Venezuela’s proclamation of its “Atlantic Coast” on May 27, which includes all of Guyana’s maritime space, having already maintained since 1962 its fictional claim to two-thirds of Guyana’s land territory, is breathtaking in its audacity. Venezuela’s claim violates the Geneva Agreement and international law and threatens the peace, security and stability of the Region. Oblivious to this fact, the heirs to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s late, transformative leader, have damaged the credibility of his legacy. They are attempting to take by force, and at Guyana’s expense, the Atlantic outlet they have always craved and with it Guyana’s newly discovered petroleum resources.
It was Chavez who in 2004 in Guyana declared that the border controversy was a legacy of colonialism and was the subject of imperialist intrigue to create enmity between Guyana and Venezuela. In a resoundingly successful and popular visit, he announced to the Guyanese people that Venezuela would no longer object to the economic development of the Essequibo. This policy towards Guyana and the border controversy, based on a wider perspective promoted by Chavez of solidarity among countries of this region, resulted in mutually beneficial economic relations which continue. Chavez’s policy has now been abandoned by the Venezuelan Government and military.
Beset by economic problems and pressured by its military, Venezuela has chosen to victimize Guyana to detract from rising internal dissent. It does this by jingoistically seeking to perpetuate the same legacy of colonialism and imperialism, and big power tactics against the weak, that Chavez denounced. Venezuela’s decree by a supposedly progressive government against a small, peaceful and friendly neighbor is reminiscent of the worst acts of hostility and aggression against Guyana committed by earlier governments, whose rule Chavez had condemned.
Article V (2) of the Geneva Agreement states that “no new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in those territories shall be asserted while this Agreement is in force, nor shall any claim whatsoever be asserted otherwise than in the Mixed Commission while that Commission is in being.” Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s Atlantic front is a ‘new claim or enlargement of an existing claim’ which is being ‘asserted’ and therefore violates the Geneva Agreement.
Venezuela’s decree means that Guyana could potentially have no access to ship its exports or receive its imports without Venezuela’s permission, which it can refuse. The Government has given its warships power to stop and search vessels within Guyana’s maritime area. Having already seized the Teknik Perdana in 2013, further aggression against Guyana is to be expected. Venezuela has acquired the power to starve Guyana into submission, if not to retard its development. Its talk about ‘imperial’ exploration is a disingenuous smokescreen to disguise and justify its provocative, belligerent and unlawful act.
Venezuela has never cited any provision in the Geneva Agreement that prohibits, or gives it power to object to, foreign investment in territory which is the subject of the Agreement or in Guyana’s maritime space. Venezuela’s claim that the Geneva Agreement gives it such power is based on hubris and is a complete fabrication.
Venezuela is now inviting Guyana to talk, to go cap in hand, on bended knee. No self-respecting nation will indulge. Former Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett has already invited Venezuelan for talks on the issue since 2011 without any success. The only subject, if discourse is to take place, should be the withdrawal of its unlawful decree and settlement by judicial means of Venezuela’s contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 is null and void, as provided for in the Geneva Agreement. The time for good offices, negotiation or mediation has been brought to an end by Venezuela’s hostile act.
It takes no great perspicacity to understand the reason behind Venezuela’s decree and the dismantling and abandoning of Chavez’s policy of friendship towards Guyana. It is not merely greed for our resources, even though Venezuela already has the largest oil deposits in the world, which it cannot fully exploit. It is more sinister. It needs a diversion from its desperate economic and political crises that a claim of this magnitude against Guyana can provide. It needs to satisfy or appease its military’s militancy over and appetite for Guyana’s territory. It is a cynical ploy, unknown in relations between countries in this modern era.
The objective of intimidating potential investors in the forestry, mining and infrastructural areas east of the Essequibo River was and is also to pressure Guyana to surrender its territory. That having failed, it now brings additional pressure by claiming Guyana’s maritime space. Venezuela seeks to dissuade investors so as to ensure that Guyana remains poor and undeveloped. In this way it hopes that Guyana will eventually succumb to its threats.
Guyana must no longer accept that Venezuela has, or can ever have, while the controversy is maintained by Venezuela, good or honourable intentions, whatever the nature of its government or its platitudes about peace and friendship. Old hands in foreign affairs had been cautious all along about Chavez’s overtures. They believed him but figured that he would not have been president forever. What would happen thereafter, they asked? That question has now been answered.
(My appointment as Guyana Facilitator to the Good Officer Process expired with the change of Government. I do not speak for the Government of Guyana. The views herein are my own).