust regional integration. While on some issues, Caricom,it said, had been able to reach a consensus, the process was being influencedby the ability of nations to withstand pressures from powerful countries with whichthey have bilateral economic and political relations. ‘That pressure istwo-way-direct: pressure from the powerful country, and self-induced pressureaimed at protecting economic benefits,’ it wrote in an editorial.
What thepublication was reflecting was the impact of the appearance over the lastdecade of the new range of external actors now present in the region – China,Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, the Gulf States and others, in addition to the USand the Europeans – at a time when much of the region has not lost its habit ofdependency.
Although the fault lines within the region are not in themselvesideological, they speak to a world in which relationships have become so changed,as to bring into question the region’s future ability to take unified decisionson both strategic and building block issues .
The border disputes with Venezuela (and Suriname’s nowreactivated claim) are among a number of hard to resolve divisions emerging inthe region.
Theyinclude the absence of any willingness to address the decision to all but breakoff diplomatic relations with a Cariforum member nation, the Dominican Republic,despite many of the facts and the reality on the ground not fitting theunchallenged rhetoric within Caricom; the virtually ignored decision by Haiti toban the export of 23 staple products by road from the Dominican Republic; and therecent motion passed by the country’s powerful business leaders ,CONEP, callingon government to create an Economic Forum of Hispanic Caribbean, withVenezuela, the Central American nations, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico asmembers; the purpose or which would be to counterbalance Caricom.
Beyond this, the list is extensive and space does notpermit detail, but there are unresolved tensions over the absence of a singlerelationship with China; how the questions of reparations should be approached; a manifest failure in Caricom to defendwhat is economically and culturally important, namely the region’s rum industry; different approaches over the use ofganja; recognition of the CCJ; the failure to agree a single Caribbeancandidate for Commonwealth Secretary General; and a whole host of less centralissues and contradictions touching on foreign relations.
In other parts of the world one might see these as problemsthat can be resolved, but in today’s fragmented me-first Caricom, caughtbetween US materialism and Fabian socialism, it is no longer easy to see anyregional basis for resolution, let alone implementation of solutions.
Any reasonable person might therefore conclude that the range anddepth of the divisions that now exist, imply that that there is little hope ofCaribbean ever again being able to address issues as a whole, other thanperhaps on matters that are life threatening, in the sense of any region-wide threat to security, health, and climate change.
While the world too is now largely issues-driven andtakes an a la carte approach to resolving problems, the sense is that even whenit comes to geo-strategic issues, the Caribbean’s fading unity of purpose isallowing those outside to once again become the drivers of the region’s future.
DavidJessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
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November 13th, 2015