What now? Is the Venezuela-Guyana dispute behind us after the St Vincent talks?
CREDIT should be given to St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his Caricom colleagues for convening direct talks between Guyana and Venezuela last Thursday, when both sides pledged not to resort to force to settle their long-simmering border dispute over the oil-rich Essequibo region.
News reports state that Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali shook hands after a two-hour meeting in St Vincent and, in a joint statement, agreed that they “will not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstances”.
Prime Minister Gonsalves read the three-page statement which, we are told, included concrete measures to ensure tensions on the ground do not escalate suddenly.
According to Mr Gonsalves, both sides have “committed to the pursuance of good neighbourliness, peaceful coexistence, and the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean”.
He also noted that the two leaders agreed to meet again within three months in Brazil as that country’s president, Mr Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been tapped as an interlocutor in the dispute.
Mr Maduro, the aggressor in this dispute, took to social media, on the popular platform X, describing the talks as an “Excellent day of dialogue!”
What remains troubling, though, is the fact that there was no consensus on the proper global jurisdiction to settle the dispute, because while Guyana maintains that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the appropriate authority to rule on this matter, Venezuela has rejected the court’s jurisdiction over the issue. In fact, the Maduro Government has clearly stated that it does not recognise the ICJ.
Therefore, the question now is: What next?
Will President Maduro, whose sabre-rattling rhetoric triggered this new chapter in the more than century-old dispute, abandon his claim or is he simply making a tactical withdrawal?
Readers will recall that since his controversial December 3 referendum in which the Maduro Government claims that 95 per cent of voters supported declaring Venezuela the rightful owner of the Essequibo region, he has started legal manoeuvres to create a Venezuelan province in Essequibo. Additionally, he has ordered Venezuela’s State oil company to issue licences for extracting crude in the region.
When there is tension between nations the slightest spark has the possibility of igniting fighting that can escalate with disastrous consequences. History is replete with such instances.
It is therefore important that there is follow-up on the agreements reached in St Vincent, and the Maduro regime, in particular, should be made to understand that any deviation from the pact will not sit well with the international community.
Guyana’s decision to utilise diplomacy to counter the threat from its neighbour has been having some success as Caricom, the Commonwealth, the Organization of American States, and China have weighed in on the dispute, urging a peaceful solution.
More expressions for that ideal are needed from the rest of the international community.
The world doesn’t need another violent conflict between nations. And certainly not one that is bound to draw in the Caribbean which, for many years, enjoyed a long and beneficial friendship with Venezuela.