OUR dear land of Guyana is experiencing quite a turmoil in its journey to prosperity not as a result of good Mother Nature. As if the potential threat of being flooded by the ocean is not disturbing, being under the sea level, Guyana is faced now with the possible invasion, domination and annexation of Essequibo by its ambitious neighbour, Venezuela, who once opened its border to Guyanese while not being provocatively aggressive in their demand and determination to forcefully claim what Guyana has always held, inhabited and habituated. Essequibo has never been under any Spanish domain. Now the table has turned.
COP28 leaders had another threating situation to consider off its agenda to allay any rising fear among the member states, especially since the United Nations Security Council met last Friday to review Venezuela’s illegal actions against Guyana which were in contravention to the ICJ’s ruling. Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali and VP, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, were strategically poised in the convenient arena to apprise and appraise Venezuela’s aggression with world leaders and gain their sympathy and support. The reality is that, the international community (Nicaragua being the isolated exception), stands firm behind Guyana, agrees with the ICJ ruling and accepts the 1899 Arbitral Award as settlement to the 1841 border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana (then British Guiana).
Following Venezuela’s mock Referendum on December 3rd and Maduro’s violation of the ICJ’s ruling, Guyana suffered a tragic loss in wake of the overhanging threat of Maduro’s determination to annex Essequibo. Five brave and loyal GDF soldiers lost their lives with another two injured, when signal was lost and their helicopter went missing last week, flying some 30 miles near the Venezuelan border. While Guyana mourns this devastating and perturbed misfortune, Venezuelans may be sympathetic but Maduro is certainly not saddened. His words ring the irony of blasphemy, “I convey my condolences to the people of Guyana and to the military forces; but that is a message from beyond. Don’t mess with Venezuela, whoever messes with Venezuela gets dried up,” he was reported as saying while in front of the presidential palace in Miraflores.
Guyana’s growing oil wealth has awaken Venezuela’s dormancy; Venezuelan socio-economic-political crisis is being used to camouflage their people; Guyana’s fortune is spiralling an unchartered GDP growth; Venezuela’s GDP is being threatened to minimal growth; Guyana’s international fame is viewed with grudge from its Western neighbour; Venezuela’s infamy has attracted US economic sanctions; President Ali is unreservedly liked globally: Maduro needs a booster for his unpopular image; President Ali is well on his way to retain his Presidency; Maduro is secretly scared of losing power to his opponents; Guyana remains a peaceful and friendly nation: Maduro is openly challenging Guyana to activate physical retaliation by his flammable words; Guyana will not be provoked into making any mistake; Maduro is encouraging military incursion by his illegal actions; Guyana is guaranteed support by the international community; Venezuela is ghastly losing allies around the world.
The Paris 1899 Arbitral Award, signed and sealed the Guyana/Venezuela border dispute which began in 1841 when the Venezuelan government disputed the Schomoburgk Line. Venezuela’s fallacy is sadly relying on a memorandum written in 1944 by Severo Mallet-Prevost, a junior American lawyer on the Venezuelan side during the 1899 arbitration. Secrecy and mystery shrouded the nature of the memo. His claim of nullity and invalidity termed the award an “Anglo-Russian conspiracy.” His directive was suspicious. He instructed that the sealed memorandum should be opened only after his death. His controversy caused consternation and could not be confirmed. All the lawyers from both sides along with the judges had died by the time his memo was opened. His claim not only lacks substance but is also absurd. The sitting judges were appointed by Venezuela. History does not support him. There are no subsequent writings by any of the stakeholders to concur with his claim to provide proof.
Even though Venezuela is quickly gaining foes while losing friends, many key stakeholders have brokered a meeting with the two Presidents to be held on December 14th in St. Vincent. This welcoming gesture is seen as the right path towards maintaining regional peace in the Caribbean and South American Zone. President Ali has maintained that there will no discussions on the territorial controversy during the dialogue with President Maduro. Guyana has always chosen diplomacy over discourtesy and deference over disregard for the legal process to channel its course through the auspices of the ICJ.
Venezuela does not recognise the ICJ’s jurisdiction and insists that Guyana is acting in contravention of the Geneva agreement.
The doubtful Maduro remains unpredictable. There have been numerous skirmishes initiated by Venezuela’s plight for the illegal fight to own Essequibo. With her back against the wall, Guyana was forced to resort to a defensive mood to protect her sovereignty. Readers would recall the Ankoko Island invasion and the Rupununi Rebellion in the 60s; Venezuela opposing the construction of the Hydro Project in the 70s; Venezuela seizure of a Canadian oil exploration vessel in 2013 operating in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone; and in 2021, 12 fishermen operating in the Waini River, were detained for 45 days by Venezuelan naval troops; in November 2023, Venezuela began a military build-up on the Essequibo border. Guyana’s military strength can be compared to a mouse against an elephant.
In this season of peace, joy and hope synonymous with praise and thanksgiving, will the December 14th be a meeting of the minds of a David and Goliath that will precede the calm before the storm?