boleta referendo venezuela esequibo

Photo: Video screenshot.

Cuba’s Curious Silence on the Essequibo Conflict

19 / diciembre / 2023

On December 3, 2023, the government of Nicolas Maduro held a non-binding referendum on one of the oldest territorial conflicts in Latin America. The referendum asked whether Venezuelans agree to annex the Essequibo region, controlled for many decades by Guyana and rich in natural resources.

Beyond the details of the conflict and the referendum, what could be most interesting for Cubans is the position of the Diaz-Canel Government in relation to the matter.

The Cuban Government has remained silent, a silence that demonstrates the incoherence of the Communist Party bureaucracy. Especially since the latest reports regarding the dispute between Guyana and Venezuela indicate the real risk in the future —not too distant— of a war between those nations. The war would take place in Latin America, the region that was declared a zone of peace by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) – with the impetus of Chavismo and Castroism.

Some history on Cuba’s stance over the Essequibo issue

The conflict over the Essequibo region has a long history, in which the participation of the Cuban regime has been special, mainly during the Cold War – a period in which Fidel Castro made Cuba the main bastion of the interests of the Soviets and Communism in Latin America.

According to the words of Hugo Chavez at the XX Summit of the Rio Group in March 2008, in the 1980s and 90s the United States intended to use the armed forces of Venezuela to overthrow the Government of the Guyanese socialist Forbes Burnham. Towards that purpose they used what Chavez called —in a display of what many consider a renunciation of the Essequibo— an “old conflict” that they wanted to dust off to justify Venezuela’s aggression and the overthrow of Burnham.

The fact is that in 1981, during the previous escalation of the conflict over the Essequibo, Fidel Castro decided to side with his socialist partner and president of Guyana Forbes Burnham. In March of that year, the Governments of Cuba and Guyana signed a joint pact in which Cuba’s support for Guyana in its territorial dispute with Venezuela was clearly expressed. In October of that year, Fidel Castro publicly reaffirmed his support for Guyana and accused Venezuela of being “expansionist.”

According to press reports at the time, there were intelligence indications that suggested that the Castro regime was willing to move troops from Angola to Guyana to support the Government of that country in the event of military aggression.

Some time later, during the nineties, Cuba continued its position of support for Guyana. In 1992, then Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcón, during an official visit to Guyana, accused Venezuela of claiming territory that did not belong to it and expressed solidarity with Guyana and support for its right to develop its territory.

The past context and the current silence of the Castro regime in the face of a new escalation of the conflict over the Essequibo demonstrate that authoritarian regimes – of whatever sign they are – do not respond to the immovable principles that they advocate, but to the specific survival needs of the political class that they control.

Now it is not Fidel who pulls the strings of Castroism nor is it Chavez who rules over Chavismo. The alliance between both authoritarianisms is maintained, but the specific interests of those who decide change daily.

The authoritarian alliance—which has allowed Cuban personnel to directly participate in acts of torture and political repression in Venezuela —can today mean much more than any past support for Guyana.

Until today —even when the Guyana army is on maximum alert— the Cuban Foreign Ministry has been silent. This contrasts with previous occasions in which it issued statements in defense of it top ally Venezuela, which is now pressing with all its might to impose control over the Essequibo. On this occasion, the Cuban government has not asked for – as it did a few days ago in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict – respect for international law and dialogue as a form of conflict resolution.

The Cuban state press — which closely followed the presence of Miguel Diaz-Canel on the ground at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai — didn’t even report on the meeting held on the sidelines by Diaz Canel with the president of Guyana.

After the meeting between the leaders – which according to the images transmitted appears to have been very informal – Guyanese President Irfaan Ali acknowledged on his social networks that he met with Diaz Canel and that he expressed Guyana’s commitment to regional peace. Likewise, he announced that he asked the “president of Cuba” to join the request of the Community of Caribbean States (Caricom) that requires Venezuela to commit to maintaining the Latin American region as a zone of peace and not to undertake actions to occupy or annex the Essequibo.

The Guyanese president was referring to the statement issued by the General Secretariat of Caricom on December 2, 2023 – in which he accepted the ruling of the International Court of Justice of the previous day -, in which it was ordered through a precautionary measure that Venezuela “refrain from any action” that could “modify” the current situation in Essequibo. Cuba and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – whose Prime Minister, Rafael Gonsalves also met with Irfaan Ali during COP28 – are the Caricom countries that maintain close relations with Maduro and that have not spoken out or taken sides in the conflict.

After the December 3 referendum, Maduro proposed the passing of a law to create a new Venezuelan State to administer Essequibo. The declaration includes the printing of new maps of Venezuela that insert the disputed territory, considered by the Government of Guyana an imminent threat against its territorial integrity.

However, the Cuban government remains silent.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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el Kut

It is none of Cuba's business! Simple!! So who cares what any other country thinks? Defend a countries freedom to self-determination without inviting dictatorships and tyrants to exploit resources. Who cares what Cuba's rulers think? A none issue. We know Cuba supports Venezuela so why debate.
el Kut


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