Oil exploration main basis for Venezuela’s claims to Essequibo – AG

Border controversy

Attorney General Anil Nandlall appearing on TV6 for an interview on the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy

Exploration for oil and natural gas off the coast of Guyana is the main attraction for Venezuela’s claims to the Essequibo region.
This was the position shared by Attorney General Anil Nandlall in conversation with TV6 in Trinidad and Tobago, in light of the Nicolás Maduro-led Government’s renewed claims to Guyana’s maritime border located west of the Essequibo Coast.
Outlining that this is a serious abrogation of international laws, the Legal Affairs Minister pointed out that these claims are bound to surface when economic activities are ongoing in the disputed area. However, he reminded that possession of the Essequibo county has never left Guyana’s hands.
“All the maps show that the Essequibo belongs to Guyana. It forms part of our territory. Every time there is economic activity in Guyana, in relation to petroleum exploration and petroleum production, we see this ugly allegation, baseless as it is, being raised by Venezuela… I believe that was the initial trigger and continues to be the underlying reason that is driving this action on the part of Venezuela,” Nandlall illustrated.
A significant portion of the oil blocks is located offshore the area in question, driving these attempts to take control. In 2014, when the blocks were being mapped out, Venezuela endeavoured to prove that the Essequibo belonged to them.
He reiterated that while the Venezuelan counterpart has violated international practices, Guyana has always taken a path of diplomacy and accordance with universal laws. As such, Government has confidence in its allies and international entities, for continued support in the border controversy case. It is expected that other bodies will also join in solidarity.
“We sought and solicited solidarity and support from the region and we got that in the form of a statement from Caricom, the United States Government and I have no doubt that in due course, other international organisations like the Commonwealth, the OAS, the UK Government, the Canadian Government, will also issue similar statements. We consider this a grave act of aggression against our territory and we’re taking this as seriously as we possibly can.”
As Trinidad and other countries continue economic trade with Venezuela, Nandlall said Caricom will have to make an important decision of whether it will stand “with one of its own in a matter of fundamental national importance and territorial sovereignty or whether it will bend and bow to commercial interests”. In such a situation, he said it is expected that the first position would be taken as opposed to the latter.
In light of recent threats, the Minister contended that Guyana has resources to detect any form of incursion from the Spanish-speaking neighbour.
The Senior Counsel added, “I think we have the requisite resources to detect any incursion. Our army is fully briefed. The President is leading from the front as the Commander-in-Chief and is viewing this matter closely, receiving reports. Army personnel are strategically placed in the appropriate locations.”
It was highlighted that Venezuela has taken a stride that they are not prepared to abide by democratic principles or the rule of law. Because of this, he said they must have concerns.
The World Court has already ruled that it has jurisdiction to entertain the case filed by Guyana. The case management conference before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been postponed for January 25.
Guyana approached the World Court seeking a final and binding judgement to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties, and legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of Guyana’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.
Guyana’s March 2018 application to the ICJ was filed based on the recommendation of the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, following a failed good offices process between the neighbouring states.
In a majority decision on December 18, 2020, the ICJ ruled that it has jurisdiction to adjudicate over the border controversy case. This was after Venezuela, which has refused to participate in the legal proceedings, wrote the court to say that the UN SG exceeded his authority under the 1966 Geneva Agreement when he referred the case to the ICJ, and therefore the court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter.
The ICJ found that both Guyana and Venezuela consented to judicial settlement when they signed the Geneva Agreement since the judicial process via the ICJ is one of the means available to the Secretary General in determining the controversy. Hence, the Court’s decision is binding on both parties.
However, last week, the Maduro regime issued a decree claiming for Venezuela, sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River – a move which President Dr Irfaan Ali has staunchly rejected.
The Guyanese leader declared last Saturday that Venezuela’s maritime border claim is a “legal nullity” that will not be recognised by Guyana or any other State in the world. He added that while this latest move by the Spanish-speaking nation is “deeply disturbing,” it will not deter Guyana’s resolve to seek a final and binding resolution at the ICJ.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s action has also been widely rejected here by the parliamentary Opposition, other political parties, civil society bodies and bilateral partners as well. In fact, Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon on Friday reiterated the APNU/AFC Coalition’s condemnation of the recent decree, adding that it is illegal and can only serve to ferment tension in a territorial controversy that is being peaceably resolved at the World Court. (G12)