Gandhi, Gonsalves and the third alternative
Last Thursday, in a remarkable development in Argyle, St Vincent, leaders from two nations involved in a long-standing geopolitical conflict — Guyana’s Irfaan Ali and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro — met face to face in a historic summit.
This meeting was aimed at de-escalating tensions and seeking resolution to the persistent border dispute between their countries.
The meeting, hosted by Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves, marked a significant turn in the quest for a harmonious resolution to this escalating conflict. Commenting on the summit former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson said, “It was a Caribbean initiative which demonstrated the intrinsic value of collective regional action. Caricom stepped forward in united efforts to face the challenge of preserving the territorial integrity of Guyana, a founding member State and headquarters of the Caribbean Community [Caricom].” For me it was Gonsalves’ brilliant attempt at a ‘third alternative’.
The third alternative is about transcending traditional solutions to conflicts, moving beyond “your way” or “my way” to a higher “our way”.
In 1893 Mahatma Gandhi experienced discrimination on a train in South Africa. This was a significant moment in history and led to his development as a leader and advocate for non-violent resistance. Gandhi, a young lawyer, was travelling to Pretoria from Durban. Despite holding a first-class ticket, he was forcibly removed from the train at Pietermaritzburg station because of his race. This humiliation deeply affected Gandhi and played a pivotal role in his decision to fight against racial discrimination and injustice.
Gandhi’s response to this experience can be seen as a profound application of the third alternative concept. His approach to discrimination didn’t align with the prevailing methods of direct confrontation or passive acceptance. Instead, he pioneered a novel approach: non-violent resistance or “satyagraha”.
This method was neither passive submission nor aggressive retaliation but a third way that sought to transform the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed. Gandhi’s strategy involved peaceful protests, civil disobedience, and the principle of “truth force”, believing that a just cause would ultimately prevail through moral persuasion and non-violent action. This approach not only addressed the immediate injustices but also sought to change the underlying social and political structures that allowed such discrimination to exist.
Gandhi’s train incident and his subsequent actions illustrate the power of seeking a third alternative. His approach went beyond fighting against the system or merely enduring it; he sought to transform it through principles of empathy, mutual respect, and non-violence, creating a new paradigm in the struggle for social justice.
After months of increasing tensions, raising concerns in the region about a possible military conflict over the resource-rich Essequibo region, a meeting was held. This region, spanning 160,000 square kilometres (62,000 square miles) and constituting two-thirds of Guyana, has been central to the dispute between the two South American nations, which has intensified, highlighting the urgent need for diplomatic intervention.
The choice of Argyle for this diplomatic rendezvous and the involvement of a respected regional figure like Prime Minister Gonsalves and other distinguished Caricom heads of states underscore the regional commitment to stability and peace.
The summit was not just a routine diplomatic gathering but a strategic embodiment of the third alternative, transcending the traditional binary conflict resolution methods and, instead, seeks a synergistic “our way”, a path that promises mutual benefits and cooperative solutions.
The initiative taken in Argyle represents more than just a mediation attempt, it’s a testament to the power of innovative diplomacy. It acknowledges that in an increasingly interconnected world the resolution of territorial disputes requires more than just legal adjudication or coercive strategies. It demands creative collaboration, shifting the focus from winning a dispute to co-creating solutions that respect the sovereignty, dignity, and developmental aspirations of all parties involved.
Following the conclusion of the two-hour summit, both nations committed to a non-military approach for resolution. In the joint statement announced by Gonsalves, the countries affirmed their intention to address the dispute in line with international law. However, the statement highlighted differing views on jurisdiction: Guyana recognises the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the appropriate authority in this matter, while Venezuela does not acknowledge the ICJ’s jurisdiction in this dispute.
The key points of the Joint Declaration of Argyle include:
1) Both Guyana and Venezuela agreed not to threaten or use force against each other under any circumstances, including those related to the ongoing territorial dispute.
2) The resolution of controversies between the two states will be in accordance with international law, including the 1966 Geneva Agreement.
3) Both countries committed to pursuing good neighbourliness, peaceful coexistence, and unity within Latin America and the Caribbean.
4) Guyana and Venezuela noted their respective positions regarding the International Court of Justice’s role in resolving the border controversy, with Guyana committing to the process and Venezuela asserting its lack of consent and recognition of the court’s jurisdiction.
5) An agreement was made to continue dialogue on other pending matters of mutual importance.
6) Both states agreed to refrain from actions or statements that could escalate the conflict and to cooperate in avoiding incidents that could lead to tension. In case of such incidents, immediate communication with Caricom, Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the President of Brazil was agreed upon to contain and prevent recurrence.
7) The establishment of a joint commission comprising foreign ministers and technical people from both states was agreed upon to address mutually agreed matters, with an update to be submitted within three months.
8) The ongoing roles of key regional leaders and the UN secretary general as interlocutors and observers were reaffirmed.
9) A follow-up meeting in Brazil within the next three months was agreed to consider matters related to the disputed territory.
10) Appreciation was expressed for the roles played by various leaders and organisations in making the summit a success.
11) Gratitude was also expressed to the Government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines for facilitating and hosting the meeting.
The meeting and its outcomes represent a notable step towards a peaceful resolution of the Guyana-Venezuela territorial dispute, emphasising dialogue and legal processes over conflict. This approach aligns with regional and international efforts to maintain Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace.
In essence, the Argyle summit serves as a beacon of hope, not only for Guyana and Venezuela but for the international community at large. It exemplifies how entrenched conflicts might find resolution not in the victory of one over the other but in the discovery of paths that lead to mutual prosperity and peace.
This meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines could very well set a precedent for how regional conflicts are approached and resolved in the 21st century.
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