We commend Caricom for its swift and sharp response to Venezuela’s grab for Guyana’s territory as that country insists on misinterpreting the 1966 Geneva Agreement to its advantage.
Last Thursday’s televised decree by Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro was an outrage requiring a clear response from a united Caricom. Although still recovering from Saturday’s angioplasty procedure, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley responded to the urgent call from Guyana’s president, Irfaan Ali, by convening yesterday’s emergency meeting of Caricom leaders. As incoming Caricom chairperson, the hot potato of an aggressive Venezuela has fallen to Dr Rowley to unite the regional bloc around Guyana notwithstanding its division on Maduro.
Maduro’s announcement that he had signed a presidential decree laying down Venezuela’s maritime and territorial boundaries to protect its claim of jurisdictional rights in the Essequibo was a boldfaced annexation of territory that has belonged to Guyana since the 1899 Arbitral Award which established the current boundaries. The fact that Venezuela has since recanted its agreement while seeking to overturn it is not to be countenanced.
With dictatorial flair, Maduro told Venezuelans that having signed the decree he had created the “Venezuelan Atlantic Façade territory”. “It is approved, please proceed with implementation,” he said, as if he could just wave away Guyana’s territorial rights with bombast.
As Guyana has repeatedly asserted, the territory being claimed by Venezuela is not disputed territory. It was awarded to Guyana in an arbitration process agreed to by Venezuela and the United Kingdom, which then owned Guyana.
Maduro’s rejection of last month’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirming its jurisdiction to rule on Guyana’s unilateral suit challenging Venezuela’s territorial belligerence is sheer bullying. Further, its refusal to participate in the action before the ICJ and its insistence that the 1899 agreement had been overturned by the Geneva Agreement of 1966 is, to put it mildly, bogus.
As the record shows, that agreement detailed the steps towards resolving the dispute arising out of Venezuela’s claim while maintaining the status quo of Guyana’s authority over the territory, pending any future alteration.
Maduro’s grand declaration last Thursday should come as no surprise. Picking a row with a common enemy is a strategy favoured by beleaguered leaders seeking to distract their population. Note his description of the decree as “a cause uniting an entire nation to fight against the dispossession of a territory that always belonged to Venezuela”. It is indeed a popular cause among Venezuelans. Even Maduro’s rival and wannabe president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, has rejected the ICJ’s ruling, insisting the 1966 Geneva Agreement is the only legal, political and diplomatic instrument that “promotes a practical and satisfactory solution for the parties”.
Maduro’s aggressive and trumped-up claim on Guyana’s Essequibo territory is not to be tolerated and we are heartened by Caricom’s firmness in stating its “firm and unswerving support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana” and its repudiation of any act of aggression against Guyana. Caricom should also work to get Cuba to adopt this position before Maduro’s desperation gets the better of him.