International condemnation greeted Venezuela’s statement of 19 September rejecting the “illegal bidding” for oil blocks carried out by the Government of Guyana. The statement claims that Guyana does not have sovereign rights over the maritime areas in international law and demarcation must be carried out in agreement with Venezuela. The statement goes on to warn that Venezuela will apply all necessary measures to prevent the “illegitimate exploitation” of its natural resources. Three baffling questions emerge from Venezuela’s statement. The first is that since the areas have not been the subject of demarcation and that without such demarcation (which, incidentally, Foreign Minister Rodrigues-Birkett requested since 2011, to which Venezuela has remained silent), on what basis is Venezuela laying claim to ownership of these areas? The second is, in the absence of demarcation, on what basis has Venezuela already, in 2015, issued decrees appropriating ownership of the entire maritime areas of Guyana? Thirdly, does Guyana have no rights to its exclusive economic zones recognized in international law? This exemplifies Venezuela’s warped logic, on full display since 1962.

Guyana pointed out that Venezuela’s declaration that it will “apply all the necessary measures” to prevent operations licensed by Guyana, constitutes a threat to Guyana, its current and potential investment partners, and to regional peace and security. Guyana claims the area as being part of its exclusive economic zone and suggests that if Venezuela disagrees, it is obliged to employ peaceful means under the UN Charter and the Charter of the OAS to determine the matter. Guyana obviously takes Venezuela’s threats seriously because both in 2015 and 2018 Venezuela seized vessels carrying out lawful activities in Guyana’s maritime areas. It is no doubt with these experiences in mind that President Irfaan Ali referred to Venezuela’s threat at the United Nations. He said: “Mr. President, I regret to inform you that Venezuela’s threats continue. Just last night, Guyana received a very threatening message from Venezuela. It came in the form of a communique attacking Guyana for putting certain oil blocks in our sovereign waters up for bid.”

There was swift, international, rejection of Venezuelan threats. The United States endorsed Guyana’s sovereign right to utilise its natural resources and emphasized that “efforts to infringe upon Guyana’s sovereignty are unacceptable” and urged Venezuela to honour the 1899 Arbitral Award. CARICOM noted Venezuela’s communique with grave concern. CARICOM viewed the stated intention of Venezuela to “apply all the necessary measures” to prevent the operations licensed by Guyana in its waters, as a threat of the use of force contrary to international law. Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States vehemently decried intimidatory tactics that seek to undermine the principle of “good neighborliness” and said that the OAS recognized the right of Guyana to welcome investors. Almagro was joined by the Brazilian Ambassador to Guyana as well as the Hon. Amanza Walton-Desir M.P and Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs who stated that “The APNU+AFC Parliamentary Opposition supports the position taken by the Government of Guyana in response to the latest attempt by Venezuela to undermine our sovereign and territorial integrity. We affirm that it is the right of the Government of Guyana to pursue economic activities in any portion of its sovereign territory or any appurtenant maritime territories for the benefit of the people of Guyana.” The days when Venezuela could have intimidated investors against proposed investment are over.

A few days earlier, Venezuela’s National Assembly announced that it will conduct a popular referendum on defending Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo. As described by the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Yvan Gil, in his address to the United Nations on 23 September: “Two days ago, Venezuela’s National Assembly unanimously decided to call our people to vote in a consultative referendum to ratify the defense of our sovereign territory against the aggressions of the American empire, which wants to lead us to a war for natural resources.” He also accused the US and Guyana of colluding to establish a military base in Guyana to threaten Venezuela. The aggressor frames the issue as one for “natural resources,” not merely sovereignty, and feigns victimization!

Having lost two preliminary applications before the ICJ (International Commission of Jurists) on the issue of the jurisdiction in Guyana’s case on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy, and now facing the prospect of having to submit its Counter Memorial, that is, its written arguments, by April 8, 2024, Venezuela is now in a political quandary. It has no arguments of substance to put forward. As a result, there is a raging dispute in Venezuela as to whether to participate at all by filing a Counter Memorial. It hopes that a referendum will mobilise popular support for whatever course of action the referendum proposes, as well as for the Maduro regime in the presidential elections due next year.

Venezuela’s repeated proposals for direct talks were again rejected by the Government of Guyana on Friday. While Guyana is unlikely to agree to talks on the Border Controversy while the case before the ICJ is pending, Venezuela cannot be serious having regard to President Maduro display of arrogant and insolent petulance to Guyana’s President. This is what he said: “President Irfaan Ali, enough of lies…enough of irresponsibility, manipulation, double talk, hypocrisy, false victimization.”

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