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August 18, 2008

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On the FARC thing: I remember saying it but I don't have the cite either. alt.history.future, maybe? Would have been 2-3 years ago.

I do remember that the Colombia meddling was in the context of "he might do this, but it would be really stupid, and gain him nothing. At best nothing."

The other thing to watch out for is an attempt to bully Guyana on the old border issue. I used to think this was very likely -- something he would try as soon as his popularity began to seriously crash.

I still think it's a good possibility, but I'm not sure I would bet on it any more, because he now has so much invested in his reputation (and self image) as an international man of peace.

(As I've said before, it would make a lot more sense for Venezuela to just buy the disputed territory... they can afford it, and Guyana needs the money. But things don't work that way any more.)


Doug M.


Doug, what exactly do you mean when you say "things don't work that way any more"? More specifically, is that a (clearly true) empirical observation, or a theoretical statement about modern international relations?

I'm honestly curious, especially now that my actual real paid work is turning to such matters.

As an empirical matter, things don't work that way anymore ... but I'm not so sure that there is a theoretical content to that observation. After all, what would Chavez lose if he made a monetary offer, as long as it was tied to an explicit statement renouncing the use of force to settle the issue?

Like you said, Guyana needs the money, and most of the disputed territory contains only 120,000, save for some towns on the west bank of the Essequibo that Venezuela could easily disavow.

Some math, using the preliminary '08 projections:

Public revenue/person = US$525.
Public spending/person = US$742.
GDP/person = US$1,478.

To make Guyana a tempting offer, then, you'd have to offer them an equivalent income in, say, American treasury bonds. A 30-year T-bill offers around 4.46%, so:

Offer based on revenue: US$1.4 billion.
Offer based on spending: US$2.0 billion.
Offer based on GDP: US$4.0 billion.

Venezuela's bought US$7 bn of Argentine bonds, and may spend US$4 bn every year on aid to Cuba. It spends at least US1.3 bn on aid, possibly a lot more. PDVSA's social budget in '07 came to US$16bn. So like you said, the Bolivarian Republic has the money.

Would Guyana turn that down if it were seriously offered? Truth be told, Doug, for all the power of modern-day norms, I'm not so sure.

So why doesn't Chavez offer US$4 billion? I don't believe that it's because he's afraid Georgetown will reject it. (So what if it did? What would he lose?) Nor do I believe that the reason is that Chavez that he'll look bad overseas, as long as he makes it clear that force is off the table.

(Which wouldn't be hard to do, considering as he'd find himself at war with the United States --- and probably the entire OAS --- the very next day.)

No, I suspect that it's because Chavez doesn't actually /want/ the "Reclamation Zone."

But if I'm wrong, and there are binding norms against /offering/ money for territory, I would very much like to know what those norms are and how they operate. For professional reasons.

And I should also say that I think Chavez does want the Reclamation Zone. So there's a hole in my own analysis, unless it's that Chavez believes that the Venezuelan public opinion would turn against offering US$153 per Venezuelan to settle for a chunk of territory that many think is already rightfully theirs and many (most) others couldn't care less about.

That, though, doesn't jibe with his willing to spray aid money about like a fire hose at a demonstration.

So I am puzzled.

It's an empirical statement. But also, I think you're missing a step or two. Offering money makes a statement that Venezuela is not the rightful owner -- since you don't pay money for something that already belongs to you.

Also: if Georgetown then rejects, Chavez looks stupid. Which I don't think he'd like.

On the Guyanan side, keep in mind Guyana's deep and bitter ethnic division. If the disputed territory contains more Afro-Guyanans than Indo-Guyanans, or vice versa, then selling it could upset the balance. (Just eyeballing the map, I suspect it's more Afro, since the Indians are more concentrated in the towns.) So, whichever group stands to lose would be fiercely opposed. Since both groups have a veto power, that makes a transaction pretty unlikely.

Two other thoughts. 1) Chavez might want to use the territory as a rallying point for nationalist sentiment, but care very little whether he actually gets it or not. 2) He might want the land, but not the inhabitants -- my impression from a distance is that Venezuelans neither like nor respect Guyanans, and wouldn't much care to make a couple hundred thousand of them into fellow citizens.


Doug M. -- in a Belgian airport hotel

Food for thought. So let me think a moment.

I'm not quite going to use the same order you did.

"Chavez might not want the land." True, but unlikely, given his revealed preferences.

"Chavez might want the land, but not the inhabitants." From inside Venezuela, nobody thinks about the Guyanese at all. There's no prejudice, because nobody thinks about it. I doubt that the addition of 120,000 Guyanese to a nation of 27 million will produce any tangible opposition. (As opposed to the expenditure of $4 bn, but the people who'd oppose that as a waste probably /already/ oppose Chavez.)

"Offering money admits it's not yours" doesn't seem to be an issue. If I were Chavez (yes, I'd like to be Chavez), I'd offer Guyana membership in Alba, tied to $4 bn in aid and Guyanese /recognition/ of Venezuela's proper boundaries.

"Keep in mind Guyana's deep and bitter ethnic division." Point taken. I suspect that the Guyanese government will reject almost any offer. (This is not the same as saying that a referendum on the issue wouldn't pass, but as you point out, that's not relevant. What's relevant is that the government of the day will almost certainly say no.)

"If Georgetown rejects, then Chavez looks stupid." Since Georgetown almost certainly will reject, then this seems to be the reason. Chavez plays down political game trees fairly well (even with Cemex, he's lost nothing by being dramatic rather than quietly paying $1.3 bn) this would seem to be the reason.

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