In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, President Irfaan Ali referred to a “very threatening message from Venezuela” in the form of a Communique attacking Guyana for advertising oil blocks in Guyana’s sovereign waters. The Venezuelan Government responded that: “The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will always assert its legitimate rights over the territory of Guayana Esequiba, through direct negotiations as established in the Geneva Agreement and in the spirit of peace that guides our diplomacy.” The Venezuelan view that the Geneva Agreement mandates that the border controversy must be resolved by direct negotiations has persisted for many years.
The only part of the Geneva Agreement that specifically provides for direct negotiations to lead to “practical settlement,” is Article 1. It states: “A Mixed Commission shall be established with the task of seeking satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy between Venezuela and the United Kingdom which has arisen as the result of the Venezuelan contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 about the frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela is null and void.” Article IV provides that: “If, within a period of four years from the date of this Agreement, the Mixed Commission shall not have arrived at a full agreement of the solution of the controversy it shall, in its final report, refer to the Government of Guyana and the Government of Venezuela any outstanding questions. Those Governments shall without delay choose one of the means of peaceful settlement provided in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.” With the expiry of the Mixed Commission in 1970, the obligation to seek “practical settlement” by direct negotiation ended.
The Port of Spain Protocol between Venezuela and Guyana suspended Article IV of the Geneva Agreement for twelve years. The next stage under Article IV, after the expiry of the Port of Spain Protocol, was to choose one of the means of “peaceful settlement” under Article 33 of the UN Charter. The means provided by Article 33 are negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies, or other peaceful means. With the assistance of the UN Secretary General (UNSG), the parties chose his Good Offices. There were no terms of reference to this process so that there was no obligation to arrive at “practical solutions” by direct negotiation.
This process lasted from the late 1980s until about 2010 without any progress. Venezuela has never said so publicly, but its understanding of a “practical settlement” is the cession of territory by Guyana, which has pervaded discourses since 1966. Guyana’s understanding of the Geneva process is that Venezuela must produce evidence that the Arbitral Award of 1899 is null and void as a pre-requisite to a “practical settlement.” No such evidence has ever been produced. Venezuela’s persistence after 1970 that a “practical settlement” be arrived at by direct negotiation is based on propaganda, not the Geneva Agreement. In Venezuela’s attempt to invoke sympathy from governments by portraying that Guyana is obstinate in refusing to talk, it does not refer to the direct talks since 1970, including Enhanced Mediation, 2016-2018, under the auspices of the UNSG. It does not refer to Article IV (2) of the Geneva Agreement which gives power to the UNSG to choose another of the means under Article 33 if the one chosen does not yield a settlement.
Article V of the Geneva Agreement provide for the maintenance of the status quo. It provides that nothing in the Agreement shall be interpreted as a “renunciation or diminution” by the two countries “of any basis of claim to territorial sovereignty,” “or of any previously asserted [such] rights.” The Article further provides that “no acts or activities…shall constitute a basis for asserting” a claim to territorial sovereignty or create any such rights.
On the basis of the above provision, which Venezuela has dishonestly and deliberately misinterpreted for decades, it has deprived Guyana of much needed foreign direct investment in the Essequibo region by intimidating foreign countries on the basis that Essequibo is “disputed” territory, when it had the clout to do so. This stopped under President Chavez as a gesture of “anti-imperialist” solidarity, but its bitter taste has returned with the political duopoly of Nicholas Maduro and Delcy Rodriguez.
The most egregious violation of the Geneva Agreement, however, is Venezuela’s immoral, unscrupulous and dishonourable referendum in which it asks its electorate at question 5: “Do you agree with the creation of the Guayana Esequiba State and the development of an accelerated plan for the comprehensive care of the current and future population of that territory that includes, among others, the granting of citizenship and Venezuelan identity card in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and international law, consequently incorporating said state on the map of Venezuelan territory?”
Upon reading this question, no one can but conclude that Venezuela has only a nodding acquaintance with rationality as regards the Geneva Agreement, which it has persistently, flagrantly and deliberately misinterpreted and violated. To seek to incorporate Essequibo as part of Venezuela is an act of treachery to the Geneva Agreement, international law and Guyana. If the referendum, an act of egregious aggression, passes, Guyana should terminate diplomatic relations with Venezuela.