Home Letters An impoverished and isolated Venezuela: Still an existential threat
Impoverished and isolated nations should have a more cooperative spirit and exhibit a more temperate attitude in their relations with other nations. No country, especially those mired in economic and social turmoil, can exist in isolation without exasperating the economic woes of its citizens. Because countries are so dependent on each other, they ought to take measures to assure other nations that they are responsible and law-abiding global actors. They must not pursue expansionist ambitions, especially territorial ambitions that have no legitimate foundation. If there is a conviction of legitimacy, then arguments to that effect must be heard by an international legal institution with the authority to settle disputes between nations. The only legal body with such jurisdiction is the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Both Guyana and Venezuela are signatories to the ICJ statute.
Established in 1945 under the charter of the United Nations with both general and universal jurisdiction, the ICJ today is the highest court in the world whose authority theoretically covers “all international disputes”. In issuing its recent ruling that is has jurisdiction to adjudicate on the 1899 award regarding the Guyana-Venezuela territorial dispute, the ICJ carried out one of its core mandates: to agree to adjudicate between states when “states submit legal disputes that arise between them and other states.” In trying to resolve its dispute with Venezuela, Guyana had taken the matter to the ICJ for a ruling and was understandably highly pleased when the ICJ came back and affirmed that it would adjudicate on the case.
Notwithstanding the fact that Venezuela is a party to the ICJ statute, it has boldly and explicitly stated that it would not abide with the ICJ ruling, citing lack of jurisdiction on the part of the ICJ in the matter. In fact, Venezuela’s action is not simply a rejection of the ICJ ruling; it borders on contempt for this international legal institution. Shortly after the ICJ ruling, Venezuela issued its intent to “reconquer” Essequibo” – two-thirds of Guyana. It was an act of contempt and defiance, and it underscored the need for Guyana to bolster its position by not only by taking recourse to the court but by also engaging with its regional and international partners, many, if not all, of whom have already reaffirmed their unwavering support for Guyana.
In threatening to “reconquer Essequibo” on the premise that the 1899 award is not valid and therefore unbinding, and in refusing to recognise the ICJ as the sole authority to settle its dispute with Guyana, Venezuela, under dictator Nicolás Maduro, confirmed that it is indeed one of the worst actors on the international stage, a rogue nation with an uncontrollable impulse to destroy and bring about instability both within and outside its territory. It is a country without any discernible respect and concern for its own people, much less its neighbours. With Maduro having such a disposition, no one is really surprised at his adventurism and his attempt to intimidate Guyana. His apocalyptic statement regarding the border dispute shows just how judicious was Guyana’s decision to submit its case to the ICJ. Equally important was Guyana’s rejection of the ludicrous proposal by Venezuela to have bilateral talks on the issue.
Within the framework of bilateralism, Venezuela hopes that it can dictate certain terms and conditions that will be favourable to its position – given the asymmetries between its military forces and that of Guyana’s. This is in addition to its relatively large population, which is approximately thirty times the population of Guyana. Through the strategy of bilateralism, Venezuela intends to prolong the border conflict indefinitely until it has the absolute confidence that it can “reconquer Essequibo” without serious repercussions on its part. Its insistence on a bilateral framework undergirds the absurdity of its claim, which is why it has bluntly refused to accept the ICJ’s ruling that it has jurisdiction to hear and resolve the dispute.
Venezuela must understand that this harebrained approach will lead to the complete erosion of any goodwill the international community may have for it. It is already an isolated nation, and its unabashed threat to reclaim Essequibo can only have the effect of it being further shunned by other nations. The Organisation of American States (OAS) has expectedly thrown its support behind Guyana. So has Caricom. Despite knowing this, however, Venezuela seems to delude itself that its “reconquer Essequibo” posture will triumph over the “not a blade of grass” determination of the Guyanese people. The delusional Nicolás Maduro is not likely to be the Head of State when the ICJ gives its verdict. Whoever succeeds him would come to the rude awakening that Venezuela was wrong and irresponsible all along.
But for now, Venezuela must be seen for what it is: an existential threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity. Its current state of impoverishment and isolation makes no difference. Its current leaders are delusional and are determined not to break the continuity of the narrative that Essequibo belongs to them. This narrative has been firmly implanted in the psyche of all Venezuelans, which makes the threat of Maduro not something to dismiss. The citizens of Guyana must be prepared to meet any threat.
Sheik M Ayube