Oil, race and sovereignty in the Greater Caribbean

[Many thanks to David Lewis for bringing this item to our attention.] Here are excerpts from Anthony Maingot’s report, published in Geopolitical Intelligence Services.  

The Greater Caribbean is a semi-enclosed sea of 600,000 square miles bordered by 17 independent islands and two continental states. The geopolitics of the latter, Colombia and Venezuela, are responses to different geographic and topographic realities. 

Colombia, with its inland capital of Bogota and its main commercial port on the Pacific Ocean, is a continental country. Venezuela, with its three major cities on the Caribbean, is a coastal and thus Caribbean state, but with a decidedly Latin American political culture. There is also a distinct non-Hispanic Caribbean region, where the post-World War II decolonization process saw an explosion of nationalist sentiment.

Accompanying this new awareness has been more concern with race and national identities, dependence on external energy (i.e., oil), the collapse of the Venezuelan oil-based economy, and new oil finds near Guyana and Suriname. Guyana’s claim of a 12-mile maritime territorial boundary as well as a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was a geopolitical turning point.

The contemporary scene

No state has had to deal more urgently with this new reality than Venezuela. When the outcropping known historically as the Aves Rocks was ceded by the United Kingdom to Venezuela and renamed the Aves Islands, Venezuela’s EEZ encompassed 60 percent of the Caribbean Inner Sea. The post-World War II decolonization meant that Venezuela has had to negotiate maritime boundaries with several nearby states and colonial territories.

Venezuela successfully negotiated agreements with all these sovereignties in the decades following World War II. But it has been the oldest territorial dispute, that with Guyana, which not only remains unsettled but has become a major potential flash point.

Venezuela claims sovereignty over a region called Essequibo, which comprises nearly 135,000 square kilometers – or about two-thirds of Guyana’s 215,000 square kilometers and 60 percent of its coastline and coastal space. When the issue was supposedly “resolved” in 1899, Venezuelan President Joaquin Crespo considered the settlement a “national humiliation.” That view endures today and will persist regardless of who governs Venezuela.

Guyana awaits the upcoming decision on its 2018 appeal to the International Court of Justice. Meanwhile, it has secured the backing of its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners, even though they have nearly all been beneficiaries of Venezuela’s generous oil concessions. This oil-based debt explains their refusal to support American initiatives against the governments of late President Hugo Chavez and current President Nicolas Maduro.

Additionally, Guyana has proceeded to enter into offshore exploration contracts with ExxonMobil and China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation. The estimated 8 billion barrels of oil in Guyana’s EEZ should back up its sovereignty claims and enrich what is the second-poorest country in the hemisphere. Finally, Guyana has sought closer relations with the United States while keeping a safe distance from President Donald Trump’s Cold War-like policies toward Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

None of these circumstances negate the fact that Guyana has bet its economic future on disputed territory. Leaving aside the well-known dangers of the “Dutch disease” (where the development of one sector leads to the decline of others), Guyana is not a stable society. Its politics are divided between the 40 percent Indo-Guyanese who mostly support the People’s Progressive Party/Civic grouping and the 30 percent Afro-Guyanese who back the Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change. Elections in 2020 were only settled after five months of wrangling and international pressure.

Furthermore, high costs remain from past attempts to make a “socialist” society from an agricultural one. By the end of 1977, Forbes Burnham and his Afro-Guyanese party governed a country in which the state controlled 80 percent of the economy – more than Cuba at the time. Arguably the most harmful long-term consequence was the migration of an estimated half of its population, a phenomenon that continues today at a rate of about 30,000 emigrants per year. Employment was mostly in the highly political public sector, while technical and entrepreneurial infrastructure decayed. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.gisreportsonline.com/oil-race-and-sovereignty-in-the-greater-caribbean,energy,3366,report.html

Also see https://www.gisreportsonline.com/

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