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Venezuela is preparing for its referendum on December 3. That referendum is to allow the people of that country to tell the government what to do with Essequibo. Of course, Guyana rushed to the World Court, the International Court of Justice, to pre-empt the referendum. It got the court to rule that while the referendum is an internal issue, Venezuela should not include three clauses, all of which are intended to prepare for an invasion of Essequibo.
Poor Guyana, with no up to date war machinery and with a handful of men for its army, would not stand a chance against an army that is almost 50 times larger. The Venezuelan army was founded in 1810. The Guyana Defence Force was founded in 1966. The armed forces in Venezuela have the primary purpose of defending Venezuelan territory from attack, combat drug trafficking, provide search and rescue capabilities, aid the civilian population in case of natural disasters, protection, as well as numerous internal security assignments.
The role of the GDF is to protect the borders and on request, to help the police. As of 2018, the armed forces of Venezuela had 123,000 active personnel and 8,000 reservists. Wikipedia reports that as of 2020 there were 109,000 regular soldiers, 220,000 paramilitary ranks and 8,000 reservists. The reservists far outnumber the size of the local army, the GDF. That being said, Venezuela knows that it could walk in and do pretty much as it pleases with Guyana. Then there are the fighter jets and the other paraphernalia, including a navy, that armies have. Guyana, knowing its limitations, has been depending in its diplomatic efforts.
Then local conditions changed. Venezuelans began to arrive in droves. The most recent estimate suggests that there are more Venezuelan refugees in Region One than there are residents. Needless to say, Region One is in the area claimed by Venezuela. It is a rule that occupation is the first law. So immediately, one can see Guyana’s dilemma. But these refugees also live in other parts of the Essequibo.
Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo recently got the bright idea to allow these people to vote on the grounds that they are descendants of Guyanese. He never saw beyond the chance of keeping himself and his party in government. He never saw the implications. A few years down the road what is there to stop the Venezuelans from forming their own political party? But that is beside the point at this stage. What is at stake is the effort Guyana is putting in place to make the Venezuelans feel accommodated.
In the first instance, on the instructions of the Vice President, some say that it was at the initiative of the acting Police Commissioner, the Guyana Police Force began to label their vehicles and police stations in Demerara, in Spanish. This was a disaster because in any country the police vehicles are distinctly identified. The language becomes irrelevant. Public discontent led to a reversal of this signage on the vehicles and the removal of the signs from outside the police stations. At least these signs should have been removed by now.
But Guyana’s efforts to welcome more Venezuelans did not stop there. The government decided that Spanish should be the second language. It mattered not that Guyana also has as its neighbours, a Portuguese-speaking and a Dutch-speaking nations. In fact, the Portuguese-speaking neighbor, Brazil, could be and is prepared to be, Guyana’s first line of defence in the event of Venezuela’s aggression. Just the other day, there was news that Brazil had placed its troops on high alert in the face of reports that Venezuela was preparing to invade Guyana.
But the government would argue that the bulk of South America is Spanish-speaking so Guyana needs to speak Spanish. Brazil, the largest country in South America is making no such effort. A second language is often necessary in any country. Canada is bi-lingual. It speaks French and English. It is also making French compulsory. But most of Guyana do not speak English. To prove me wrong, just look at the examination results. Listen to the radio and television announcers who not only mispronounce but who also experience errors of attraction, confuse tenses and the like.
At the primary school level many children cannot even read. At the higher level the pass rate is nothing to smile about. But we want to enforce the teaching of Spanish. If the children cannot understand English, and this is no joke, how will they understand Spanish? They may be able to speak Spanish in the vernacular as is the case when Guyanese go to a foreign land where the language is not English. Ask them to write in that language and you have a serious issue.
But the wise owls who make policy know best. In my book, the best bet is to spend that money that would be used to teach Spanish to really teach English. With recent developments, there may be a slowing down of the rush to accommodate the Venezuelans. They came and Guyana did not even process them. The authorities do not know how many soldiers came. They do not know who are the criminals. And by now the nation is aware that many criminals are here.
The police would see some crimes they did not know exist. A man nearly had his head sawn off. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Then there was the discovery of cocaine in large quantities. If anything, teach the police Spanish. That would be a worthwhile exercise. But then again that is another ball game because the academic levels of the police ranks are nothing to shout about.
Listen to the Christmas presentation at Eve Leary.