Presidents Ali and Maduro will be meeting in St Vincent later this week, Thursday, December 15. As the host Ralph Gonzalves wrote the two leaders, “Both of you have agreed with me for such a meeting to be held under the auspices of CELAC of which St Vincent and the Grenadines is the Pro-Tempore President and Caricom of which the current Chairman is the Commonwealth of Dominica. Both of you have also requested the distinguished presence of the esteemed President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva”.
“Given the recent events and circumstances attendant upon the border controversy, the leaderships of CELAC and Caricom have assessed, in the interest of all concerned, including our Caribbean and Latin American civilisations, the urgent need to de-escalate the conflict and institute an appropriate dialogue, face to face between the Presidents of Guyana and Venezuela. Both of you have concurred with this assessment in the quest of peaceful co-existence, the application and respect for international law, and the avoidance of the use or threats of force. Both of you are on public record of committing to the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace and the maintenance of international law.”
In calling for the dialogue, however, PM Gonzalves’ invitation assumed a false equivalence between the position taken by Maduro for Venezuela and Pres Ali for Guyana. He baldly stated that everyone was “aware that the Government of Guyana is seeking the resolution of the border controversy through the processes of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is currently seized of the matter…We are cognisant, too, that the Government of Venezuela has rejected the path of the ICJ as the modality for resolution.”
Maduro and Venezuela insist they would prefer to have the border controversy, which they created in 1962 when they informed the UN General Assembly they were reneging on the Arbitral Award they had accepted for over six decades, to be dealt with through direct negotiations. They claim to base their demand on the Geneva Agreement which they signed with Great Britain in February 1966, just before our independence. It is imperative that we, therefore, look at the terms of that Agreement to discern which of the two positions are in conformity with the Agreement.
The Geneva Agreement is embodied in eight succinct Articles. Article 1 mandated: “A Mixed Commission shall be established with the task of seeking satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy between Venezuela and the UK which has arisen as the result of the Venezuelan contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 about the frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela is null and void.”
The Mixed Commission met for four years as stipulated by Article IV without reaching agreement. Art IV mandated: “If, within a period of four years from the date of this Agreement, the Mixed Commission should not have arrived at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy it shall, in its final report, refer to the GoG and the GoV any outstanding questions. Those Governments shall without delay choose one of the means of peaceful settlement provided in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.” In 1970, a 12-year moratorium was declared over the controversy and then the Art 33 “good offices of the UN Secretary General” was unsuccessfully engaged after 1983 to conduct negotiations.
In 2015, following the discovery of oil off Guyana’s shores, the Maduro regime raised their controversy again. In 2018, Guyana followed the second part of Art IV to refer the matter to the UN Secretary General: “If the means so chosen do not lead to a solution of the controversy, the said organ or, as the case may be, the Secretary-General of the UN shall choose another of the means stipulated in Article 33 of the Charter of the UN, and so on until the controversy has been resolved or until all the means of peaceful settlement there contemplated have been exhausted.”
The UN Secretary General chose the ICJ, which will make the definitive decision on the controversy.