Guyana-Venezuela border controversy: Venezuela’s aggression against Guyana has ramifications for entire Region – Greenidge tells T&T forum

– “Region must remain a zone of peace; it’s the best position for all of us” – PM Rowley

By Jarryl Bryan

Laying out the genesis of the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to a captive Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) audience, Carl Greenidge, Guyana’s agent in the border case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), emphasised the ramifications of Venezuela’s actions to the Region.

President Dr Irfaan Ali (L) and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (R) during a press conference back in 2022 at State House

He was at the time addressing a forum organised by the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies, noting that Venezuela’s “games and silliness” show that Guyana has to be prepared to keep fighting for its rights for a very long time. Further, he stressed the importance of being alert on both the diplomatic and military front.
The agent laid out the historical basis of the border controversy, noting that Venezuela has time and again demonstrated its duplicity and bad faith since it agreed to the boundaries set in the 1899 Arbitral Award.
“It is an issue with a history. A long history. Not in the sense of having been a dispute for an inordinately long time, but for part of that time it was in existence, it had actually been resolved. Up to 1962, following the 1899 Arbitral Award, the matter had been resolved.”
“And it is subsequently being reopened, with the sorts of consequences we have seen recently. And it has been taken to another level now, with the attempt by Venezuela to find a mechanism for incorporating an area of Guyana that amounts to 74 per cent of the land,” Greenidge explained.

Guyana’s agent in the border controversy, Carl Greenidge

Greenidge noted that the 1899 Arbitral Award and the 1966 Geneva Agreement did not address the maritime zone. When it comes to questions of whether the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will rule in Guyana’s favour, Greenidge had this to say.
“Let me give you the assurance. The Court has not been approached for transfer of territory. The 1899 Agreement signed by the two parties, does that agreement still stand? Because if it is not valid, then Venezuela has an opportunity to question its validity and for the things that follow.”
“But if the two of us go to a municipal court. And the court decides on a settlement between the two of us in which it gives me your car and it gives you, my house. Let’s just say that’s the settlement. Can you actually anticipate that you can wake up the next morning and say, the court’s decision is invalid. I will keep the car, but I will also take your house. It is inconceivable.”

Greenidge noted that back in 1899 when the Venezuela side submitted their arguments among 6000 pages to the arbitration panel, the focus of Venezuela’s claim was on the Orinoco River. He explained that this was because Venezuela wanted strategic and complete control of the Orinoco, a far bigger river than the Essequibo that sits at a juncture that controlled international trade in much the same way as the Suez Canal.
“A lot of trade passes south of Trinidad and through that passage. And that was their concern. And they went to the United States to get the United States to press Britain. To force Britain to go to arbitration. Britain, on the threat of force from the US, agreed to go to arbitration because they were fighting too many battles at the same time. They decided they wouldn’t take on another one.
So, they decided to go to arbitration.” “But you know, the Minister of Foreign Affairs who was a lawyer, he (said he) saw statements from Venezuelans. (And he wanted to know) is it going to be the case where if Venezuela got a decision they didn’t like, they will say that their Constitution doesn’t allow it? The Venezuelans answered, do you know how? They answered no. We will implement the decision. That was in 1899. Today, they can go back on their word and attempt to do what is really quite outrageous,” Greenidge further said.
Additionally, Greenidge revealed that Venezuela had been asked on multiple occasions to agree to the modification of the boundaries, but had always refused. Now, however, Venezuela refuses to recognise them.
“If they didn’t recognise them, why would they refuse to have them modified? So that is where we are. The boundaries could not be modified for 63 years and then one morning, the Venezuelan representatives woke up and decided they were going to change all of them. Except that you cannot unilaterally change a border. If an old agreement establishing a border is replaced, you have to negotiate a new one. And if it’s an agreement affecting two sides, the two sides have to agree.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during a recent press briefing reaffirmed Caricom’s support for Guyana in its border controversy with Venezuela while making it clear that the Region must remain a zone of peace.
“We are confident that the governments of Venezuela and Guyana would know that Caricom’s position – that our Region must be and remain a zone of peace – is the best position for all of us.”
He added that is fully aware that it has the support of Caricom and more so, Venezuela knows that Caricom supports Guyana.
Further, the Prime Minister noted that the Region must remain a zone of peace. “I have no forecast as to how it would go but I would not like to see the relationship between Venezuela and Guyana deteriorate to a point where consequent actions would negatively damage all of us, because all of us would be damaged,” Rowley noted.
Nevertheless, he added that Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname could work together to develop the Region’s natural gas resources.
After years of failed good offices process via the United Nations (UN), Guyana is seeking a final and binding judgement to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties, as well as legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of the country’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.
Guyana’s Spanish-speaking neighbour has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region, and to a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered largely by United States oil giant ExxonMobil.
Over the past few weeks, Guyana has been informing regional and international partners of a referendum planned by Venezuela for December 3, which has been criticised by the United States, Caricom, and the Organisation of American States (OAS), as well as several other nations in the Region, including Brazil, for seeking to, among other things, gain a national consensus to annex Essequibo.