At the urgings of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and a few other island nations, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been invited to discuss his country’s decades-old claim to large swathes of Guyana’s on and offshore territories at the regional leaders summit beginning in Barbados on Thursday.
Officials say the surprise invitation has caught the President David Granger-led Guyana delegation off guard since it was hoping to have a full and frank discussion among its fellow Caribbean trade group member nations and walk away with a clear and strong statement from its own family grouping without the presence of a non member.
It is unclear now whether Maduro had pushed to attend the three-day summit on his own from Caracas but officials at Guyana’s ministry of the presidency say they believe that some of the Eastern Caribbean island nations which are dependent on Venezuelan concession oil under the 2005 PetroCaribe scheme and other forms of aid like St. Vincent and Dominica had worked to ensure Maduro will have an equal say at a meeting involving one of its own family members.
His presence at the summit could be two-fold, the first to discuss Venezuela’s recent publication of the new map taking in a large swath of Guyana’s offshore area that Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge says runs into neighboring northern Suriname and the second, to reiterate his country’s commitment to the oil deal.
He argued that if Venezuela is allowed any leverage with its claim, it will have serious implication for countries as far southeast as French Guiana and as far north as the same Eastern Caribbean states which are suspected of inviting Maduro to sit at the table with Granger and other leaders.
“It is an extensive area, a large area that annexes our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), our territorial zone and that of many of our neighboring Caricom states. This is what we have seen from our assessment in the past three weeks or so. We have to be very concerned about what this decree means to many countries of the Caribeban,” Greenidge said Wednesday.
The new area of claim of course includes the spot where U.S. oil giant, Exxon Mobil, found significant quantities of oil and gas at its Liza 1 well in early May. Exxon has already said that it plans to drill two more in the coming months because seismic indications are so promising. Governance Minister Raphael Trotman said this week that the well is estimated to have between 800 million to 1.5 billion barrels of oil.
In recent weeks, Venezuela had put out several statements urging Exxon to walk away from the well because it is in its territory. The well is located 120 miles off the Guyana coast. Guyana’s EEZ has a 200 mile limit.
In urging other leaders and governments to pay keen attention, Greenidge pointed to a ruling of an international tribunal that had several years ago demarcated the Guyana-Suriname marine boundary saying a part of Suriname will now be annexed if the claim and new map are allowed to fly.
“Yes the claim also includes an area which was given to Suriname in that ruling.”
Before the invitation to Maduro, the issue was not expected to take center stage as it certainly will at the summit largely because of the presence of President Maduro and his delegation and plans by Guyana to make a strong case to regional leaders, even using various methods to wake them up to Venezuela’s intentions.