‘We won’t bow to bullyism’
The Guyanese Government says it will not bow to intimidation from neighbouring Venezuela as tensions continue rise between both countries ahead of a December 3 referendum planned by the Nicholas Maduro Government that could escalate into war.
“We will not allow bullyism, especially when we have lived and co-existed as peaceful neighbours with Venezuela and we have done nothing to antagonise any situation or bring about this situation,” Guyana’s Minister of Public Service Sonia Parag told the Jamaica Observer in an interview on Tuesday.
“We want to say that, while we stand for peace, we also will not take bullyism,” Parag emphasised.
The Maduro Government has organised the December 3 vote to ask Venezuelans to consider annexing the long-disputed Essequibo region, which makes up two-thirds of Guyana and is home to 125,000 of its 800,000 citizens.
However, Venezuela is claiming ownership of the oil-rich region, calling into question an 1899 decision by an arbitration tribunal that had set the border with Guyana.
Venezuelans will also be asked to vote on whether or not to reject the 1899 decision, which the Government says was “fraudulently imposed”.
Also on the ballot is whether Venezuela should reject the authority of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to adjudicate the dispute, and whether or not to grant Venezuelan citizenship to the people living in the Essequibo region.
The more than century-old dispute had intensified after ExxonMobil discovered oil in Essequibo in 2015. Then last month, it became more intense due to a “significant” new oil discovery in the region that added to Guyana’s reserves of at least 10 billion barrels.
Two weeks ago, Guyana urged the ICJ to “urgently” stop the Venezuelan referendum, saying that it represents an “existential” threat to the Caricom member state.
The Guyanese are also arguing that, “Venezuela’s rejection of the 1899 award undermines the basic norms of international law, respect for which is fundamental to maintaining international peace, security and stability.”
However, Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez is reported by Agence France Presse as telling Venezuelan TV from The Hague that Guyana had “lied and manipulated” in its presentation to the court.
Additionally, Maduro has insisted that his country would decide the matter “in a sovereign way”, and described Guyana’s ICJ bid as an attempt to “repeal the constitution” of Venezuela.
Noting that the ICJ has said it will rule on Guyana’s request on December 1, Minister Parag, on Tuesday, told the Observer that Georgetown will follow that process fully “because we’ve always held the view that we need to act in accordance and in adherence with the laws, and in this particular instance international law”.
She said that there was growing concern among Guyanese in the country and that is expected.
“Our citizens have questions and we are trying our best to answer those questions. But I think any territory where your sovereign rights and your territorial integrity are being threatened, the citizens… Guyanese on a whole, whether they are here or abroad, they are concerned that there is a threat to our peace, there’s a threat of some sort of conflict or war. It’s a normal concern,” Parag said.
She said her Government took its concerns to the ICJ because of an escalation of intimidation and aggression.
“But, despite going through that entire legal process and following the law, and following the channel of diplomacy and maintaining peace, we are not taking anything for granted, so we are, again, engaging the international community for their support and we are, through our armed forces, ensuring that our borders are protected at the moment,” Parag said.
She thanked the international community — particularly Caricom, the Commonwealth and the Organization of American States — “for their unwavering support”, saying that “they have been very consistent in their language” and “in condemnation of any form of aggression and intimidation tactics by the Venezuelans”.
“I know that it is integral at this point in time that they also use their voice because this part of the hemisphere, this part of the region, we have not experienced anything such as war in the very recent history.”
At the ICJ, a lawyer representing Guyana told the court that “military preparations were already underway” to enforce the referendum result.
However, Rodriguez dismissed the claim, saying a recent military mobilisation was to prepare for the referendum.
On Tuesday news emerged from Guyana that the leadership of the United States Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade and the Guyana Defence Force met November 27 and 28 as part of both countries’ strong military to military partnership.
A statement from the US Embassy in Georgetown said they “discussed upcoming engagements to include strategic planning sessions and processes to enhance both countries’ military readiness and capabilities to respond to security threats”.