Nothing will stop Dec 3 vote on Essequibo – Venezuela’s VP tells World Court

– Guyana Govt upbeat ICJ will rule in its favour

By Feona Morrison

Vice President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Delcy Rodríguez, informed the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday that nothing will prevent her nation from proceeding with its December 3, 2023 referendum about its claim to the oil-rich Essequibo County of Guyana.
Guyana, which sees the referendum as an “existential threat” that would allow Venezuela to acquire Essequibo, asked the United Nations top court on Tuesday to impose provisional measures to stop it.
However, according to Venezuela, Guyana’s demand obstructs that country’s internal and historical affairs and constitutional order.
“It is unacceptable to attempt to abrogate the Venezuelan constitutional order by preventing the consultative referendum of December 3. Venezuela will not accept it,” a determined Rodríguez told ICJ Judges during her oral arguments.
“Nothing will prevent the referendum, scheduled for the 3rd of December, from being held. Today, we are going to demonstrate that Guyana’s request is unprecedented and unusual. It creates danger for the rest of the international community, in particular for those states which have constitutional formulas for participating similar to those of Venezuela,” she declared.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), formally known as the World Court, declared in April of this year that it possesses jurisdiction to determine the border dispute between the two South American neighbours. In the major case, however, a final decision might not come for years.
Venezuela maintains that the border with Guyana, a former colony of The Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK), was fraudulently imposed by the British, which it has denounced as a “land grabber.” Guyana, on the other hand, maintains that the line was determined on October 3, 1899 by an arbitration panel (Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899).
The Anglo-Venezuelan Arbitral Tribunal met in Paris, France, and on October 3, 1899 — 122 years ago — gave its award defining the border between Venezuela and then-British Guiana.
The Venezuelan Vice President made it clear on Wednesday that her nation’s participation in the court proceedings does not, in any way, mean recognition of the court’s jurisdiction.
“I would like to [emphasise] that our participation in this hearing does not, in any way, mean recognition of the jurisdiction of this honourable court on the territorial dispute concerning the Guayana Esequiba, or on the so-called provisional measures requested by Guyana, in flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the statute of this court.”

According to Rodríguez, following the attempted territorial dispossession undertaken against her nation through fraud perpetrated by the Paris Tribunal in 1899, Venezuela adopted, from this historical position, a doctrine of not submitting the resolution of disputes related to its vital interests, including independence and territorial integrity, to the decision of third parties.
“This is a doctrine that does not refer only to this honorable court. It aims to safeguard the most sacred interests of our nation in all international spaces and mechanisms,” she added.
Rodríguez pointed out that within the United Nations (UN), since its creation until today, Venezuela has expressed its position on 12 occasions against the compulsory and automatic jurisdiction of the court, thus showing its consistency in this regard.
The Venezuelan Vice President maintained that the organisation of a consultative referendum is an exercise of sovereignty and self-determination of the people, and that nothing authorises Guyana to restrict the rights of the Venezuelan people to freely establish their political status or intervene in their internal affairs.
“The organisation of this referendum plainly falls within Venezuela’s reserved domain, whereas no international law obligation could impact its holding or content. Guyana invokes no basis for any limitation to this reserved domain. This is because nothing in international law allows Guyana,” Professor Makane Mbengue submitted on Venezuela’s behalf.
He added, “Importantly, the consultative referendum, the main substance of Guyana’s request, was announced by Venezuela at a meeting held by the President of the Court with the representatives of the parties on 26 February 2021. Whilst Guyana requested nine months from the date of the order fixing the time limits for the preparation of its Memorial, Venezuela indicated that it was required by its Constitution to conduct popular consultations on the matter.”

On Tuesday, Guyana’s agent in the case and Advisor on Borders, Carl Greenidge, reminded the ICJ that it has already twice affirmed its jurisdiction to mediate the boundary controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. Among other things, he pointed out to the court that Venezuela, by attempting to pre-empt the court’s ruling and take extra-judicial action, is challenging the court’s authority; and, by extension, the United Nations’ ability to ensure a resolution of the matter.
The ICJ has committed to rendering its decision on Guyana’s request for provisional measures “as soon as possible”, according to the court’s President, Justice Joan Donoghue.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, the Government of Guyana, in a statement, said it is pleased that “Guyana was provided a full opportunity to present its case before the court, and remains optimistic that the court will render a decision in our favour in accordance with international law.”
After abiding by the 1899 Arbitral Award for almost half a century, Venezuela in 1962 claimed that the Essequibo area of Guyana belonged inside its borders. The debate has heated up after ExxonMobil found oil in Essequibo in 2015. Because of this, Guyana launched a World Court case against Venezuela in 2018, to confirm that the border was established in an arbitration between the then-colony of British Guiana and Venezuela in 1899.
Within the framework of the 1966 Geneva Agreement between the two countries, the Secretary-General conducted Good Offices processes from 1990 to 2017 to find a solution to the border controversy. On January 30, 2018, then Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, following a careful analysis of developments in 2017, chose the ICJ as the means to be used for the solution of the controversy.
In its most recent complaint, Guyana condemned what it described as “Venezuela’s sinister plan for seizing Guyanese territory”, and asked the ICJ to provide urgent protection. It requests an order from the ICJ prohibiting Venezuela from carrying out the referendum as planned.
Guyana contended that the sole goal of the referendum was to “obtain responses that would support Venezuela’s decision to abandon” the ICJ proceedings in order to “formally annex and integrate” Essequibo into Venezuela.
The proposed referendum proposes giving Venezuelan citizenship to the residents of an annexed Essequibo.
In April 2023, the ICJ ruled it had jurisdiction over the long-running border dispute between the South American nations. In so doing, it rejected Venezuela’s argument that the United Kingdom should be involved, as Guyana was a British colony in 1899.
The Essequibo accounts for almost two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, with around 125,000 of the country’s 800,000 inhabitants living there.
Crude is produced in the offshore Stabroek block of Guyana by a consortium comprising the Chinese corporation CNOOC Ltd, the American oil giant ExxonMobil, and Hess Corp. Nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered, and a portion of this block is situated in waters that Venezuela claims.
The Spanish-speaking nation is under international sanctions due to an unrecognized election and crackdown on antigovernment rallies.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has accused the Guyana Government of being a puppet of ExxonMobil and the US Southern Command, and has called on President Dr Irfaan Ali to engage in bilateral discussions with Venezuela, mediated by the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to settle the longstanding border controversy.
The Guyana Government has made it clear that it has no intention of abandoning the legal process that has already begun and engaging Venezuela outside of the court. This position was also reaffirmed by Guyana’s National Assembly in a unanimous vote earlier this month.
Over the past few weeks, Guyana has been informing regional and international partners of Venezuela’s planned referendum, which has been criticised by the United States, Caricom, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as several other nations in the Region, including Brazil.
It is feared that Venezuela’s referendum will threaten the peace, security, and stability of the Region. In the past few weeks, Venezuela has been conducting military drills near Guyana’s borders and mobilising more troops.
In the case, Guyana seeks to obtain from the ICJ a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between then-British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid and binding, and that the county of Essequibo belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela, as is being argued by the Spanish-speaking nation.