Guyana refuses to bow as its leader meets with Venezuela president
GUYANA has refused to bow to Venezuela in their dispute over an oil- and mineral-rich territory claimed by both nations, the smaller country said Thursday as its president met Venezuela’s leader in St Vincent, the latest chapter of their bitter rivalry.
Which nation controls Essequibo, a vast border region located along Venezuela’s border, “is not up for discussion, negotiation or deliberation”, Guyana’s Government said.
The statement was issued shortly before Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met on the Eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent. They clasped hands as leaders around them clapped, then sat down behind closed doors.
Maduro said ahead of the meeting that, “we will make the most of it so that our Latin America and the Caribbean remains a zone of peace.”
The tension over Essequibo has raised worries about a military conflict, even though many believe that unlikely.
On Tuesday, Guyana’s attorney general and State Minister of Legal Affairs Mohabir Anil Nandlall says that the Venezuelan Government has never been able to put forward a credible argument in all its efforts to control the boundary line between the two countries.
Nandlall, who was among panellists on a forum hosted Tuesday by The University of the West Indies (The UWI), said that the dispute arose when Venezuela sought the assistance of the United States and the United Kingdom after complaining that the UK was taking too large a portion of the boundary line between itself and its then colony, British Guiana.
He said that Venezuela sat at the table at which there were doubts about how the dispute could be resolved and, eventually, an arbitral mechanism had to be chosen. However, he said that while Venezuela sat at the table and participated in the appointment of a “very highly decorated” tribunal, including two judges from the United States and the chief justice of England as well as leading law professors, they were never satisfied with the legal arrangements.
“When the arbitral award [was made] they celebrated because they got over 350,000 square miles out of that award. They got what is now four times the size of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana from that award. They got the entire mouth of the Orinoco River, on both sides, and that was the price. Of course, it was a compromise, as all arbitrary proceedings result in a compromise,” Nandlall continued.
“Some 60 years after the United Nations General Assembly had passed a motion that all colonial powers should consider granting independence in their dependencies, Guyana petitioned the UN General Assembly for independence from Great Britain, and it was when that request was made that Venezuela came up a few months after and asserted their claim,” Nandlall said.
He stated that the basis for the change was that a member of the Venezuelan legal team left a memorandum among his documents claiming that there was some misbehaviour on the part of the two judges and that they were unfair.
“He said that Venezuela was improperly compromised so he [member of Venezuela’s legal team] was attacking the integrity of the two judges. They couldn’t even find his original documents, and he was attacking the integrity of the two judges! They couldn’t find the original document that he left, and, strangely, in his testimonial papers he said his document was in a sealed envelope and must not be opened until after he dies. So it was opened 49 years later,” the attorney general told the live audience.
“So when you strip Venezuela’s claim of all the esoteric and other contents that was the singular claim that Venezuela is asserting to set aside the arbitrational award, and that is why over the next 70 years, with all the opposition given to it, Venezuela has never been able to put forward a credible argument, anywhere, in all processes that you would have heard about.
“They have never been able to put forward a credible, sensible case that any tribunal, properly constituted and equipped, can look at. That is the basis of the marked reluctance to have this matter ventilated,” he concluded.
The forum, a collaborative undertaking of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and the faculties of law and social sciences at The UWI, Cave Hill campus, which presumed that the Guyana/Venezuela controversy is as much a political issue as it is a legal one.
According to The UWI, the controversy involves territorial sovereignty, which is an essential foundation of international relations and the demarcation of territorial borders of states.
“It also lays bare the various methods by which territorial disputes are resolved internationally, such as arbitration, mediation, and judicial settlement before the International Court of Justice,” the university pointed out.
The university also confirmed that an arbitral award dated October 3, 1899 (the 1899 Award) settled the boundary line between Guyana, then a British colony, and Venezuela. However, the 1899 Award granted the entire mouth of the Orinoco River and the land on either side to Venezuela. It also granted to the United Kingdom land to the east, extending to the Essequibo River.
In 1962 Venezuela repudiated the 1899 Award, alleging that it was a political transaction carried out behind its back.
A 1966 agreement signed between Guyana, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom in Geneva (the Geneva Agreement) established a Mixed Commission to seek a settlement of the controversy between the parties. Since there was no significant progress made towards arriving at a full agreement for the solution to the controversy, in 2018, the United National secretary general chose the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the controversy.
– Additional reporting by the Associated Press