Latin America

Authoritarianism’s Next Stop for Oil? Guyana!

As the crisis in Venezuela continues to unfold, the authoritarian cohort of China, Turkey, and Russia will soon look elsewhere for a source for natural resources. Fortunately for these countries, they will not have to look far to see a new option available just east of Venezuela: Guyana! When these countries shift more of their attention to Guyana and capitalize on their ties with the country, Guyana will find it difficult to move forward on its path toward transparent and democratic governance. This is because these countries have a recent and alarming history of undermining democracy. This is important, as regional and national elections are coming to Guyana in the next few months, with a Guyanese court upholding a no-confidence vote occurring in December 2018. Therefore, it is imperative that Guyana embraces transparency, democratic institutions, and anti‑corruption measures or else Guyana will be doomed to repeat Venezuela’s mistakes.

Kunuku Mountains as seen from Lethem, Lethem.
Image Courtesy of Kevin Gabbert © 2005

China and Russia have established significant ties with Guyana, while Turkey is emerging as another potential suitor. Of these countries, China has the greatest influence in Guyana, with a relationship dating back to 1971. Guyana recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China and currently, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) owns a 25 percent stake in Guyanese oil. Another country prevalent in Guyana is Russia, whose Russian-owned mining company, RUSAL, owns 90 percent of the bauxite mining operation in Guyana. As Guyana continues to seek international support to kickstart its oil production, it is also seeking Turkey’s attention for potential trade and investment opportunities. Guyana cites that they are both members of the Organization of Islamic States (OIC). Apart from China and Russia, Guyana has not committed to any transactions with Turkey, but this does not mean that Guyana is not open to this prospect.

With Guyanese politics unstable and an upcoming polarized election, there is the risk of China, Russia, and Turkey attempting to influence Guyanese politics as these regimes have done in other countries. If Guyana is receptive to these authoritarian influences, the country will find it difficult to embrace democracy and effectively govern its impending oil production. Guyana’s no‑confidence vote means that regional and national elections are on the horizon, a window of opportunity that China, Russia, and Turkey may use to influence Guyana’s next president. These countries’ willingness to “help” Guyana may be the method to facilitate their influence into Guyanese politics. In fact, both presidential hopefuls and their respective parties have ties with authoritarian regimes. David Granger, current president and leader of the coalition party of A Partnership for Political Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change (AFC), welcomes Chinese support, going so far to highlight his relationship with China as a “high-level of friendship.” Alternatively, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and their representative, Irfan Ali, have been historically regarded as a corrupt political party that initially supported Chinese aid in Guyana. Regardless of who becomes the next Guyanese president, Guyana will need to combat the possible influence of authoritarianism in their political climate.

If Guyana embraces transparency, engages in anti-corruption measures, and enables democratic institutions, then it stands a chance to steer clear of Venezuela’s current political and economic climate. Guyana will need to use anti-corruption measures to prevent bribery during the electoral process, thereby helping to build a foundation for transparency. Guyana must use its judicial system to hold people appropriately accountable if corrupt practices are discovered. These methods will ensure that Guyana’s build-up to the election process—to the best of Guyanese ability—is democratic. Additionally, during the actual election process, Guyana can use the Organization of the American States (OAS) to monitor the upcoming elections to ensure that Guyana’s elections remain free and fair. The OAS’s involvement will limit Chinese, Russian, and Turkish influence in the election process, but Guyana’s focus, for now, must remain on embracing democracy for the foreseeable future. If not, Guyana is bound to repeat the mistakes of Venezuela’s past.

Wazim Mowla is a graduate student at Florida International University. His research interests include Guyanese public and foreign policy, U.S.-Latin American relations, addressing immigration crises, and identity politics. Feel free to connect with Wazim on Twitter @WMowla or via LinkedIn.

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