The Venezuelan crisis needs no rehearsal, since Guyana as well as Caricom have, on several occasions, expressed hope that their Government and Opposition would arrive at a modus vivendi. There has been a complete meltdown of the Venezuelan economy, with 5 million of its citizens fleeing to neighbouring countries, including Guyana. Several international efforts to broker a rapprochement, the last being led by Norway in 2019, have failed.
Norway persisted, and, in August, a preliminary agreement was struck by the representatives of the two sides at new talks hosted by Mexico, and again mediated by Norway, with the Netherlands, Russia, Bolivia and Turkey observing. The memorandum of understanding declared that the negotiators’ aim was to “establish clear rules for political and social coexistence”, and they would proceed with “partial agreements” towards a comprehensive final one. The Venezuelan Government’s focus was to have the US sanctions removed, or at least eased, while the Opposition’s concern was “free and fair” upcoming regional elections, which would signal a Government acceptable to all Venezuelans.
Against that background, it was with great consternation that Guyanese learnt a week ago that the bitterly divided Venezuelans had agreed one thing at least: “the historic and inalienable rights of…Venezuela over the territory of Essequibo”, and their “disagreement with the decision of the International Court of Justice to grant itself jurisdiction to determine the validity of the Arbitral Award of 1899, based on the unilateral request of Guyana.”
As to how this would “establish clear rules for political and social coexistence” needs to be clarified by the mediator Norway and the several observer countries, such as the Netherlands. While the US and the EU do not have an official presence, the Biden Administration has signalled that it would be amenable to phased reduction of sanctions, pending substantive agreement that addresses its objective of democratic elections in Venezuela. The EU had withdrawn its recognition of the Guaido “government” as an inducement for Maduro to come to the table.
Do they then expect that the revanchist stance of the Venezuelan Government and Opposition would inspire the Venezuelan people to overlook the squalid existence to which they have been brought because an imminent takeover of the waters off the Essequibo and, more pertinently, the 9 billion barrels of oil that ExxonMobil is lifting from the present 120,000 bpd to million bpd will save them?
The Guyana Govt responded with alacrity, along with the Opposition, even though they are locked in the fallout from the March 2, 2020 elections contretemps. The former “firmly rejects the agreement…(which)…is an overt threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana…Guyana cannot be used as an altar of sacrifice for settlement of Venezuela’s internal political differences. While the Government of Guyana welcomes domestic accord within Venezuela, an agreement defying international law and process is not a basis for mediating harmony.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs further reminded that Guyana and Venezuela’s border controversy is before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and will remain there until there is a peaceful and final resolution.
The Opposition declared, “The APNU+AFC Coalition takes this opportunity to reaffirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana, and to remind that the Guyana/ Venezuela controversy remains before the International Court of Justice for resolution. We reiterate our faith in the rule of international law in pursuit of a peaceful settlement in this regard, and our continued support of a national approach to safeguarding Guyana’s sovereignty.”
What this incident reminds us is that the Venezuelans have made their concocted border controversy an article of faith for their citizens, and have incorporated their claim over Essequibo into their constitution: they have been inculcating this in their school system from nursery to university. We must be prepared for the Venezuelan revanchist claims to continue even after the World Court’s decision, which they know will confirm the 1899 Arbitral Award.
In the meantime, we must engage the mediators of the Venezuelan Talks, which will resume on Sept 24, that they cannot allow this wilful rejection of the UN system of peaceful resolution to this Venezuelan controversy.