TENSION AT THE BORDER

Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley.
Photo by Nelson A. King

Stung by a recent ruling that the World Court (ICJ) has jurisdiction to hear and settle Venezuela’s decades old territorial claim to oil, gas and mineral-rich Guyana, Venezuela’s government has stepped up diplomatic and other pressure against its Caribbean Community neighbor, setting up special committees to reconquer the area and vowing to ensure the dispute ends in the favor.

The ICJ last month said it does in fact have the power to adjudicate the case, dealing a major blow to the administration of President Nicolas Maduro and pushing authorities there to indicate that they would not recognize any ruling by that body-not now nor at any time.

In recent days, teams of military and civilian officials have visited areas bordering Guyana including the western half of Ankoko Island that Venezuela forcibly and militarily annexed while Guyana was preparing for independence in 1966.

The local Kaieteur News newspaper reported this week that Venezuela has clearly stepped up its administrative and other forms of aggression against Guyana with officials encouraging residents in the border San Martin District to prepare to fight with their lives to help reclaim Guyana’s western Essequibo Region representing about two-thirds of the country’s landmass.

Maduro’s cabinet appears to have been especially piqued and angered by a series of recent events on the Guyana side of the border in recent days. Officials there, for example, complained about and criticized joint naval anti-narcotics and ‘illegal fishing exercises’ involving the US navy and the Guyana Coastguard, which occurred at the same time that American Southern Military Commander Admiral Craig Faller was in Guyana on a brief visit. He was also scheduled to visit neighboring Suriname, also a CARICOM bloc member nation.

Both events were, as is usually the case with Venezuela, viewed with suspicion with Defense Minister Vladamir Padrino saying that “our Bolivarian National Armed Forces will guard every one of the geographic spaces that make up our Venezuela, inch by inch. It has been ordered by instruction of the Commander in Chief, Nicolas Maduro, the constant patrolling of our legal waters, the permanent observation by air and sea on the Atlantic coast.”

The border visit on the Venezuelan side also occurred as Trinidad’s Prime Minister and CARICOM Chairman, Keith Rowley was presiding over a community meeting whose agenda had also including the perennial Guyana-Venezuela issue and as the local foreign ministry summoned Venezuelan embassy officials to explain the recent developments including decrees claiming sovereignty over the Essequibo region. As expected, CARICOM took the side of Guyana — one of its founding members-saying in a statement that it “reiterates in the strongest possible terms its firm and unswerving support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana. CARICOM firmly repudiates any acts of aggression by Venezuela against Guyana.”

The two countries have been at odds since the late 1940s when Venezuela began to suggest that an 1899 boundaries commission that had settled and had demarcated the border had actually cheated Venezuela of the area it claims.

Since then, various methods to solve the issue have all failed including direct talks mediated by the UN. This forced Guyana to take the issue to the World Court for a once and for all settlement. In 2015 when American supermajor ExxonMobil had declared world class deposits of offshore oil and gas in Guyana, Venezuela redrew maritime maps to annex almost the entire Guyana and some Caribbean islands north of the country. Before then in 2013, gunboats arrested a seismic vessel working for a Texas company and detained staff for a week. In January 2019, a military helicopter tried to land on another exploration vessel sparking diplomatic outrage in Guyana and the regional bloc. Officials say these incidents are proof that Caracas is serious about what they call Venezuela’s “spurious claim” to Guyana’s territory.

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