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Minding our business on this side of the world

“The maintenance of peace in our region hinges not only on resolving current disputes but also on building resilient structures for future diplomacy.”  We agree that this is sound advice coming from Sir Dennis Byron especially at this time of year, as we continue to keep our eyes on the Venezuela and Guyana controversy over a vast border region rich in oil and minerals known as Essequibo. It represents much of Guyana’s territory but Venezuela continues to lay claim to it. The oil there is said to be the light sweet crude which is easier to mine and process, and with gold in the mix that bit of land is certainly worth fighting for.

The idea of the meeting of CARICOM leaders on Thursday December 14, came from Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines where the meeting was held. He also serves as president pro tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), While Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica chairs CARICOM. Sir Dennis a former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is encouraging ongoing dialogue for leaders to discuss the age old issue, which dates back to centuries ago since the days of Simon Bolivar. The learned one said that he stands ready to provide support and acumen to promote peace and unity within the region.  

It may be seen by some as divine intervention that made both of the warring presidents meet late on Thursday in the third phase of the meeting. However, reports in social media reveal that while both parties are committed to ensuring the region remains a zone of peace, President of Guyana Dr Irfaan Ali has indicated that he will not deviate from the position that the only way to settle the territorial dispute is to leave it up to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is consistent with and pursuant to the Geneva Agreement.

The Geneva Agreement provides for a UN Secretary-General to determine where the controversy must be finally determined. It is believed that the UN Secretary-General, acting within the confines of the Geneva Agreement has determined that the controversy should be settled at the ICJ. However, it can take years before a settlement is reached. Of note here, is that the ICJ is a creature of the UN system of which Venezuela is a member like Guyana.

We have seen reports of a referendum where voters in Venezuela rejected the ICJ’s jurisdiction over the area, backing the creation of a new state as suggested by President Maduro. However, the opposition in Venezuela seems to be viewing that referendum as flawed since they and their followers did not participate.

The third phase of the meeting between Venezuelan President -Nicolas Maduro and Guyana’s President -Dr Irfaan Ali and his team was in the presence of CARICOM, CELAC, Brazil and UN observers. Out of Thursday evening’s meeting, both president have agreed to meet again in ninety days to continue discussion while swearing to no military action in the area.

International Relations Analyst of Guyana, Dr Nigel Gravesande, was a recent guest on the Narrative on WPG10. In putting the issue in context he zeroed in on the history of the situation when the matter was brought before the Hague Arbitration Tribunal and British Guiana – then a colony of Great Britain, Venezuela and the US had eleven days of intensive argument and at the end of it, a decision was made with Venezuela and Great Britain which was legally binding that the 83 thousand sqmiles was known to be British Guiana’s territory. It remained that way up to 1966, the year Guiana become an independent state.

Around that time a letter or memorandum penned by a lawyer surfaced posthumously at his request which posed some legal challenges. However, that’s the only document Gravesande said that Venezuela has put forward so far, to back the claim that there is fraud in the demarcation of the two states.

He revealed that the matter was then referred to the 1966 agreement in which both parties agreed that the newly independent Guyana had twelve years to discuss the issue; but, Guyana remained steadfast to the old agreement.

At one time, the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago – historian Dr Eric Williams who served in office from August 31, 1962 to March 29, 1981 intervened to have a settlement on the issue from which came the Protocol of Port of Spain; but, to no avail. Venezuela continues to claim some fifty thousand sqmiles of the rich jungle between the two countries while Guyana joins with the artiste Dave Martin to sing “We ent giving up we country, not a blade of grass.”

Now, it is being said in some circles that President Maduro has plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the meeting in Saint Vincent. How would that affect the issue at hand while the two countries seem to be drawing closer to conflict? Time alone will tell!

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