USA: Warning signs: Mike Pompeo goes to Guyana – By Ryan Cecil Jobson and Matthew Quest


By Ryan Cecil Jobson and Matthew Quest

  •  The latest episode of U.S. imperialist intrigue in the Americas deserves our critical attention. On September 17, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Suriname, beginning a diplomatic tour of South America that included additional stops in Guyana, Brazil, and Colombia.

But what is the motivation for Pompeo to visit Guyana, a country demeaned until recently as the “second poorest in the hemisphere?” Guyana, as well as Suriname, is central to the subversion of Venezuela, its neighbour to the west. In recent years, as energy multinationals withdrew from Venezuela under the threat of US economic sanctions, the Guyana-Suriname Basin emerged as a hotbed of offshore oil and gas discoveries totaling over 8 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent.     

Amidst competing claims to maritime territory by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the presence of ExxonMobil production vessels in Guyanese waters established a new battleground between US multinational capital and Venezuelan state capital. Instead of brokering peace, Pompeo aims to stir the pot of disruption.

As critical observers, we ask: What is being subverted in the region, national sovereignty or workers’ self-emancipation? We must be precise in our appraisals of US Empire and its consequences for the working people of the Greater Caribbean. Nation-states and governments are not “peoples.” They are hierarchies of social classes. And it is working people that produce wealth, not nations. In their struggles against US Empire, Caribbean workers cannot passively cast their lot with mercenary political parties or be conscripted into projects of national or racial chauvinism in Guyana or Venezuela. A new social compact is needed to unite workers across the Americas. Their livelihoods cannot rest on the whims of ruling elites and their partnerships with extractive capital.

As the newly elected Guyana President Irfaan Ali and the PPP/C Government held court with Pompeo, adorning the capital city of Georgetown with US flags and billboards, the working people of Guyana were already dealing with the deadly realities and effects of racial violence, following the horrific killings of Isaiah Henry, Joel Henry, Haresh Singh, Prettipaul Hargobin and the protests that stoked fears of widespread civil conflict.

As the only English-speaking country in South America, the simmering antagonisms between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese have their roots in the scars of bondage wrought by slavery, indentureship, and British colonial rule. The insistence that this conflict is a natural outgrowth of a racially-divided populace is refuted by heroic struggles of Guyanese working people for self-emancipation, socialism, and multiracial unity. Struggles of this variety have been frequently thwarted by the racial patronage politics advanced by both of the dominant political parties. In their respective outreach to and secret backroom deals with multinational capital, politicians in both of the major parties share a militant hostility to the self-directed liberation of the poor and peasant classes. We ask, do their concerns lie with the market futures of ExxonMobil’s offshore investments rather than with the futures of the Guyanese people?

For Pompeo, the motivations for the visit are clear. In Georgetown he likely sought assurances from President Ali that his government will honour the advantageous terms of the product-sharing contract with ExxonMobil, despite clamors from Guyanese civil society to renegotiate the meagre 2% royalty on all oil sales. We can speculate as to what followed: Pompeo offers his support to Guyana’s territorial claim so long as the Government of Guyana refuses to bow to populist demands for a larger “piece of the action,” as the Trinidadian calypsonian Black Stalin once put it. As the Trump administration leads a bipartisan effort to destabilize the Bolivarian Republic through economic sanctions and the international masquerade of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate sovereign of Venezuela, we must stay alert.

Both Guaidó and his nemesis, Nicolas Maduro, remain conspicuously united in their claims to the disputed “zona en reclamación” along the Guyana-Venezuela border. In exchange for the US State Department’s counsel to Guaidó to back off the border issue for the time being, it is not inconceivable that Pompeo will request Ali’s tacit support for Guaidó against Maduro and the PSUV (The United Socialist Party of Venezuela).

The Government of Guyana has already given an early indication of acquiescing to US requests by showing support for the U.S. nominated leader of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Mauricio Claver-Carone. Claver-Carone will continue the policies of the IDB that wish to destabilize Venezuela’s economy. But the IDB’s opposition to Maduro does not mean that the Venezuelan state has not, like successive Guyanese administrations, forged compacts with multinationals that have contempt for working people at home and abroad. Capitalist development, whether sponsored by the state or private industry, is not workers’ self-emancipation.

In Guyana, racial tempers flare as the government lends its assurances to oil multinationals. As anxieties heighten over the impending oil windfall, it is unclear whether this revenue will generate economic opportunities or secure the livelihoods of working people of any race. In Venezuela, the ruling PSUV lines up its supporters behind the jingoist claim to the contested territory of the Essequibo while repressing independent forces on the left in its own country. It wishes to deny self-directed expressions of popular self-emancipation in the communes that are present. In Trinidad, Venezuelan migrant workers fleeing from the starvation of US sanctions experience harassment and sexual violence.

No government or party in the Caribbean or Latin America today is charting a path forward beyond national chauvinism toward popular self-management and international solidarity. Both sides of the US Congressional aisle seek nothing less than total economic domination over the Eastern Venezuela Basin. Our opposition to big stick diplomacy cannot, however, be used to absolve the Government and Guyanese private sector as they enjoy the limited spoils of the oil windfall.

What is needed is a new, regional movement led by working people themselves. The focus on Guyana, as a firewall against new imperial machinations, must be on mobilizing ordinary people to reject all sides of the “oil war” between nation-states over paltry extractive rents and royalties. We must reject all forms of hierarchy and domination at home and abroad that fear the direct democratic rule of the majority.

Back-channel negotiations between embassies in imperial centers and peripheries, whether the latter express a militant or accommodationist tone, are about containing popular uprisings against the ruling classes of all countries. External threats to the Bolivarian state’s efforts to control its own oil do not curb its own desire to control and subordinate Venezuelan labor. The working people of Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela will prosper in alliance with the working people of the Americas, rather than under state-appointed managers of oil revenues whether they lay claim to capitalism or socialism as their guiding ideology.

The terms of dependent participation in the global economy cannot be transformed without unleashing the power of ordinary people. Therefore, our concern should not merely lie with the current Government of Guyana becoming more hostile to the Venezuelan government in making a greater alliance with the U.S. Though we should oppose such allegiances, the real work lies in mobilizing the working people of Latin America and the Caribbean against all hierarchical government and imperialist disruption.

Workers’ emancipation cannot exist so long as national elites are permitted to manage and accumulate capital on their own authority. Empire is built on the exploitation of labor, both in the imperial centers and periphery. Nation-states and their attendant political and linguistic borders are themselves products of European colonialism in the Americas. Genuine worker self-emancipation demands that we organize beyond these boundaries rather than seeking liberation in the empowerment of a national bourgeoisie or alternative blocs of capital.

Regional solidarity must be forged by working people themselves, not elite bureaucrats and statespersons of the left or right. A workers’ alliance must be cultivated across racial and national divides for the peoples of the Greater Caribbean and South America. As the US State Department’s ongoing campaign to starve and isolate Venezuela demonstrates,  an economy dependent on oil is an unstable foundation on which to build an international labor movement. Rather than a skirmish for contested territory or a greater piece of the multinational action, whether pursued by the rulers of Guyana or Venezuela, our horizon must lead us toward a multiracial and multilingual federation from below of workplace councils and popular assemblies.

The people of Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela deserve a direct democracy where the majority can oppose the minority that rules above society in the organization of its own economy and foreign affairs. Guided by social ecology, which emphasizes direct democracy, communalism, and sustainability, this international alliance will challenge the myth that working people must wait for oil revenues to alleviate poverty and starvation. Pompeo and the Trump administration must understand that Latin America and the Caribbean are not the backyard of the U.S. from which they can extract resources and exploit our labor. The statesmen of the “south” must also understand that the accumulation of oil money does not spell an end to the exploitation of labor by capital. Our struggle must be against imperialist wars and for the emancipation of labor from nationalist feuds and racial antagonisms.

  • Ryan Cecil Jobson is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago.
  • Matthew Quest has taught History and Africana Studies most recently at University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
  • This essay first appeared on September 18 on the website of the National Workers Union, Trinidad & Tobago ( It has been revised for the diaspora column.
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  • kamtanblog  On 09/30/2020 at 2:30 am

    Interesting article.
    Will certainly read again to not miss any salient points.

    Note Pompeo is but a puppet of Potus
    and his Russian oligarchs. My suspicion
    is he will fall out of favour before or after
    3rd November subject to whether democratic
    results are accepted. Potus has already stated
    that he will not accept defeat !

    Just over 30 days before results are made
    public !
    Not long to go before all is revealed.
    Ain’t holding my breadth !
    Will USA become an autocratic republic ?

  • Gloria  On 09/30/2020 at 9:57 am

    Trump already said that he’s not going to concede if Biden wins the U.S. election yet America was leading the charge in telling APNU that they had to concede although the election was suspect. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the American motto. America will be facing turmoil like t it has never seen before come November. Will Canada, the U.K. the EU and Caricom call on Trump to concede if the results show a victory for Biden in order to maintain democracy” Can’t wait to see how this election unfolds.

    • kamtanblog  On 09/30/2020 at 10:41 am

      Will USA become an “autocratic” republic
      or a plutocracy after 3rd November.
      The hypocracy of the jackasses donkies elect
      has no limits. Will UK Canada OZ NZ or EU
      support USA regardless of results ? Doubt it !
      Will USD$ remain worlds reserve currency?
      Will idiot in chief accept defeat ?

      Not long before all is revealed !
      Not holding my breadth !

  • geoffburrowes  On 09/30/2020 at 3:49 pm

    +Both the writers of this article are much cleverer and accomplished than I am. But I do notice that they parrot the same clichés beloved of the writers of Pravda and other communist news bulletins of the cold war era. This makes me suspicious of their motives. On the other hand if any of Trump’s minions shook my hand I would check my fingers to see if they were all there! I hope the government of Guyana, the country of my birth and nurture dig deeply, until they find the true motivation for Pompeo’s visit, before making any binding agreements with him.
    As for the author’s of this report look at the results of communism elsewhere before putting your names and reputations at stake.

    • Jasmine  On 09/30/2020 at 5:09 pm

      Geoff, sadly to say, the agreements have already been signed, sealed and delivered, Guyana is no longer a sovereign nation thanks to Jagdeo.

  • Jo  On 09/30/2020 at 4:03 pm

    I wouldn’t worry. Both are armchair revolutionaries. They’re not going to go down there and lead the fight. They’re both safely ensconced in their jobs up north,out of the fray.

  • Dennis Albert  On 10/01/2020 at 1:34 pm

    My face has oil. America and Pompeo wants to visit me for democracy.

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