The visit to Guyana by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken on Thursday was in my view, a major success. To make sense of Mr. Blinken’s la visite-éclair, we need to appreciate that diplomacy is full of subtleties, most of which cannot be picked-up by ‘the naked-eye’. In what follows, I shed some light on what might be best characterized as the performative dimensions of Blinken’s visit.
I also point to some excesses in the Stabroek News editorial of July 7, and some elementary errors in GHK Lall’s column under the title “Goodbye Secretary Blinken: was nice while the visit lasted (KN, July 7, 2023).
Let’s get to work. It is best that we begin with the big geopolitical issues since these are matters of raison d’état. China is a good place to start, and this not least because of the anxieties over that country’s determined prosecution of what it claims to be anti-hegemonic diplomacy. More than two decades ago I labelled the push back against Western dominance as “structural counterhegemony.” See my book “Counter-Hegemony and Foreign Policy” (SUNY Press, 2001).
Secretary Blinken’s visit to Trinidad (for the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting) and then Guyana, must necessarily have involved discussions related to China’s gambit in Latin American and the Caribbean. But, what else should you expect? The US is a global power, and at one time the Monroe Doctrine was the pillar of American policy in this region. The collapse of the USSR put Monroe on the back burner. But China’s Belt and Road Initiative has given Washington cause and occasion to rekindle aspects of its one of its oldest strategic doctrines. What about Guyana?
Stabroek News appears to be upset that President Ali acknowledged China as a development partner, and as a country with common values. Now, while the point on democracy is understood, there are numerous historical and contemporary things that Guyana shares with the Chinese. Stabroek News must refresh its memory that Chinese indentured servants arrived here since the 1850s. But more than that, Guyana and China have had an enduring sense of South-South cooperation.
It appears that the Moray House elitists cannot handle the fact that President Ali was forthright in his statement that while American businesses had ignored us, the Chinese were here fully engaged. Guyana is not a little pip-squeak, and it should not behave like one!
Mr. Blinken’s stopover here could not have gone unnoticed by Beijing. In my own view that is for the two Great Powers to work out.
Another matter of high politics concerned Venezuela. On this score, something rather dramatic happened.
The Secretary of State of the United States of America called for free and fair election WHILE ON GUYANESE SOIL. That is of immense importance from the performative side of things. More than anything else Mr. Blinken’s Venezuela statement had two immediate effects, namely (1) it categorically affirmed Guyana as a true democracy; and (b) it sent a message to Venezuela that the US and Guyana have shared interests at the level of national and regional security.
The self-hating, permanently colonized among us can’t see any of this. One of them described Guyana as a “shanty town.” The same genius, however, determined that this same shanty town “…is now of supreme importance to America.”
GHK Lall makes the most bizarre recommendation ever offered in the history of Kaieteur News columns. He wants President Ali to do what dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos did for the Philippines at Subic Bay, and what General Musharraf did for Pakistan during the War on Terror. If you do not know, Marcos was paid a stipend for maintaining his military dictatorship. According to Amnesty International, “…70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and over 3,200 people were killed in the nine years after Mr. Marcos imposed martial law.”
Marcos’ wife, Imelda Marcos, had 888 handbags, and 3000 pairs of shoes, and 500 evening gowns. Nice stipend! For his part, Musharraf helped to hide Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, even while he was receiving [GHK recommended style] foreign aid from the United States.
In 2019, General Musharraf was found guilty of high treason for suspending Pakistan’s constitution. What an extraordinary example of brutish betrayal Mr. GHK Lall wants us to follow!
Secretary Blinken could have easily headed back to Washington after the 45th sitting of the CARICOM Heads of Government (50th Anniversary) which he attended.
Think about it, President Ali was in Trinidad and the two of them no doubt interacted. So why bother to come down to Georgetown? The short answer is that the trip was simply a signaling event, a communications ‘spectacle’ yes, but only for those who understand these things.
In case you doubt the place of ‘spectacle’ in diplomacy let me take you back to a meeting between Napoleon and the Austrian Foreign Minister, Prince Klemens von Metternich, at Dresden in June 1813. Metternich was a crafty statesman and, in anticipation of a major war, wanted some concessions from France.
Napoleon wanted to test Austria’s resolve and his own capacity for hegemonic leadership. He decided to drop his hat. By established protocol then in place, Metternich should have picked up the hat and give it to Napoleon. The Austrian statesman refused, and as the historians would have it, Napoleon knew then that his game was over.
In closing, and without getting too academic (yes, there is such a thing) I should state that what we commonly know as a ‘spectacle’ is more technically a ‘play of signs.’ A sign in linguistics is when something stands in for something else, much the same way in which a red rose might signal ‘love.’ Secretary Blinken’s visit here was a brilliant play of signs, an event signaling far more than what appeared to have happened. Congratulations are in order for the fine staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dr. Randolph Persaud