Ralph Gonsalves, The Peacemaker  – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’
President of Guyana Irfaan Ali (left) and President of Venezuela shake hands after arriving at a peace deal in SVG. Inset is Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
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December 22, 2023
Ralph Gonsalves, The Peacemaker – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’

by Dr Garrie Michael Dennie

Last week, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves accomplished a feat without precedent in modern Caribbean history. And for that matter, Latin American history too. He averted a

The scale of Dr Gonsalves’ achievement merited attention by the international media. The BBC and CNN led the global media in telling the story of how Guyana and Venezuela were on the precipice of military confrontation over Venezuela’s claim to literally two thirds of Guyanese territory. However, at the invitation of the Vincentian Prime Minister, the leaders of Guyana and Venezuela met in St Vincent and the Grenadines and agreed that they will not resort to violence to resolve the territorial dispute.

Within the Caribbean, our leaders welcomed Dr Gonsalves‘ success in leading Guyana and Venezuela away from the nightmare of war.

CARICOM leaders have been the fiercest defenders of Guyana’s territorial integrity. Hence, the Vincentian Prime Minister’s superb statecraft in dousing the flames of war underlined the fact that CARICOM itself had become a critical player in the international rules-based order governing the modern world.

Further afield, in South Africa, writing in The Monocle Minute, Gregory Scruggs has marvelled at “how an archipelago of about 100,000 people ended up as the chief peacemaker in this dispute” between Guyana and Venezuela. He sees this as nothing less than a “testament to the power of small state diplomacy” and the brilliance of Dr Ralph Gonsalves who has enabled “his nation to punch above its weight diplomatically.”

Yet no one expresses better the wonderment of Dr Gonsalves’ extraordinary contribution in bringing Guyana and Venezuela into calmer waters than Justice Frank Seepersad of Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking to a Presbyterian congregation, he observed that Dr Gonsalves is nothing less than an “exemplar” of the leadership Caribbean nations must emulate on the world’s stage combining compassion, civility, and I would add, a principled and unalterable commitment to equal justice for all.

Vincentians, of course, must be proud of our stature on the world’s stage. We are “small but mighty,” says Gregory Scruggs. But more crucially, we need to understand why and how our Prime Minister has been able to navigate the minefield of Venezuela’s dangerous challenge to Guyana’s territorial integrity.

Perhaps the most alarming element of Venezuela’s claim is that it bases its legitimacy on the contested colonial legacies of Spain and Britain. Because 500 years ago, both Britain and Spain stole the lands of indigenous peoples, slaughtered and enslaved Africans, and yet here in the 21st century, Guyana and Venezuela were seriously contemplating going to war to determine which of these legacies should legally bind us today. Opening this can of worms endangers every modern state in the Americas, all of whom arose from the graveyards of European colonialism.

Dr Gonsalves surely recognized the cruel historical irony that this represented. For modern Guyanese do not genuflect to British
colonialism. Neither do modern Venezuelans kneel to Spanish colonialism. So why then should this colonial history be weaponized to bring death and destruction to modern Guyanese and Venezuelans?

The answer, of course, is that it should not. And Dr Gonsalves’ key intervention was to demonstrate that in the pursuit of the best interests of these nations, the path of peace and friendship carried infinitely greater value than war.

It is here in the arena of inter-state relationships that the true genius of Dr Gonsalves resides. He stands virtually alone in rejecting the foreign policy adage which holds, “nations do not have permanent friends, only permanent interests.” He counters instead with the proposition that “having permanent friends is in our permanent interest.”

This principle explains why St Vincent and the Grenadines holds strong relationships with Taiwan and Cuba, Venezuela and the United States, and almost every other member state of the United Nations. Several of these countries are indeed sworn ideological enemies of one another. But Dr Gonsalves has succeeded in charting a course which maximizes the benefits of its relationship with all countries.

Domestically, the Argyle international Airport stands as the greatest testament to St Vincent and the Grenadines success in building alliances with the greatest number of countries. Internationally, however, this Argyle Agreement that averts war between Guyana and Venezuela is an equally momentous achievement. The maintenance of the status quo is in Guyana’s supreme national interest.

Crucially, its success rested on the Ralph Gonsalves’ Doctrine of deep friendships with all countries. Neither Guyana nor Venezuela doubted that Dr Ralph Gonsalves had any other motivation than their best interest. They trusted him in a manner they trusted no one else. And it paved the road to peace.

l Dr Dennie is a Vincentian professor of History residing in the United States