Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves has come under criticism following the circulation of a photo showing him holding a map of Venezuela that includes Guyana’s Essequibo region. But the St Vincent and the Grenadines leader has explained that he was not aware the region of Essequibo was on the map.
The photograph also includes SVG’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Keisal Peters; head of Venezuela’s diplomatic mission in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Francisco Perez Santana; and the Cuban Ambassador to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, José M. Leyva Ventura.
All the parties are smiling with PM Gonsalves and Perez Santana holding a papier mache design. The public circulation of the photograph comes less than a month after a high-level meeting between the Presidents of Guyana and Venezuela was held in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The two heads of state agreed, on the request of PM Gonsalves, to meet after tensions escalated significantly between the two neighbouring states over the oil-rich Essequibo region.
Guyana’s assertion to sovereignty over the Essequibo region came under heavy challenge after a December 3, 2023 referendum in Venezuela where it was reported that over 95 percent the voters said yes to the creation of the Guayana Esequiba state. Immediately afterwards, President Nicolas Maduro announced measures to implement the referendum which was followed by strong condemnation by Guyana’s President, Irfaan Ali who has maintained the position that the border dispute should be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The meeting between the two embattled leaders ended with the ‘Joint Declaration of Argyle for Dialogue and Peace between Guyana and Venezuela’ which states that neither country will use force against the other.
Dr Gonsalves, in a letter dated January 4, 2024 and addressed to Presidents Ali and Maduro said he was not aware of the depiction of the Essequibo region onto the Venezuelan map.
“I do not recall ever seeing this photograph before its current circulation. I am informed that photographs were being taken in front of flags of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela and a bust of Bolivar.
“While the photographs were being taken, I am advised that someone attached to the Venezuelan Embassy placed the “papier-mâché” depiction of the said map in front of us. I did not look at what the depiction was.”
He explained that the photograph was taken in December 2022 at an event on the grounds of the residence of the Charge d’Affaires of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Villa. The event was held to commemorate the life and work of Simon Bolivar, and PM Gonsalves said he assumed that the paper mache design was related to that.
“It is unfortunate that this innocent inadvertence on my part has been used by some to drum up, unnecessarily, antipathy of one kind or another. I understand all the emotions attendant to this controversial issue …”
In the letter, he further explained that he has spoken to both the President and Vice President of Guyana on the issue and he hopes that it has been “laid to rest”.
PM Gonsalves closed the letter by saying that he is encouraged by the January 2 , 2024 letter from President Ali to President Maduro for the arranging of the first meeting of the Joint Commission in Brazil which is intended to advance the Argyle Declaration and its “purposes”.