Last Thursday, January 21, two Guyanese fishing boats were operating in our territorial waters off the coast of Waini Point in our North-West District, when they were intercepted by a Venezuelan naval vessel and forced to one of their ports where they have remained detained. The Venezuelan vessel was conclusively within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This latest act of aggression, of course, comes hot on the heels of the unilateral issuance of a decree by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in which he laid claim to our territorial waters off Essequibo.
Not coincidentally, Exxon has been announcing one strike after another of high-quality petroleum deposits. Guyana has been recognised as one of the biggest oil plays of the century and perhaps the last one before the age of renewables takes over. All of this is taking place against the background of our case for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to authoritatively dismiss the controversy over our western border, which Venezuela has been hanging over our heads like a sword of Damocles.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement yesterday, in which, inter alia, it stated the facts of the seizure and continued, “To date, the Government of Guyana has not been informed by the Government of Venezuela of the detention of its nationals. The Venezuelan vessel was illegally manoeuvring within Guyana’s EEZ and Contiguous Zone when it intercepted, boarded and commandeered the Guyanese fishing vessels. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently seeking to ascertain the status and welfare of the crew members.
“Guyana condemns in the strongest possible terms this wanton act of aggression by the Venezuelan armed forces against Guyana and Guyanese citizens. This Venezuelan action amounts to an interference with the sovereign rights of Guyana in its EEZ, contrary to international law. It is noted that this latest hostility follows closely on the heels of a Decree recently issued by President Nicolás Maduro which purports to establish “a new maritime territory of Venezuela called ‘Territory for the development of the Atlantic Façade’”, encompassing Guyana’s territorial waters, EEZ and continental shelf, as well as its land territory west of the Essequibo River. Guyana has emphatically condemned this Venezuelan Decree as a flagrant violation of its sovereignty and sovereign rights, and of fundamental rules of international law.”
It is ironic that on Saturday, even though reports of the seizure by Venezuela had not been reported in the press, “Oil Price”, which reports on the oil industry, had published an article, “Will Venezuela go to war over oil (in Guyana”)? After recapping the background of the border controversy, the article continued, “With every new discovery on the Stabroek block, Venezuela’s opposition to Guyana taking the left bank of the Essequibo River was becoming increasingly untenable…Yet there is another factor that most certainly contributed to Caracas now striking such a belligerent tone – US sanctions against Venezuela. Not only did the tightening of screws on President Maduro’s political allies and relatives blunt the political prospects of Juan Guaidó, it also led to the entry of Venezuela’s military (that remained loyal to Maduro amidst the worst humanitarian suffering) into the Latin American country’s oil industry.
“Any future US Administration will most probably seek to safeguard ExxonMobil’s assets in Guyana. A first sign of this – in the first days of 2021 the commander of the US Southern Command arrived in Guyana for a three-day visit, to celebrate the launch of joint US-Guyanese coast exercises. According to top-ranking officials in the Guyanese army, Georgetown is intent on fortifying its military ties with the United States, including but not limited to arms purchases. Concurrently, Venezuela formed a new parliament which will no longer be controlled by the Guaidó-style Opposition – the pro-Maduro National Assembly will inevitably become more aggressive in its narrative and overall behaviour. Part of the aggression might result from the UN Court of Justice’s ongoing review of the Essequibo case, the decision of which was already declined by Caracas before its actual deliverance.
So, will there be a war between Venezuela and Guyana? Such a scenario seems unlikely now.”
Venezuela’s seizure of our fishing boats does not support that conclusion.