With the limited international relations resources at our disposal at home and our missions abroad, we have done relatively well over the last few months to rally support on our side on the border controversy. Foreign policy has not been a strong point of governments since the death of Forbes Burnham in 1985. The Foreign Ministry was largely neglected by succeeding administrations — understaffed, under equipped, and underfunded to efficiently respond to crisis or to take initiatives on the global front. The Venezuela crisis has now made the Ministry extremely important in our relations with the globe as we need to engage in robust PR to counter our western neighbor’s claim.
The President, Vice President, PM, and Attorney General have all given measured responses to Maduro’s provocations. However, our foreign missions and the domestic bureaucracy can do much better; the Washington team seems to be on top of things in keeping the US administration and Congress informed. When I was an activist in the 1970s thru 1990s, Congress was kept abreast of developments in Guyana as well as the border controversy. I am not sure what our missions in London, Brussels, New Delhi, New York, Geneva, Ottawa, and elsewhere are doing. Beijing, Moscow, and Havana are not likely to say anything on Maduro and that is not surprising as they are allies of the Venezuelan socialist, a new found friend as opposed to Guyana that has been a socialist friend since the 1950s and 1960s. Government should give consideration to an independent review of our missions’ response to Maduro and weaknesses addressed.
We seem taken aback by Maduro’s bellicose language after the ICJ conservatory order. Our missions abroad need to be more prepared and assertive or aggressive in our PR response to Venezuela’s aggression and claim. A better trained and equipped bureaucracy would help us to respond promptly and more effectively to Maduro. We should always be prepared with our own PR in response to Maduro’s tough talking.
The inadequate international response, especially at certain capitals and world forums, and lack of preparedness for a stronger push back to Venezuelan threat to our national territory suggests that the time has come to construct a foreign policy or internal relations institute to train a new generation of diplomats to address crisis. The institute will provide them with the requisite skills on how to respond to threats with speed. Once trained, they can be dispersed to important world capitals.
A quick brief review of the history of our diplomacy or international relations would reveal that since the passing of Burnham in 1975, foreign policy has been deemphasized by successors. To his credit, Burnham built a competent, respected cadre of diplomats. He paid for their studies in the west and were offered accepted scholarships from western institutions. They received good training. Almost all of them were trained in the West at recognized reputed universities on government scholarships. They returned home after their education to serve their master. Guyana was the envy in the Caribbean during the late 1960s 1970s, and 1980s for the kind of diplomats produced.
Unlike the PNC that sent its supporters to be trained in western bourgeois capitalistic societies in social sciences, the PPP sent its supporters for training in the Soviet bloc. The PPP did not have the power of the purse to send its supporters for training in the west. And even if it did, more than likely they would still have been sent to the Soviet bloc for tertiary training. Jagan accepted scholarships from Soviet bloc where its cadres were trained. PPP supporters were not oriented towards studying social sciences unless given scholarships. Those who pursued private studies in the west were into natural sciences, medicine, and engineering. Most of those who studied in Soviet bloc came back knowing about Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism. It is hard to say whether they were equipped to conduct foreign policy in a western setting and whether they studied theories of IR constructed by towering figures in the West — requirements of studies of IR in the west. Burnham too sent some of his followers to study in the USSR but such scholarships came in the late 1970s when Burnham was thought to be a friend of the socialist bloc.
PNC stalwart Vincent Alexander was among those who studied in Moscow on a scholarship. And he has been a success story in academia — one who could analyze social issues objectively and among the most articulate scholars to come out of Russian training; there are few equals on the opposing side to analyze social and global issues.
After Burnham passing, the foreign ministry was gutted by Desmond Hoyte. Finance was tight and Hoyte started closing down missions. He shut down the High Commission in Delhi and kept Embassies in Africa, China, USSR, and Europe. India was at the time among the largest donor countries to Guyana. The other countries were not sending meaningful aid to Guyana like India. Jagan, in response to a question from me at a 1992 press conference in New York, committed to re-open the HC in Delhi were he to be elected as President. After his election, he kept his promise and re-opened the Delhi mission although it took some goading from myself and others. Jagan ran a lean administration and very little funding was committed to Foreign Relations. This trend has continued till this day. Missions around the globe lacked funding to host receptions on national days or cultural events and to reciprocate invitations from missions of other states. Cost of receptions, if held, had to be borne by individuals at the missions. The missions were also understaffed and could not respond to issues efficiently and promptly. And many among those appointed as diplomats lacked credentials or sufficient training in IR or foreign policy or diplomacy. Foreign bureaucracy staff at home and abroad also seemed to lacked necessary training in their field. This was or is a far cry from the 1960s thru 1980s under Burnham who made available resources to train and equip the best brains for the foreign service. The Foreign Ministry had some of the most towering personalities at the time until Hoyte ‘de-Burnhamize’ his administration.
Post Burnham administrations lacked financial resources for a robust foreign policy. However, we have had a financial windfall since 2020 from oil revenues. Government should consider directing some funds toward establishment of a Foreign Relations Institute (that offers a diploma or a degree) perhaps attached to UG to provide training for new recruits in foreign service. Retirees and IR scholars can be requested to assist with training.
Foreign relations have become as critically important as economic relations since the claim of Venezuela to our territory and our natural resources. Unless we have human resources that are able to orally defend our territory through an aggressive diplomatic front all over the globe and win allies, we will not be able to retain access to our natural resources and by extension funds.