Maduro’s dangerous gambit

We are a week away from Maduro’s ‘consultative” referendum with the Venezuelan people on its critical number 5 item: “Do you agree with the creation of the Guayana Esequiba state and the development of an accelerated plan for comprehensive care for the current and future population of that territory, which includes, among others, the granting of citizenship and identity card? Venezuela, in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and International Law, consequently incorporating said state on the map of Venezuelan territory?”
As our Representative Carl Greenidge said at the World Court, where we asked for an emergency ruling to stop the referendum, “It seeks to create a new Venezuelan state that purports to annex and incorporate into its own territory Guyana’s entire Essequibo region, more than two-thirds of its national territory and to grant Venezuelan citizenship to the population”. This, of course, would pre-empt the judgement of the Court on the case we brought to it in 2018 to declare that the 1899 Arbitral Award was “full and final” and Venezuela has no legal basis for declaring it to be “null and void”. In rejecting the jurisdiction of the World Court, Venezuela, of course, is once again reneging on a treaty it signed – the Geneva Agreement – which is pellucid on the steps that could be taken to settle the “controversy” it concocted to claim our Essequibo by invalidating the 1899 Arbitral Award, which it also signed.
Some have said that with elections due next year, Maduro is simply trying to buttress his dwindling support in the Venezuelan electorate since the rampant corruption emanating from his populist policies has destroyed the economy and social fabric, resulting in 7.5 million citizens – almost one-quarter of the population – fleeing to foreign countries. But while that may be true, the route he has taken has grave repercussions across the world if the growing number of fascist and populist leaders across the world can have their citizens go along with actions of the State that clearly violate international law. Signing an international treaty creates an obligation on the signatories to respect international laws and norms – of which the first and most fundamental law is “pacta sunt servanda” – agreements must be kept. To do otherwise would be to unleash chaos into the international state system.
Those above who believe that Maduro is merely courting domestic electoral support – since his most likely rival at next year’s elections recently demonstrated her broad support during the Opposition primaries – believe that his sabre-rattling is a harmless ploy. But this conclusion elides the powerful nationalistic sentiments that are aroused in Venezuelans over the claim that Venezuela was robbed of Essequibo by Britain back in 1899. It goes back to 1949 when Venezuela was ruled by a dictatorship and Mallet-Prevost’s posthumous claim that the Award was rigged surfaced. But it was in 1961, when democratic elections had been reinstated and President Betancourt was head of Government that two of the Constitution’s articles were changed to implicitly appropriate Essequibo.
From a bland description of the Federal territories, Article 7 now declared: “The national territory is that which belonged to the Captaincy General of Venezuela before the political transformation initiated in 1810, with the modifications resulting from treaties validly concluded by the Republic.
Sovereignty, authority, and vigilance over the territorial sea, the contiguous maritime zone, the continental shelf, and the air space, and also the ownership and exploitation of property and resources contained within them, shall be exercised to the extent and under the conditions determined by law.”
The Spanish-ruled “Captaincy General of Venezuela” of 1810 included Essequibo and this, of course, was rectified by the 1899 Arbitral Award. Every Venezuelan – including those who are refugees in Guyana – has been indoctrinated that Essequibo’s ceding by a treaty is “not validly concluded”. This is reinforced by Article 8: “The national territory may never be ceded, transferred, leased, or in any way alienated, even partially or temporarily, to a foreign power.”
We must remember that Venezuela already annexed our half of Ankoko Island. “Beware the man on horseback!”