ALL AH WE IS ONE: Madura’s gamble
THE RECENT heightening of (un)diplomatic noises by Venezuela in its ongoing territorial dispute with Guyana has presented perhaps the second greatest external threat to the socialist project initiated by the late Hugo Chavez. The uppermost external threat remains the hostility from the United States. Maduro’s territorial demands have presented the second: the potential withdrawal of support from the Caribbean.
To Chavez’s eternal credit, he was always careful to craft Venezuela’s socialist project within a Latin American and Caribbean framework. Coincident with Chavez’s leadership, a number of hemispheric countries adopted more overtly nationalistic and anti-neoliberal stances, and forged open alliances with Venezuela in a deliberate attempt at countering the limited options offered by NAFTA and OAS membership. These approaches found full expression in their involvement in the ALBA initiative and from Venezuela’s perspective, translated to significant levels of hemispheric prestige through the emergence of CELAC as a counter to the long-standing US influence in the OAS.
By ratcheting up its 19th century claims over a significantly large section of Guyanese territory, the new post-Chavez leadership of Nicolás Maduro has heightened the precariousness of the Venezuelan socialist experiment by adding the possible withdrawal of Caribbean support to US external destabilisation as a further threat to the sustainability of the Bolivarian project. At the very least, it threatens to deny Maduro the deep and instinctive levels of Caribbean support accrued to Chavez.
Given Chavez’s careful and thoughtful decision to ring-fence Venezuelan socialism with Caribbean support, it stands to reason that Maduro’s firm stance on Guyanese territory suggests either that he is counting less on Caribbean support for sustaining the Venezuelan socialism or the expansion of Venezuelan territory has surpassed the need to advance socialism in his estimation.
One of the signal lessons of the Cuban revolution has been its studious avoidance of overt acts of aggression against any of its regional neighbours. Similarly, despite long-standing territorial claims in several Caribbean countries, Chavez placed greater emphasis on building bridges rather than alienating potential allies.
Indeed if one were to go back far enough, there may be few countries which do not have territorial claims over others, as Russia recently demonstrated in the Crimea. Much of the stable world of international relations in which we live therefore, is really dependent upon powerful countries not pressing old territorial claims. It may be true that PDVSA might have lost out on lucrative drilling rights to Exxon Mobil, but Maduro’s legitimate anti-imperialist quarrel with American capitalism, has been levelled too narrowly as an anti-Granger sentiment and too much as an extremist grab for Venezuelan territory to serve his purposes.
Any future collapse of Venezuelan socialism and any loss of Venezuelan prestige in the Caribbean and the hemisphere, will be blamed, not so much on imperialism, but will be seen, like the Grenada revolution’s demise, as a self-inflicted wound.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]