Pity the British

Maria Paez Victor, Orinoco Tribune, January 4, 2024 —

Bread and circus! That was the Roman formula for governance. The latest UK government ploy, however, omits the bread and jumps straight to circus.  The UK has sent a warship that will inflame a delicate 100-plus year border dispute between two Caribbean nations, Venezuela and Guyana.

The government of the UK should be at pains to right a wrong the UK committed one hundred and twenty-four years ago. Instead, the UK is threatening Venezuela with a warship – a situation that could very quickly escalate into a regional conflict.

In 1899, as the mainstream press of the time reported, Imperial Britain robbed Venezuela of the Esequibo territory that had been part of its territory since Colonial times, even before 1811 when Venezuela won independence from Spain. Maps from the time make this very clear indeed. The theft was lawfare, carried out by a bogus 1899 Arbitral Tribunal. At that time, taking advantage of an impoverished Venezuela that was in the middle of a civil war, an arbitral tribunal was concocted with no representation from Venezuela. Representatives from Britain, USA and Imperial Russia decided in favour of British Guiana (today Guyana) declaring the Esequibo to be British territory.  All subsequent Venezuelan governments objected and have contested the decision to this day. In fact, in 1966 the UN Geneva Agreement declared the 1899 tribunal decisions null and void due to its blatant irregularities.

In the 1966 Geneva Agreement, Venezuela and Guyana agreed that any dispute between Venezuela and Guyana should be peacefully and amicably resolved within the framework of this Agreement.

On 14 December 2023, the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana meeting at St. Vincent and the Grenadines, signed the Argyle Accord which precludes foreign intervention of any kind from the Esequibo and an agreement by both states to cooperate and avoid incidents that would lead to an increase in tensions between both countries.

Therefore, by welcoming a British warship to patrol the Esequibo waters Guyana has directly violated the Geneva Agreement as well as the Argyle Accord.

It is not the first time the British navy has threatened Venezuela. In 1902, beginning of 1903, British, German, and Italian gunboats arrived at the Venezuelan coast – where today its international airport is situated- and bombarded the civilians in the undefended towns. These armed carpetbaggers demanded that Venezuela pay for losses they supposedly had due to the civil war, and further wanted immediate payment of loans they had foisted on previous governments under usurious terms. Without any proper armed forces, Venezuelan citizens, en masse, congregated on the Venezuelan coast and repelled the invaders.

Today we see an echo of the past and the ghost of Margaret Thatcher! In 1982, she thought – rightly – that a “little war” against Argentina would rally her nation and reverse the declining popularity of her government. In Britain, the Union Jack was everywhere to be seen, ostensibly in support of ‘British rights’. In that “little war”649 Argentinian military personnel were killed, 1,657 were wounded, and tragically, 323 Argentinian raw naval recruits died when the aging ship, the General Belgrano, was torpedoed in international waters as it fled the far more powerful British navy. This politically motivated aggression against a much weaker nation, will forever be seared into Latin American consciousness as an example of British infamy, a last gasp of a fading empire.  So, the symbolism of a British warship off the coast of Venezuela is not lost upon Venezuelans.

Today, another Tory wanna-be-Thatcher prime minister, Rishi Sunak, seeking to “make Britain great again” but lacking Thatcher’s political know-how, is posturing before Latin America and the world, as a defender of its former colony. He shows no shame or even awareness, of its past colonial sins. Instead, the UK government is defending the newly discovered oil riches of its former colony, and which it, and the corporate oil interests it serves, crave.

The British government has quite a budget for its war machine, having just paid 4.2 billion pounds for 5 new naval frigates, but apparently, it does not have the budget needed to properly address the social needs of its people. It is so much easier to parade under patriotic banners, threatening smaller nations to show off just how powerful Britain thinks it still is, than to face its crumbling social infrastructure. In the UK, in 2022 there were 3.8 million living in extreme poverty, that is, in destitution, which is a 61% increase since 2019. Destitution has more than doubled in the last five years. Funds for social security and health care are not enough and many charities and social organizations plead for support. [3]

But there are billions for frigates to intimidate smaller countries rather than meet the needs of its own people.  The British government would do well to concentrate on the sorry state of its own population rather than try to fan the flames of war between two nations in the Western Hemisphere or waste its support on the disreputable Exxon Mobil. Thankfully, Britain is no longer an imperial power of any real significance. Instead, it has become an adjunct of US foreign policies and defender of the interests of multinational corporations. Shame!

Since 1966 there had been ongoing amicable negotiations between Venezuela and Guyana but this ended when Exxon Mobil was allowed by Guyana to look for oil. Guyana has thrown itself into the arms of Exxon Mobil, having made a satanic pact with that climate crisis denying, ocean contaminating, oil company of poor repute. Exxon Mobil has obtained the upper hand of the government of Guyana. About $26 million has been handed to Guyana in exchange for refusing to negotiate further with Venezuela and denouncing the Geneva Agreement of 1966. Exxon Mobil is perhaps the most criminal oil company in the world. For decades its engineers knew well what fossil fuels were doing to the climate, but not only did they supress this information, they paid writers, scientists, and media to deny climate change was happening. It has violated human rights of countless rural and indigenous people; and in Indonesia its collaboration with a brutal government led to it being accused of genocide.[4]

It seems wherever Exxon Mobil operates it commits ecocide, crimes against nature.  One of its worst crimes was the environmental disaster caused by its oil tanker the Exxon Valdez. In 1989 it spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska, causing the death of between 100,000 and 250,000 marine birds, hundreds of otters, seals, eagles, orcas and innumerable fish. The company spent years fighting in courts, denying its culpability, and trying to squirm out of paying for damages caused. In the end, after 20 years of litigations, it paid the state of Alaska the pittance of $507 million, that is one tenth of the cost of the damages caused by its oil spill. If it can do this to Alaska in its own home country, imagine what little environmental protection the people, and pristine flora and fauna of the Esequibo would get from this irresponsible corporation.

Guyana has the lowest human development index of South America, with an extreme poverty of 35%. And this poor country will receive only 25% of Exxon Mobil profits. Most of the indigenous people of the Esequibo, who have been sadly neglected by Guyana, consider themselves Venezuelan or of dual nationality. Their lives are a far cry from all the rights and services that the Venezuelan indigenous people enjoy.

If the Tory government truly wanted to play a positive role in the international dispute that has arisen, it would do well to send their frigate back to port and declare that the UK supports a peaceful solution to the dispute as per the 1966 Geneva Agreement and the 2023 Argyle Accord.

Here are some specifics:

Firstly, the UK should respect the Argyle Accord that was signed at St. Vincent and the Grenadines on 14 December 2023 by the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana, The Argyle Declaration states that both parties agreed that “directly or indirectly, they will not threaten or use force against each other under any circumstances, including those arising from any controversy existing between both States.” In addition, it was agreed for both states to cooperate and avoid incidents on the ground that would lead to an increase in tensions between both countries.

Secondly, the UK should openly and sincerely admit its culpability in the sham 1899 Arbitral Tribunal that saw Venezuela stripped of its territory. This was accomplished with a deliberate misinformation campaign that involved the bogus cartography of one R. Schomburgk, who arbitrarily drew up false maps. That is how Britain took over Venezuelan lands west of the River Esequibo that had always been its eastern border. Nothing would restore the reputation of the UK in the region more than this mea culpa by Britain and its bona fide support for a peaceful resolution crafted by the two countries themselves without foreign interference.

Thirdly, the Bank of England should immediately return to the government of Venezuela the $2 billion in gold that Venezuela deposited in its vaults years ago, but which the Bank refuses to return, under the ridiculous lie that Nicolás Maduro is not the true, and democratically elected president of Venezuela – although recognized as such by the countries of the United Nations, and now, even by the USA.

There can be absolution for Britain, but it must atone for its mistakes, by sending  home its warship, supporting the 1966 Geneva Agreement framework, supporting the Argyle Accord between Venezuela and Guyana, and returning Venezuela’s gold. Or it can just maintain a discrete silence as others try to clean up the mess their imperial past has left.


[1] First, a personal disclosure:  I have a post-graduate degree from a distinguished British university, my husband is British, and I have lived in and visited Britain many times these last 50 years having relatives and good friends there. Therefore, when I plead pity for the British people, it is not sarcasm, it is truly meant, because I do not think they deserve the lying, corrupt and pathetically colonialist-minded government the supine Tories are providing them.

[2] Cartoons from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuelan_crisis_of_1895

[3] Big Issue, Isabelle Mcrae, Hannah Westwater, Ella Grover, 24 Oct. 2023, https://www.bigissue.com/news/social-justice/uk-poverty-the-facts-figures-effects-solutions-cost-living-crisis/https://www.unison.org.uk/news/article/2022/06/wealth-inequality-in-the-uk-is-entrenched-under-the-tories/

[4] Ein Beitrag von Joe McCarthy, Global Citizen, 23 August 2017;  https://www.globalcitizen.org/de/content/exxon-mobil-lied-about-climate-change/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4OWz-trYggMV9DmtBh2KYgmAEAAYASAAEgJfrvD_BwE

Business & Human rights resource Centre, “Trial in US Lawsuit against ExxonMobil over alleged complicity in torture & beatings by military in Indonesia could start after 20 years”, https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/trial-in-us-lawsuit-against-exxonmobil-over-alleged-complicity-in-torture-beatings-by-military-in-indonesia-could-start-after-20-years/


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