‘A welcome sign of relief’
Jamaica’s former prime minister and Caribbean elder statesman PJ Patterson has commended last Thursday’s summit between Guyana and Venezuela in Argyle, St Vincent, and described the outcome as “a welcome sign of relief” for the hemisphere.
Patterson, one of the region’s most respected voices, said the summit established several significant precedents which deserve due commendation and indicate a path for the future.
“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,” he said.
Patterson added that the summit “demonstrated that in a world of unprecedented turbulence, diplomatic skills and negotiating expertise can still be deployed to avert military conflict”.
He also said that the meeting “asserts that the Caribbean and Latin America, despite the colonial rivalry and exploitation by European powers, constitute one hemispheric family”.
That, he argued, highlights the merits of our full engagement and present leadership of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
At the end of the two-hour summit convened by St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to broker a peaceful solution to the border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana, both sides pledged not to resort to force to settle the matter.
Gonsalves read a joint statement issued after the summit in which both sides promised to resolve the dispute “in accordance with international law” but noted that while Guyana believes the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the proper jurisdiction for the matter, Venezuela has rejected the court’s recognition over the issue.
The meeting took place after months of escalating discord that has raised fears in the region of a potential military conflict over the oil-rich Essequibo region, a remote area of 160,000 square kilometres (62,000 square miles) which makes up two-thirds of Guyana.
Venezuela, which has long claimed ownership of the Essequibo, ratcheted up its rhetoric after Guyana, which has governed the area for more than 100 years, started issuing licences for oil companies to operate there following ExxonMobil’s discovery of oil in Essequibo in 2015.
The discovery gave Guyana, which has a population of 800,000, the world’s biggest crude reserves per capita.
On December 3, the Maduro Administration held a controversial referendum in which 95 per cent of voters, according to officials in the Government, supported declaring Venezuela the rightful owner of Essequibo.
Venezuelans were also asked to vote on whether or not to reject an 1899 decision by an arbitration tribunal that had set the border with Guyana but which Caracas insists was “fraudulently imposed”.
Also on the ballot was whether Venezuela should reject the authority of the ICJ in The Hague to adjudicate the dispute, and whether or not to grant Venezuelan citizenship to the people living in the Essequibo region.
Patterson, a former Caricom chairman, said while the “far-reaching agreements” at the St Vincent summit do not constitute a final settlement, they provide mechanisms to bolster healthy, productive, and peaceful relationships between neighbours.
He also said the summit “constitutes a model for devising consultative approaches to address other long-standing border disputes in south and central America”.
No praise, he said, is too high for presidents Ali and Maduro “for their preparedness and courage in accepting the terms of the Argyle Declaration”.
Patterson also said that Prime Minister Gonsalves, who is the current chair of CELAC, revealed his astute skills and considerable experience, with extensive support from Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, “through his trusted emissar, Celso Amorim, who were the principal interlocutors”.
“Commendations are due to all the Caribbean prime ministers who were in attendance, to representatives of the UN secretary general, Caricom, and the CELAC Troika, to endorse the declaration and pledge to facilitate its timely implementation,” Patterson said as he urged Caribbean citizens to “applaud and encourage this bold step to fashion a Caribbean where peace and harmony prevail”.