Countering Maduro’s gamble

The recent visit by U.S. Marine Corps Major General Julie Nethercot of SouthCom was very significant, especially when it was capped by two U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets flying over Georgetown and its environs. It was a display of American might, unprecedented since Atkinson Air Base was established during WWII. The US Embassy explained: “Maj Gen Nethercot’s visit to Guyana underscores the continued importance and unwavering commitment the United States places on the U.S.-Guyana bilateral defense and security partnership.”
Maduro’s raising the ante on their old border controversy started with Exxon’s discovery of oil off our shores in 2015, and escalated as a diversionary tactic in the face of elections to be held this year. He hoped to generate a foreign policy crisis to both divert his beleaguered populace’s attention away from the crisis and bolster his political fortunes through a “rally around the flag effect”. Additionally, since Venezuelans have been conditioned to believe Essequibo was stolen, Maduro had a ready-made issue to exploit.
But he knows that, in addition to threatening the powerful US corporation Exxon and US interest in a hemisphere of democratic states by his escalation of hostilities to “annex” Essequibo and order Exxon out, he was opening up the Pandora’s Box of settled borders with powerful neighbours like Brazil and Colombia. So why take this risk? He is “gambling for resurrection”, in seeing defeat staring him in the face, yet taking high-risk actions that would be considered “irrational” in normal circumstances. He considers the low probability of victory “objectively” outweighing the high costs of defeat.
Maduro has concluded that the democratic elections insisted on by the US would be fatal, and so would continue his bluff. The old Yankee bogeyman might even boost the “rally around the flag” effect, since enough Venezuelans have not been duped. And by now it appears that his military and other allies have become complicit in his folly.
As we have been arguing over the past months, as Maduro continued turning the screws, now by massing troops on our border and building a bridge to Ankoko, we must make a realistic decision to protect our interests, our sovereignty over our Essequibo. Of the two options available in the foreign policy realm at our conjuncture – balancing or band-wagoning” – some have accepted China’s line that it is selflessly interested in balancing the world hegemon – the USA and we should join that effort. We, however, have taken the stance that Maduro presents a clear and present danger to our country’s survival, and we cannot engage in Hamlet-like soliloquies. We must take the cold, realistic position to bandwagon with the US, because their interests coincide with ours.
Early in the day, we suggested establishing a military base in Essequibo; to which we should allow the US access, whether as a formal ally or not. After a visit to the US, VP Jagdeo cryptically announced, “We have never been interested in military bases, but we have to protect our national interest…” We support this realpolitik decision to repel Maduro’s adventurism.
As all states do, we must continue to employ all foreign policy instruments; for instance: alliances, arms sales, dispute resolution – e.g. the World Court, foreign aid, cultural soft power, and diplomacy. But our good faith effort at Argyle has been taken as a sign of weakness, since Maduro has co-opted some of our allies with PetroCaribe. We therefore must prepare ourselves to wage a credible defensive war to secure our interests, and as such, rethink our doctrine and force structure because of the disparity in military sizes. Very positively, the US 1st Security Forces Assistance Brigade (SFAB) – a US Army innovation to deal with the reality of hybrid wars in the grey zone, which used to be handled by their Special Operations Forces – has been working with our GDF.
We should formulate a strategy of denial and cost imposition – with the limited aim of changing Venezuela’s decision-making calculus and thus their strategic behaviour. Our Essequibo terrain favours this denial strategy, since unlike Venezuela, our goal is not to occupy their territory. We must follow Clausewitz’s reaffirmation of the venerable Roman dictum, that “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Meaning, of course, any potential aggressor would be deterred by a strong response, and peace would most likely ensue.
We again reiterate the need to establish a base in our Essequibo Region, to which our US ally can have access.

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