Venezuela border controversy: UN Security Council convenes high-level talks over escalating situation
…as Russia joins call for peaceful resolution
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Friday convened privately to discuss the intensifying border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, as the latter advances efforts to seize the oil-rich Essequibo.
From reports, officials were tight-lipped after the meeting concluded. The closed consultations were called by this month’s Council President, Ecuador, after it was requested by Guyana – an incoming Security Council member from 2024.
The letter by Guyana cited Article 35 (1) of the UN Charter, which states that any UN member state “may bring any dispute, or any situation referred to in Article 34 [that is, one that may lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute] to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly”.
Guyana’s request for intervention was issued amid Venezuela’s blatant violation of the International Court of Justice’s order – occurring after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced several measures which his Administration intends to take in enforcing the outcome of the referendum.
Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo was expected to provide the brief.
The UNSC outlined on Friday as the meeting got underway, “Council members are also likely to urge a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute and express concern about its possible ramifications on the Region. Many Council members are expected to urge respect for multilateralism and adherence to international law, and express support for the ICJ. While some members—including the US and European members—are likely to regret Venezuela’s actions, others are not expected to specifically denounce Venezuela’s role in the situation.”
On Friday, the UNSC also drew light to the controversy before the meeting convened, highlighting that the dispute over the Essequibo region—an approximately 160,000 square kilometres stretch of densely forested land that constitutes two-thirds of Guyana’s territory —stretches back to the 19th century, when Guyana was under colonial rule.
It was outlined that Venezuela laid claim to the Essequibo region as far back as 1841, when it argued that the British Empire had encroached on Venezuelan territory in its acquisition of the territory of then-British Guiana from the Netherlands.
The border between Venezuela and British Guiana was decided through the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award, which was given by an international Tribunal of Arbitration, and the region has since been administered by the British and then by Guyana once it gained independence in 1966.
On various occasions since 1962, Venezuela has challenged the validity of the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award. Venezuela became more insistent in its claims over the disputed region in 2015, when oil was discovered off Essequibo’s coast. In March 2018, Guyana filed an application at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), instituting proceedings against Venezuela regarding the disputed territory.
Also on Friday, the Heads of Government within the Caribbean Community (Caricom) met to facilitate dialogue as tensions rise and pressure mounts to safeguard the region as a zone of peace.
In a statement issued late on Friday evening, Caricom said the Heads of Government met in caucus to discuss the situation with regard to the Venezuela-Guyana border controversy.
The statement declared that the Heads of State agree that Caricom firmly supports Guyana in pursuance of the resolution of its border controversy with Venezuela through the process of the ICJ.
Further, Caricom urged Venezuela to respect the conservatory measures determined by the ICJ in its recent ruling, until a final resolution is arrived at.
“Caricom reiterates its commitment to the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace and the maintenance of international law. Accordingly, Caricom calls for a de-escalation of the conflict, and for appropriate dialogue between the leaders of Venezuela and Guyana to ensure peaceful coexistence, the application and respect for international law, and the avoidance of the use or threats of force,” the statement read.
On December 1, the ICJ indicated its provisional measures, calling on Venezuela to refrain from “taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby the Co-operative Republic of Guyana administers and exercises control over that area”, and calling on both parties to avoid any action that might aggravate or extend the dispute.
The measures did not explicitly call on Venezuela not to conduct the referendum, however. The referendum was held on 3 December, with Venezuelan authorities saying that all questions passed with more than 95 per cent approval.
On December 5, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro asked the state oil company to issue extraction licences for Venezuelan companies to explore for fossil fuels and minerals in the Essequibo region and proposed that the National Assembly pass a Bill to make the area part of Venezuela.
Meanwhile, Russia, a close ally of Venezuela’s Maduro, has become one of the latest global leaders to sound calls for a “peaceful solution”.
Spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova communicated, “We call on the parties to refrain from any actions that could unbalance the situation and cause mutual harm.”
Brazil’s President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has vocalised his “growing concern” and told a summit of South America’s Mercosur bloc on Thursday, “If there’s one thing we don’t want here in South America, it’s war.” (G12)