The eruption of La Soufriere: Guyana’s missed opportunity  

Ronald Austin Jr

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On Saturday, April 10th, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines issued an evacuation warning for the citizens in the red zone within that country. The sounding of this alarm was covered by the international media. It made the people of the Caribbean and the world aware of the fact that the La Souffeiere volcano, dormant since 1970, will erupt and spark a humanitarian crisis smack down in the middle of a global pandemic.

This confluence of disasters undoubtedly presents a circumstance of great human tragedy. While this is regrettable, these adversities always provide the possibility for the human spirit to demonstrate its resilience. In this, opportunities abound. Abound it did. Guyana was provided with the opportunity to demonstrate significant solidarity with our Caricom brothers and sisters. Even though we did provide support, I am of the view that we should have offered to take in at least 1600 Vincentians. In my estimation, failure to do represented a missed opportunity.

REGIONAL SOLIDARITY AND THE BORDER CLAIM 

The Co-operative Republic of Guyana has to be eternally mindful and vigilant over affairs that fall within the orbit of the unjust border claim against her. For me, the eruption of a La Soufriere and its concomitant humanitarian fallout qualifies for the aforementioned consideration. We should have made the offer coupled with the provision of resources being requested. The reason being, we are the victims of a border claim by a powerful neighbor to the west. Incidentally, they are clever operators who pounce at any chance to express Caribbean solidarity so they can have support in the bank whenever they decide to move against us. Whenever these matters arise, I am of the firm conviction that Guyana must take center stage and leave an indelible mark on the circumstance.

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PUBLIC DIPLOMACY  

To illustrate my contestation, I here reference the public diplomacy employed by Cuba and Venezuela to promote their image abroad. Cuba has been under the US embargo for decades. To ensure that she is always presented as a nation of good deeds, Cuba has adopted an official state policy, ‘Buena Vista’, whenever humanitarian needs arise. Similarly, Venezuela has used the same strategy to counter American pressure. They have formed an Axis of Aid in the Caribbean. It is all about playing the role of the victim who is deserving of support at the multilateral level. Make no mistakes, it works. Therefore, there is enough evidence to merit the argument that as a new oil-producing nation with the chatter of being the next Dubai of the Caribbean, Guyana must use its new status to promote public diplomacy. In this, the border claim is considered and there should be a deliberate strategy to aggressively follow the methods of Cuba and Venezuela with the newfound oil wealth.

LOGISTICS AND PROXIMITY 

I am supremely aware of the argument which suggests: Guyana is not within the proximity of Saint Vincent. Also, I am mindful of those who opined about the logistical challenges that an offer to take in Vincentians may pose. To the aforementioned submissions, I say: symbolism and public diplomacy must take precedence over this in the affairs of states. Added to this, logistics must not be a deterrent when seeking to make a humanitarian intervention for strategic interests. When nations are faced with this choice, they have tended to assign little consideration to logistical challenges. For example, on August 30th, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the US, Fidel Castro offered to send a thousand Cuban physicians. As expected, the US said an emphatic ‘No’. Castro knew that due to national security and geopolitical reasons, this was logistically not probable but he did so with a deep understanding of the symbolism involved.  It is time for Guyana to employ some public diplomacy tactics with the aim of playing up the role of the victim against a border claim. This could have been started in the oil-producing era with the humanitarian fallout from the eruption of La Souffeiere. The opportunity was missed to make a grand offer to accept displaced citizens from the small island nation.



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