It’s difficult to fathom why the extension of humanitarian generosity to Venezuelans fleeing the dictatorial excesses of Nicolas Madura’s accelerating civil war against his nation continues to be met with stiff resistance and more than just a modicum of ignorance by officials in Guyana, its bordering neighbor.
It would be instructive to note that Guyana was issued membership to the United Nations on September 26th 1966, shortly after it became an independent nation. By soliciting and accepting membership in that world body, Guyana gave both implicit and explicit consent to follow its tenets- the pertinent one here being Article 14 of its Declaration of Human Rights :everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy, in other, countries asylum from persecution.
It was this very premise that allowed Guyana’s mass exodus to neighboring countries during its period of political turbulence; when staple food items were rationed and in many cases just not available because the country had maxed its credit line and had lost its credit worthiness during its oppressive political leadership.
And as if playing out some form of cosmic irony, one of those neighboring countries was Venezuela, which remains home to, conservatively, some 80,000 Guyanese who settled in the country following the compassion shown and the courtesy extended to them to become legal residents and/or citizens of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, after fleeing there for a chance at life.
For some context, it is critical to recall that the Guyanese/Venezuelan Diaspora swole in number during the Presidencies of Louis Herrera Campins, Jaime Lusinchi and Carlos Andres Perez – Presidents who had more than just glancing involvement with the border disagreement that exists between the countries; yet Guyanese crossed the border by the thousands and were accommodated and fed in a country that was reputedly its enemy… particular point of note.
And their dictator(s) had not even turned the country’s army on them, nor had its crime, murder rate and civil lawlessness reached such epidemic proportions that international watch dog groups categorized the civil landscape as a humanitarian crisis as they have categorized Venezuela…specific point of note.
Of mandatory consideration, too, is the UN’s basic minimum standards for the determination and the treatment of refugees. This does two specific things. It offers a clear definition of what a refugee or asylum seeker is, for those countries, like Guyana, that may have trouble figuring this out and proffers these standards to those members of this world body with the understanding that member countries, like Guyana, would comply with the tenets of membership.
From the inception of the crisis, there has been acknowledgement of the humanitarian issues and the propensity for refugees to seek shelter by Guyana’s President, David Granger, Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge and Minister of state Joseph Harmon.
It was Carl Greenidge, the country’s eminently qualified Foreign Minister, who has more than just a handle on these delicate issues – if one were to dissect and analyze his equally impressive resume- who pointed out that Guyana had no specific laws that addressed refugees… “and therefore there are some restrictions”… which comes across like a boastful diagnosis of political cataracts.
Guyana had been called upon several times in the past to rectify its non- signatory status to the UN Refugee and Asylum accords. It is the kind of thing non-primitive societies do when they acknowledge the world as their neighbors.
So, though “there are some restrictions”, we expected this Administration, replete with legal professionals and a Foreign Minister with the requisite skill and access to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to come up with some sort of emergent bill to protect the human lives that were fleeing to Guyana for safety, while it hastened to affix its signature to the UN Refugee and Asylum agreement.
This is more than politics.
It’s a compelling humanitarian justification.
On January 16th 2018 Guyana prosecuted two Venezuelan women who were arrested pursuant to road block apprehension and possession of passports with no stamps of entry. The country’s Chief Magistrate then fined these fleeing women GYD30,000 each or four weeks in prison, with instructions that upon the completion of either, the women would then be escorted to the nearest port of exit.
We can reconcile with the presence of a road block because borders need all sorts of protection but what is clearly evident is that there has been no orientation, no specific instructions for these border patrols to segregate and process fleeing refugees and asylees seeking shelter in Guyana.
The fact that these women were prosecuted and found guilty by a Magistrate of the country’s courts testifies that the modified law to process refugees remains absent, in spite of the nation’s top officials’ – President Granger, Minister of state Harmon and Foreign Minister Greenidge’s – open pledge to help those fleeing the humanitarian crisis of Venezuela; despite Greenidge’s acknowledgment that there were no existing laws to accommodate refugees, even as he committed to helping Maduro’s victims which had begun their flight to freedom since 2016, when Madura comandeered both government and military and turned them against the people.
We’re thinking that this anticipation would have been in the purview of National Security which should have preempted preparations for fleeing Venezuelans, particularly since they share a border with Guyana.
It’s easy to say that Guyana is a sovereign nation; that it reserves the right to prosecute those who ‘breach’ its borders, and invoke the mythology of the Trojan Horse, when people are fleeing for their lives.
But there is a reprehensible lack of moral rectitude that comes with this decision; a corrosive kind of hypocrisy for Guyana which has been a benefactor of its membership in this World Community. It was the UN’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that offered it Money Laundering rehab through voluntary completion of FATF dictates, thereby, improving its corruption perception index; that helped to fight its AIDS epidemic by listing it with the right priority on the UN’s World Health Organization, thereby, getting the amount of medicine and treatment rushed to the country, to name a few benefits of being member of the World Community.
Membership has its privileges and its responsibilities. Why Guyana would be lax in offering haven to human beings and particularly from a country that rescued its asylees remains egregious, immoral and reprehensible. It will also be the history that this government – that has the opportunity to correct the inhumanity of sending 20 year old women, the age of some their grandchildren, back to bullets – will write.
In statements that demonstrate a unique dexterity in double speak, the leaders of Guyana continue to claim compassion on refugees and as a process of law, “release them at the nearest point of exit”, in an act of deportation. In addition to failing to adopt emergent law to help the fleeing Venezuelans, they have failed to inculcate into the national conversation an informative message sensitizing the nation to the plight of inhumanity that its neighbors are fleeing from.
In many ways, Venezuela’s ordeal is a cautionary tale for Guyana about the dark side of its two- party system which remains entrenched; alternating turns at leading and opposing government of a people who receive very little benefit from a parochial mechanism that is decidedly counterproductive.
While the current government may be counting on its dwindling audience having short memory or little interest in recollecting why the Diaspora is the sum total of the resident population, the visual of people fleeing for the lives and being arrested for having broken immigration laws and fined thousands of dollars with the alternate of jail time has not escaped notice entirely….nationally or internationally.
Rightfully, Madura has been condemned by the world as a despot displacing his people for wanton satisfaction.
It was not hard to do so, with so much visible evidence.
It will be easy, however, to ascribe just as diminishing a label to an Administration which remains boastfully inflexible about the application of its country’s laws, as it forces people back to the dangers from which they fled, in callous violation of the basic laws of humanity.
“The law is the law” never sounded more reptilian.