The other foot has been dropped, and it is a very powerful foot. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) – also known as the World Court – announced its ruling on the petition made by our country to halt the referendum Venezuela will be holding tomorrow. Most pertinently, Question 5 of the referendum states: “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?”
Our submission was that the government of Nicolas Maduro was in effect asking its citizens to approve his plans to invade and annex our Essequibo by unilaterally and idiosyncratically interpreting the Geneva Agreement – which it signed and referenced – even though the question is before the Court. The ICJ had already thrown out Venezuela’s argument that it (the Court) did not possess jurisdiction over the matter. That argument was emphasized most unprofessionally and rudely by the Venezuelan representative to the Court – VP Delcy Rodríguez – when arguments on the referendum were being made. She defiantly told the court: “Nothing will prevent the referendum scheduled for Dec. 3 from being held.”
Inter alia, the Court ruled 1: unanimously pending a final decision in the case (on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award), the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela shall refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby the Cooperative Republic of Guyana administers and exercises control over that area; and 2: unanimously both parties shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court, or make it more difficult to resolve.”
While the Court did not refer to the referendum specifically – since this was already the subject of the judgement being issued – the use of the word “shall” articulates its mandatory instruction that, irrespective of what is the outcome of the Referendum, Venezuela cannot take ANY action that would alter the status quo in which Guyana exercises absolute sovereignty over Essequibo. Citing examples, the Court noted, however, “Other official statements suggest that Venezuela is taking steps with a view towards acquiring control over and administering the territory in dispute.”
It concluded, “The court considers that in light of the strong tension that currently characterizes the relations between the parties, the aforementioned circumstances present a serious risk of Venezuela acquiring and exercising control and administration of the territory in dispute in the present case.” It therefore concluded that “There is a risk of irreparable prejudice to the right claim by Guyana in the present proceedings that the court has found plausible.”
That such an option is plausible is clear from Venezuela’s forcible annexation of our half of Ankoko Island in the Cuyuni River since 1966, which it occupies to date.
Venezuela has already confirmed that it will flaunt the latest ruling of the Court and proceed with the referendum, since it astoundingly interpreted the ruling as a victory. Its Ministry of Communication and Information announced that the court had “rejected” Guyana’s request. Because of the Maduro regime’s blatant manipulation of elections – as exemplified by the last two – it is a foregone conclusion that the referendum will give a resounding “yes” on all the questions posed. And as such, the ball will now be in Maduro’s court – no pun intended – on what lies ahead.
Based on his regime’s consistent refusal to observe the most fundamental law that undergirds the international state system – pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept) – Maduro has provoked all of Venezuela’s neighbours – especially Brazil, Colombia and Caricom – into rallying behind Guyana’s cause. Wider afield, the United States, which has declared its commitment towards preserving a “rule-based” order, has also insisted through its ambassador: “…we support the current territorial sovereignty of Guyana, and we call on Venezuela to do the same”.