Guyana-Venezuela land dispute at delicate stage
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December 8, 2023
Guyana-Venezuela land dispute at delicate stage

As CARICOM Heads of Governments convene today to discuss the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is also expected to meet to consider Guyana’s request for intervention, following Venezuela’s violation of the International Court of Justice’s order prohibiting the country from taking control of the Essequibo County.

This is one of the latest developments in the more than 100-year-old land dispute which has intensified significantly within this last week, following what has been described by Guyana’s President as “aggressive” action taken by Venezuela to claim to Essequibo, an oil-rich region which constitutes more than two-thirds of the country’s land.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, on his return to the state after attending the COP28 climate change meeting in Dubai, addressed the issue, saying that he intends to exercise restraint in what is said in the public domain in order to make himself available to both sides for dialogue.

“I can give many commentaries about this, you notice that I am restraining myself because I want to have enough flexibility to help to play a role for conversations if that is possible…

“What I am saying here is not giving anybody any headlines for any one side or the other to be dancing in the streets or for persons to provoke me to say ‘you must say this, you must say that’.”

Highlighting the relationship between St Vincent and the Grenadines and both countries, the Prime Minister stressed the need for continued conversation, noting that an escalation to military conflict would prove detrimental for the region.

“We have to ensure that there is no war because everybody is going to suffer.

“I have stated what has been our position historically – Guyana is a close friend of St Vincent and the Grenadines, we are in CARICOM together, we are in CELAC together with Venezuela. St Vincent and other Caribbean countries are in ALBA, all of us are in G77. I am relying on maturity and wisdom in Caracas and in Georgetown…”.

Gonsalves said during a visit to Grenada in September, attended by both the President of Guyana as well as Cuba’s Foreign Minister, plans were made for conversations to be had in order to de-escalate growing tensions.

“The Cuban President has been seeking to facilitate a meeting at the level of Presidents … they were urging that I, for several reasons, including the stature of the leadership of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the region and my close friendship with the President in Guyana and the President in Venezuela to see if we can have a conversation, because when people are talking they are unlikely to fight even though you have differences on the issue.”

The Prime Minister said he believes he holds a “special obligation” to keep conversations going with both sides, adding, “I am in touch on an ongoing basis with both the Guyanese government and the Venezuelan government.”

“I went down to Venezuela myself, in the recent rounds of discussions because St Vincent is seeking to play a role to have a proper conversation. This is without prejudice to Guyana going to the ICJ. St Vincent and CARICOM repeatedly after every Heads of Government meeting we affirm and reaffirm, the inviolability of the borders of Guyana and we urge peace. Those are things we still urge.

He revealed a concern that other “entities” may play a role in the escalation of the tension between the two countries.

“You can see the potential danger in this. I always worry not that Guyana or Venezuela will do something to actually initiate force, but there could be ‘au provocateurs’ or some entity may do something that is not authorized and matters get out of hand…”

On Wednesday, December 6, Guyana’s president, Irfaan Ali said that country’s defence force is on full alert and will “intensify precautionary measures to safeguard its territory”.

The announcement came in response to measures announced by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, out of the December 3 referendum, who said he would authorize oil exploration in an area around the Essequibo River.