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APNU warns of another Venezuelan blockade; reiterates bipartisan approach

Guyana’s main parliamentary opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on Friday warned against falling into the trap of another economic blockade by neighbouring Venezuela.

“APNU further calls on Guyana’s diplomats to remain awake and alert so as not to sleepwalk into another economic blockade. Guyanese must not be mesmerized by the mirage of Venezuelan magnanimity,” said the opposition coalition which holds 26 of the 33 opposition seats in the House.

The party’s talk of Venezuela’s magnanimity seemed to refer to the lucrative rice and paddy deal and the sale of oil on concessionary terms under the PetroCaribe deal. Venezuela has also helped finance the construction of the Hugo Chavez Rehabilitation and Reintegration Centre for destitute persons at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice.

APNU’s warning came 15 days after Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett assured that Guyana would not “compromise its principles nor sacrifice any of its national patrimony for ephemeral gains displayed on the altar of cooperation.”

The opposition grouping noted that Venezuela, despite its apparent economic generosity, has never altered its maritime strategy or its policy towards Guyana’s Essequibo. “Its quest for access to the Atlantic Ocean is critical to understanding last October’s Yekuana incident,” added APNU. 

APNU called on the Venezuelan government to obey Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations – for the “Pacific Settlement of Disputes” – and to desist from resorting to armed force in its relations with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.

 At the same time, APNU urged the President Donald Ramotar-led administration to adopt, immediately, a bi-partisan approach to all border and territorial issues; to establish a permanent Border and National Security Commission.

APNU said it considered the 10th October maritime aggression as consistent with past Venezuelan confrontational conduct. The frigate of the Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela – PC 23 Yekuana – entered Guyana’s exclusive economic zone on Thursday 10th October and, under the threat of force, prevented the unarmed vessel – Teknik Perdana – from conducting seismic surveys.

Following is the remainder of APNU’s statement:

 The Yekuana incident was an unlawful and unwarranted use of armed force in violation of the Charter of the United Nations. Its objective was to impede Essequibo’s economic development. There is abundant evidence to this effect:

·         The Essequibo ‘annexation’: The Venezuelan government, under President Raúl Leoni Otero (1964-69), placed an advertisement in the Times newspaper of London on 15th June 1968 to the effect that the Essequibo belonged to Venezuela and that it would not recognize economic concessions granted there by the Guyana Government. President Leoni then issued Decreto No. 1.152 of 9th July 1968 purporting to annex a nine-mile wide belt of seaspace along Guyana’s entire Essequibo coast and requiring various agencies including the Defence Ministry to impose Venezuelan sovereignty over it. President Rafael Antonio Caldera Rodriguez (1969-74) blocked Guyana’s attempt to permit petroleum exploration rights in the Essequibo by DEMITEX, a German company.

·         The Mazaruni obstruction: President Luis Herrera Campins (1979-83) obstructed the development of the Upper Mazaruni Hydro-power Project. He issued a communiqué in April 1981 stating that, because of “Venezuela’s claim on the Essequibo territory,” it “asserted the rejection of Venezuela to the hydro-electric project of the upper Mazaruni.” Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, José Alberto Zambrano Velasco, wrote a letter giving the President of the World Bank an ultimatum to refrain from financing the Upper Mazaruni Hydro-Electric Project.

·         The Atlantic access: President Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodriguez (1974-79 and 1989-93) paid a visit to Guyana in 1978 during which he indicated Venezuela’s willingness to help finance the hydro-electric power project in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region.Perez, however, expressed Venezuela’s geopolitical interest in gaining a Salida al Atlantico – access to the Atlantic – from the Orinoco delta by offering to reduce the territorial claim to about 31,000 km2 in return for the Essequibo coast. President Pérez then signed the Treaty between the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Republic of Venezuela on the Delimitation of Marine and Sub-Marine Areas on 18th April 1990 with Prime Minister Arthur Robinson.  Both states sought to project their own economic interests without resorting to a more appropriate multilateral mechanism by consulting Barbados, Grenada and Guyana which the determination of maritime boundaries warranted. Venezuela sought a strategic Salida al Atlántico and Trinidad and Tobago sought access to new areas of potential hydrocarbon resources.

·         The Barima-Waini intimidation: Venezuela’s President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias (1998-2013) issued a July 2000 declaration intimidating foreign companies from investing in Essequibo’s development. He prevented the Beal Aerospace Corporation from establishing a satellite station in the Barima-Waini Region. He also opposed the issuance of petroleum exploration licences to US companies off the Essequibo coast. Minister of External Affairs José Vincente Rangel declared that Venezuela would grant oil concessions in the Essequibo.