The foreign ministers of Guyana and neighboring Venezuela were forced to hold an emergency meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad last weekend seeking to ease tensions over an application by Guyana to the United Nations to extend the country’s continental shelf by a further 150 miles to allow investors to explore for deep sea oil, gas and other resources.
Guyana announced its move to the U.N. last month, angering authorities in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas as political parties there prepare for various levels of elections.
Seeking to use its decades-old claim to the entire western Essequibo Region to drum up public support and win media attention, several Veneauelan opposition politicians urged the Hugo Chavez administration to deal firmly with English-speaking Guyana despite the fact that it had done nothing wrong by asking the U.N. to extend the shelf by up to 150 nautical miles from the current 200-mile exclusive economic zone limit that is enjoyed by many nations.
Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett and Nicolas Maduro Moros announced plans for their last Friday meeting just hours before they were to meet to discuss a number of key issues including the U.N. application, the perennial territorial dispute and others including trade and drug trafficking.
To his credit, Chavez has downplayed the border issue for most of the past decade and has moved to ignore political sabre-rattling from opposition politicians for a firmer stance — military action included, against its much weaker Caribbean trade bloc nation, as many in Venezuela believe the disputed Essequibo regionis Venezuela’s.
There are maps showing the entire Zona de Reclamacion on official Venezuelan government documentation but relations have never been better between the two as evidenced by their joint statement issued at the weekend that called for interaction at a “historically high level” and their commitment “to maintaining that level of relations.”
Both sides also asked Jamaican-born professor Norman Girvan to attend the session. Girvan is the U.N. good offices mediator between the two on the border issue. Both also said it was no accident that Girvan was present as that issue is always on the agenda when the two neighbors meet.
Most of the major investment projects are located in Guyana’s Essequibo region, where Canadian and American gold, diamond, manganese, uranium, timber and other projects exist, but the Venezuelan claim remains firmly on the books.
The final communiqué stated that “the ministers recognised that this controversy is a legacy of colonialism and must be resolved. “
It added that ministers briefed Prof. Girvan, on their discussions and noted that they “agreed that their respective facilitators will discuss issues related to Guyana’s submission, and report to their respective governments.”