Sulfurous Fumes Detected over Guyana: Latin America’s Ominous New Geopolitical Scene Involving Georgetown, Washington and Caracas

To Our Readers

This is the first in a short series that COHA will be publishing on the subject of U.S. relations with Guyana as well as U.S. presence in Latin America

With much of Latin America demonstrating a decisively distinct air of autonomous behavior when it comes to responding to U.S. regional policy initiatives, Guyana appears to want to emphasize that it should not be counted in their number. A high-level security conference between the U.S. and Guyana was kicked off on Tuesday December 11, just after the recent revival of a long simmering territorial dispute between Guyana and the Bush Administration’s arch nemesis, Venezuela. The conference was organized by the Guyana Defense Force and the U.S. Embassy’s Military Liaison Office, and is being held against a backdrop of heightened tension between Venezuela and Guyana over the November 15 incident in which the Guyanese government claims that Venezuelan soldiers used explosives and helicopters to destroy two dredges along the Cuyuni River. The Venezuelan government maintains that it was doing nothing more than expelling illegal miners from Venezuelan territory.

This incident comes at a time when Venezuela may be signaling that it isn’t prepared to let the Essequibo territorial dispute be settled unilaterally as a result of Guyana emitting a claim of sovereignty based on granting licenses to foreign companies wanting to do business there. The sequence of events in the past few months, ending up with the destruction of the extractive equipment on the Cuyuni, is not likely a coincidence. The U.S., Venezuela, and Guyana have been engaging in almost unfathomable triangular interchanges for quite some time now, and they may be about to expand, with a little bit of good or bad luck.

In a related matter, on December 12, the U.S. was the center of the latest development in the scandal that had arisen weeks before when Guido Antonini Wilson was detained in Buenos Aires with $800,000 of undeclared cash stuffed into his luggage. The intended destination of the money was widely speculated upon and seemed to involve the corruption of several officials in the soon-to-be functioning administration of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s husband’s out going government. However, U.S. prosecutors now claim that four suspects detained in Miami on December 12 have provided information that supports the argument that the money was intended as an illegal campaign donation from President Hugo Chávez to Mrs. Kirchner, which, if true, could be enormously embarrassing to the new leader as well, of course, to Chávez, and could provide the U.S. with leverage over her while at the same time tarnish Chávez for purportedly trying to buy influence by means of his petro dollars.

The U.S.-Guyanese conference also comes at a time when, like elsewhere in the hemisphere, street crime in Guyana is markedly rising, specifically the type of which is associated with the peddling of illegal narcotics. In his opening remarks at the security conference, U.S. ambassador to Guyana, David Robinson, reportedly praised the strong U.S.-Guyanese military relationship over the years. He also counted Guyana among those hemispheric countries fortunate enough to be receiving augmented U.S. military training. He also cited Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala as being on the list.

It seems that the U.S. is in fact taking on a more assertive stance against the rising pink tide countries in a traditionally forgotten corner of South America. It will also be of interest to know what card Brazil will play in reaction to these developments, given that it will be the regional power most affected by Washington’s trifling with Guyana and the possibility that this could lead to a regional U.S. base in Guyana in which U.S. forces will be quartered. Such a facility might be aimed at replacing those forces now in Manta, Ecuador, once the lease expires for the base in 2009.