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by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 4 May 2006)

It is official folks. Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia now officially stand united and promise to be a real headache for those darn capitalists in America. Over the weekend, Bolivia’s new President, Evo Morales, signed a trade agreement with Cuba and Venezuela and upon return to his country, immediately set out to nationalise his country’s foreign-owned gas and oil reserves.

The Times online reported that Morales claimed energy is just the beginning, “because tomorrow it will be the mines, the forest resources and the land.” No doubt Morales has been emboldened by his new friendship with Castro in Cuba and Chavez in Venezuela, but this trend is definitely catching on in Latin America.

In a statement sent to me by the Cuban Embassy in Guyana, Morales pulled no punches when explaining his reasoning for joining forces with Chavez and Castro. The first line of his statement said, “Recognizing that the implementation of neo-liberal plans and policies has led to the proliferation and deepening of dependence, poverty, the pillage of our natural resources and a state of social inequality within our region…”

This type of language is bound to upset some Americans. However, to some extent it is encouraging to see these Latin American countries taking steps to try to help themselves and each other during financially trying times. Quite frankly, since America has all but forgotten its economic promises to Latin America, who can blame the nations for employing such drastic measures?

What did the Bush administration expect? For Latin American countries to just sit around and die a slow economic death while it ran off to the Middle East to fight an unprovoked war in Iraq? Instead of being a good neighbour, America is acting like it is and island unto itself. So the U.S. has no one but itself to blame for Morales’ decision to turn to Castro and Chavez for help with the economic security of Bolivia.

Certainly capitalism has been successful to a large degree in the U.S. (not completely though because the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen exponentially). However, capitalism has not worked for Latin America for many economic and political reasons. One reason is because of widespread corruption.

Likewise, this leftist move in Latin America toward nationalisation will fail as well because of corruption. Guyanese remember, all too well, their days of nationalisation and what it meant to the country. Today, many from Guyana have a bad taste in their mouth when they hear the word “nationalisation.”

When Burnham kicked foreign investors out of Guyana, the previously stable and/or thriving industries started to collapse and left the country with but a shell of its former self. So although I like to see countries like Bolivia make drastic moves to try to pull itself out of economic distress, I cannot help but show my scepticism of nationalisation.

What kind of impact will this shift to populism in Latin America have on Guyana? Is Guyana heading toward nationalisation again? Jagdeo has a chummy relationship with Castro and the PPP has clearly made its feelings about certain issues well known. I have very little doubt that if the PPP returns to power after the elections that Guyana would soon after toss out what little foreign investors it has left.

The current administration has not been friendly toward foreign investors. Hell, they are barely even friendly to national investors, especially if those investors are not PPP loyalists. Yet at the same time, the administration seems to be unable to offer any viable economic initiatives to financially grow the nation.

Given the unfriendly nature of the current administration, it is no wonder foreign investors shy away from Guyana. And now they must also consider the fact that the leaders of Latin America are more prone than ever to seize their private assets. Morales seized 56 oil and gas fields on Monday and the investors have no say in the matter whatsoever.

Therefore, when foreign investors see Jagdeo flirting with Castro and Chavez, they no doubt run in the opposite direction. There are plenty of safe Caribbean nations that are opening their doors wide for these investors and even taking extra steps to entice these investment dollars to their shores.

Sure, Guyana is beautiful. It has natural resources aplenty and no doubt people would pay a hefty price to catch a bit of this raw tropical paradise (under safe conditions). All Guyana has to do is clean up the crime situation and open her arms to the tourists to see the world start flocking in.

I truly believe this nation could one day be the hot spot for vacationers – under the right government. I believe the potential for Guyana is limitless. There are so few unspoiled and pristine landscapes left in the world today, which is why Guyana’s beauty is worth so much.

However, I also believe a turn toward nationalisation is a sure way to slam the door on this promising future. While many Caribbean nations thrive economically because they opened their doors to the world, Guyana continues to hobble along and shy away from the very investors who could help with the nation’s economic recovery.

Therefore, when the people finally get to cast their votes, they should be well aware of the future ramifications of their votes. Given Jagdeo’s chummy relationship with Castro, will Guyanese willingly vote to possibly re-embrace the nationalisation that failed the nation under Burnham?

Actually, I cannot help but wonder where the opposition parties stand on this issue. Do they support nationalisation or would they open the doors of Guyana to the world? I wonder what the AFC thinks about Bolivia’s economic move.

This is a vital issue to consider before going to the voting booths and the people should be completely informed on the national economic plans of each party so they can make an educated decision.

Email: StellaSays[at]