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Watch for Venezuelan aggression over Essequibo following US sanctions- UWI Professor

Dr. Mark Kirton (Stabroek News photo)

Guyana should be alert for increased Venezuelan sabre rattling over its claim to the Essequibo Region following Monday’s declaration by the United States’ (US) of that Spanish-speaking country as a national security threat, according to a University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor in International Relations.

Senior Lecturer at the UWI’s Institute of International Relations, Dr. Mark Kirton  said Venezuela was likely to divert attention from its internal political troubles and the US’ sanctions by focussing on its claim to the mineral and forest rich Essequibo Region.

“The fact that there are sanctions would mean that there is an escalation in the tension between the two states and you know that what has happened in the past is that when there are internal issues, there is a tendency for Venezuela to up the ante for the claim so you have to look at that in the context of their alienation from the rest of the Hemisphere perhaps or at least the US,” Kirton told Demerara Waves Online News.

While relations with the Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro administrations have been cordial and beneficial to Guyana, he said it was possible that Venezuela might seek to “bring back some level of nationalism by upping the claim again so in that sense we have to look at it.”

Venezuela recently penned a letter to the local subsidiary of Exxon Mobil warning against the offshore exploration for oil in the Liza area of the Stabroek Block due to the border controversy. Guyana has rebuffed the missive and the company has ignored the threat and proceeded with a 60-day drilling programme.

He advised Guyana against re-aligning its relations with Venezuela in light of the sanctions against top current and past officials of that oil-rich nation. Instead he prefers Guyana galvanises support in hemispheric and sub-hemispheric and regional organisations like the Organisation of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

“One that is in line with what I would say is the non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state which is basically what the United Nations Charter has always said,” he said when asked what could be a consistent position.

Dr. Kirton said sanctions should not have been imposed without the input of the OAS’ Permanent Council. “The sanctions, to my mind, should not be arbitrary,” he said. He cautioned that unilateral action was unlikely to “go down well with the rest of the hemisphere especially in the context of growing sentiments and the rapprochements which have emerged in the context of CELAC.”  The UWI International Relations Professor, however, appeared a bit worried about the absence of consensus by Caricom. “I don’t know if Caricom has enough weight for there to be any intervention that would bear any fruit but I think that at the hemispheric level, starting at the sub-regional level at UNASUR, we should see whether there could be some level of intervention and dialogue,” said the former University of Guyana lecturer.

Asked whether he thought the US would listen to a unified hemispheric voice, Kirton seemed cautiously optimistic that Washington would come to the table to discuss its imposition of sanctions on the assets of several Venezuelan officials. “It seems to me a bit premature for the US to just move to sanctions rather than to go through the hemispheric process which seems to be working,” he added.

He shrugged off suggestions that UNASUR might be biased in favour of Venezuela because that country had played a pivotal role in establishing that organisation which has dealt with conflicts involving Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.

In declaring Venezuela a national security threat, the US announced that sanctions would be imposed on seven  Venezuelan officials but would not target the energy sector or the tattered economy. The sanctions now mean that the property and interests of Gustavo Gonzalez, head of state intelligence service Sebin; Manuel Perez, director of the national police; Justo Noguero, a former National Guard commander who now runs state mining firm CVG and three other military officers and a state prosecutor in the US have been blocked or frozen and they would be denied entry to the US. Americans and Permanent Residents would be barred from conducting business with them.

The U.S. expressed deep concern about escalating intimidation and the criminalizing of public dissent.

“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.