The Bahamas’ Prime Minister, Perry Christie was the only Caribbean Community (Caricom) leader to signal his country’s solidarity with countries in the region whose territorial sovereignty is under threat at Thursday’s opening of the summit of regional leaders in Barbados.
The outgoing Caricom Chairman’s remarks came against the background of Venezuela’s recent unilateral extension of its maritime boundary to include the coastal waters off Guyana’s Essequibo Coast.
While Christie did not name Guyana or Venezuela, he was the lone regional leader to mention the topic at the formal opening of the summit. “As I take my leave, I simply implore us to preserve the momentum gained on various developmental targets and I stand in solidarity with you against any actions that hinder these achievements or negatively impact the territorial sovereignty and integrity of our jurisdictions,” said The Bahamian leader.
Belize and Guatemala are yet to settle their border controversy in the Central American region.
Unlike several poorer Caribbean nations, The Bahamas does not buy oil on concessionary terms from Venezuela under the PetroCaribe agreement.
Guyana fears that Venezuela’s oil diplomacy can break regional solidarity among the smaller Caribbean island nations that buy oil from Venezuela and get funding for certain projects under the ALBA initiative.
For his part, Guyana’s David Granger on Thursday appealed for Caricom solidarity against Venezuela’s gun-boat diplomacy against his country and the more recent delineation of its maritime boundary in accordance with Decree 1787 issued by that country’s President Nicolas Maduro on May 27, 2015.
In a 16-minute speech that was saturated with concerns about Venezuela’s territorial aggression, the Guyanese leader made a stirring appeal for Caricom’s support against the decree which “sticks in my throat like a bone.” “Guyana calls on the Caribbean to condemn in the strongest terms any state that seeks to undermine these sacred principles,” he said in referring to international law and the preservation of territorial integrity.
In a not so subtle manner, Granger appealed to specifically Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, saying the decree requires collective action in preventing the Caribbean’s waters and resources from being invaded. “This decree has dire implications for the entire region but most particularly the eastern tier of States…We consider the decree by Venezuela as an act of aggression against Guyana’s sovereignty. It is an assault on our right to access and to develop our maritime resources. We ask this conference to affirm its solidarity with Guyana and to repudiate this obnoxious decree,” he said.
In exchange, Granger pledged Guyana’s continued commitment to regional solidarity from its inception in the form of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) 50 years ago.
With Guyana already stating that it would be asking the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon to take the border controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a judicial settlement in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the Guyanese leader said his country yearns for the shelter of international law to bring a peaceful end. “Naval superiority cannot be allowed to supplant the supremacy of the law. Gunboat diplomacy has no place in the 21st century and must be condemned wherever it occurs,” he said.
The former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Commander highlighted that the decree takes in much of Guyana’s coastline and most of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone in violation of the International Law of the Sea.
The President of Guyana recalled that Venezuela has had a history of harassing Guyanese in border areas, and frustrating investment onshore and offshore Essequibo by objecting to the construction of a hydropower station and using a naval vessel to expel and seize a seismic research vessel in 2013. “Any state that systematically and cynically seeks to repudiate the solemn international agreements and to undermine the security and sovereignty of another state must be condemned,” said Granger to loud applause.
The Venezuelan President issued the decree less than one month after the American oil company, ExxonMobil, announced a “significant” oil find offshore Guyana.
Guyana maintains that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award is a full, perfect and final settlement of the border with Venezuela.