President David Granger: Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo; Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland; Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Carl Greenidge; Vice President Sydney Allicock; Ministers of the Government, Members of the National Assembly; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Members of the Légion d’Honneur, Sir Shridath Ramphal and Mr. Rashleigh Jackson, our distinguished former Foreign Ministers; Heads of Missions; Consuls and Honorary Consuls; Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana; Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; former directors general; senior government officials; special invitees; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
It is my honour to be here with you this morning to participate in this very important event which I hope would become annual. My remarks deal with the national interest and for Guyana, a small state, this requires very careful definition. Small States usually lack the economic, geographic and strategic power to impose their will on other states in this contentious and confrontational amphitheatre of international relations. Small States therefore, must pursue their national interest through the practice of diplomacy in the international system.
The work of diplomats is impelled by the imperatives of their country’s national interests. The images on Carifesta Avenue in Georgetown tell the tale of where those interests lie. The flag and Coat of Arms of each Caribbean Community member state displayed there remind us that everyone knows that he or she is a citizen of a country and that country is a constituent of the Caribbean Community; an analogous impression is conveyed by the monument to the slaughter of Guyanese citizens in the Cubana terrorist massacre, which is located on the University of Guyana campus.
Eleven Guyanese citizens, our citizens among the 73 passengers, were blasted out of the sky off the coast of Barbados on the 6th of October, 1976. The Cubana de Aviación Flight CO 455 had originated in Guyana. It flew to Trinidad and then it flew to Barbados with the intention of heading to Jamaica before terminating in Cuba.
The Anglophone Caribbean became thereby the theatre of the deadliest terrorist attack in the western hemisphere up to that time. It was no coincidence that the Prime Ministers of the same four Anglophone states – Barbados’s Errol Barrow, Guyana’s Forbes Burnham, Jamaica’s Michael Manley and Trinidad and Tobago’s Eric Williams – had made the courageous decision to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in December 1972.
The State’s diplomatic demarche most likely might have made their citizens targets of international terrorism and their Caribbean identity was inseparable from the country’s foreign policy. Cubana was a bloody introduction to regional realpolitik.
Ladies and gentlemen, the erection of the CARICOM Secretariat, the embellishment of Carifesta Avenue, the flags and insignia of CARICOM member states, the observance of CARICOM Day as a national holiday in Guyana and the construction of the Cubana Monument are not irrelevant relics of our collective historical consciousness. We are expressive of the national interest; they illustrate our state’s world view, weltanschauung, at the levels of citizens, country and community all at once.
They define to a degree the duty of the diplomats who are gathered here today to care for our citizens, our country and our community; no Brexit here. The recognition of the importance of citizenship is vital to the national interest. A country is made up of citizens, persons recognised under the law as legal members of a sovereign state, persons who are entitled to the protection of that state; it is because of the importance of the principle of citizenship that we established a Ministry of Citizenship in 2015. It is important to be Guyanese, it is important to be Caribbean. No one should be stateless.
Ladies and gentlemen, Your Excellencies, it is relevant at this stage to cite what has been described as, I quote, “the greatest debate on the principles of foreign policy in the British parliamentary records”. The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, delivered an address in defence of his foreign policy in the House of Commons in June 1850.
Actually, I was hesitant to state that the address was actually four and a half hours long. I do not want to grant licence to Foreign Ministers of any other country, but that address by Lord Palmerston centred on the demand for compensation for losses sustained by two British subjects.
One, David Pacifico, a Gibraltar born Jew and a British citizen, had claimed British assistance for compensation against the Greek government for damage to his property, caused during an anti-Semitic riot in Athens. The Don Pacifico Affair, as it came to be known, and the civis romanus sum principle which Palmerson explicated became symbols of British support not only for liberal constitutional progress but for citizens’ right to the protection of the state.
The State of Guyana has an obligation to extend its protection to every single citizen. The enormous size and the extensive dispersal and its enthusiastic patriotism of the diaspora are assets to be prized; and the Foreign Minister will tell you of our visits to The Bahamas where teachers actually wrapped themselves in the Golden Arrowhead to come and sing the national anthem at the reception in Barbados and other places we’ve visited indicate that the Diaspora is not an asset to be undervalued or ignored.
The rights of the citizens are important wherever they are. The protection and projection of Guyana’s sovereignty are essential elements of Guyana’s diplomacy. Guyana lacks both the economic strength to sanction other states and the military capability to extend its power beyond its borders and it has no desire to do so. A small state, notwithstanding its limitations, can seek to influence international relations in order to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
Guyana’s involvement in the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) which assisted in the restoration of democratic government in Haiti in 1994 and 1996; Guyana’s generous assistance to Grenada in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and its gratuitous training of cadets from Belize – we turned around to win the sword of honour, can you imagine? – and other Caribbean Defence Forces are examples of our defence diplomacy.
Guyana, the only English speaking country on the continent of South America, projects itself as a Caribbean country with continental characteristics. It can influence international relations both to the north and south by exploiting its show of strategic advantage. Guyana is part of the vast Guiana Shield and has defined itself as an advocate for the environment.
The establishment of the 371,000-hectare Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, an area larger than Malta or Mauritius, is the exemplification of our efforts to extend the protected area system to protect our biodiversity and to exercise environmental stewardship. Guyana is set to become a ‘green’ state, a global exemplar of environmental sanity and security.
The strengthening of the Caribbean Community is vital to Guyana’s economy and security. Guyana’s first Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September, 1966, our independence year, said of Guyana’s relations with the Caribbean and I quote, “We devote every effort to the strengthening of Caribbean unity, the development and maintenance of regional cooperation and integration at all levels and the building of a strong viable Caribbean Community”.
This is seven years before CARICOM was established. Guyana has sought the protection of the international community in the face of threats to its security. Survival is the primary concern of small states which are vulnerable to security threats, particularly transnational threats.
The United Nations General Assembly Resolution of 1994 called on the Security Council and other relevant organs of the United Nations to, and I quote, “pay special attention to the protection and security of small states.” We expect this from the United Nations and the international community.
Guyana has consistently elicited the assurances of solidarity and support for its territorial integrity from the Caribbean Community and the Community has never let us down. We have elicited similar support from the Commonwealth and other international organisations. An essential element of Guyana’s foreign policy therefore has to be the continued commitment to regional integration.
Guyana’s early diplomatic exertions extended to the establishment of the Caribbean Free Trade Area, (CARIFTA), and the Caribbean Community itself, CARICOM. These were followed by entry into the Association of Caribbean States, the Community of Latin American States, the Organisation of American States, the Union of South American States, and others; membership of these international organisations reinforced our quest for collective security and support in pursuit of our national interests.
Guyana’s foreign service, with its exemplary experience of diplomacy, is charged with the pursuit of our national interest at these three levels: at the level of the citizen, at the level of our country, at the level of our community; and this is my charge to this Conference of Heads of Mission – to pursue the national interests vigorously and with the full force of their intellect.
I thank you.