Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves publicly described the agenda for the meeting between the two Presidents as being in the interest of “peaceful coexistence,” respect for international law and avoidance of the use of the threats of force. In somewhat more detail, President Irfaan Ali’s understanding of the agenda for talks was based on the framework established by Communique of Caricom Heads of December 8, 2023. The Heads had declared support for Guyana’s pursuit of a solution to the controversy through the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), urged Venezuela to respect the conservatory measures of the ICJ and reiterated Caricom’s commitment to the Caribbean as a zone of peace and to international law. The Communique called for a “de-escalation of the conflict through an appropriate dialogue between the leaders to ensure peaceful co-existence, the application and respect for international law and the avoidance of the use or threats of force. President Ali in his letter of December 12 to Dr. Ralph Gonsalves proposed to: defend Guyana’s sovereignty over Essequibo; argue for the resolution of the controversy by the ICJ; persuade Venezuela to observe the conservatory measures issued by the ICJ; propose the de-escalation of the conflict by avoiding the use or threat of force; argue for respect for international law. Essentially, therefore, President Ali and Caricom were on the same page as regards the agenda for the meeting and included on that page were Caricom’s support for Guyana both as regards the controversy and Guyana’s reliance on the ICJ.

Venezuela was on a different page. Fulminating as usual, it claimed Essequibo as its own, rejected the jurisdiction of the ICJ and argued that the Arbitral Award of 1899 was abrogated by the Geneva Agreement of 1966 which, it has long argued, prescribed that the controversy must be determined under its terms by discussion.  President Maduro also complained about the issuing of petroleum licences, and the military training conducted in Guyana jointly by the GDF and the US Army, the Southern Command, he calls it, which has been going on for many years. He did not omit his bete-noir, ExxonMobil. If the Argyle Declaration were to be compared against Venezuela’s positions, there can be no doubt that Venezuela’s bullyism did not work and Venezuela did not get its way. Despite our bitterly divided politics, Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton, welcomed the agreement.

Guyana succeeded in its most important objective, for which President Ali and the Guyana team must be congratulated. Venezuela’s rampaging advance towards an eventual invasion of Guyana has been dramatically halted. In the Declaration, Guyana and Venezuela declared as follows: 1. Guyana and Venezuela, directly or indirectly, will not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstances, including those consequential to any existing controversies between the two States; 2. Any controversies between the two States will be resolved in accordance with international law, including the Geneva Agreement dated February 17, 1966. 3. To pursue good neighborliness, peaceful coexistence, and the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean. 4. The Parties note Guyana’s assertion that it is committed to the process and procedures of the International Court of Justice for the resolution of the border controversy and Venezuela’s assertion of its lack of consent and lack of recognition of the International Court of Justice and its jurisdiction in the border controversy.

Guyana’s greatest fear since 1962, when Venezuela declared that it no longer recognized the Arbitral Award of 1899, was a Venezuelan invasion of Guyana. Venezuela’s seizure of Guyana’s portion of the Island of Ankoko in 1966, and subsequent acts of aggression, including the recent referendum and the aggressive and intimidatory actions pursuant to it, have raised justified fears in Guyana of potential Venezuelan military adventurism in Guyana. The above provisions commit Venezuela not to threaten or use force against Guyana “including those consequential to any controversies.” This ought to be interpreted to mean that even if the ICJ rules that the Arbitral Award is valid and binding, Venezuela is prohibited from launching any military action against Guyana. While Venezuelan perfidy can drive it in any unpredictable direction, including towards the violation of any agreement, as in the cases of the Arbitral Award and the Geneva Agreement, at least it has been forced to commit itself to peace, at least in relation to Guyana.

The other parts of the Declaration provide for continuing dialogue, restraint, cooperation and establishes a joint commission and, most importantly, a group of interlocutors which includes Caricom, CELAC and the UN. Brazil will continue to play an important overall role. This is a structure designed to maintain the peace which, in effect, protects Guyana from aggression as far as is possible within the confines that international Law permits. Those of us who have been watching Venezuela for decades have no illusions about Venezuela. We understand that Venezuela will continue with its nefarious, aggressive, schemes against Essequibo. But Venezuela now has Argyle on its back, which may or could cause it to hesitate in following its more hostile instincts. Guyana could not have asked for a better result in the circumstances. The Argyle Declaration is a great victory for the people of Guyana.    

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