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US backs Guyana to settle border controversy legally; shuns talk of infiltrating Venezuela

US Embassy Charge D’Affaires, Bryan Hunt (in blue shirt in background) among several diplomats in Parliament listening to President David Granger’s address on Thursday, July 9, 2015.

by Zena Henry

The United States (US) is backing Guyana’s efforts to resolve the decades-old Venezuela-Guyana border controversy at the World Court, according to Charge D’Affaires of the American embassy here, Bryan Hunt.

“The dispute must be resolved peacefully; both sides should avail themselves to the international legal system that exists and it is our hope that whatever resolution is ultimately arrived at will be in full conformity with international law,” said Hunt who was among several top diplomats here that attended  a sitting of Parliament on Thursday to listen to President David  Granger’s address on the bitter border quarrel.

The Guyanese leader reiterated in his address that the long-term approach is to seek a judicial settlement of the border controversy over the Essequibo Region and the Atlantic coastal waters that Venezuela revived 60 years ago. Most likely, Guyana would prefer the matter taken to the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) also called the World Court.

Hunt also rubbished claims by former Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) by American, British and Israeli intelligence operatives to infiltrate that Spanish-speaking nation and supply weapons.

Dismissing Rangel’s claims, the American diplomat noted that Guyana and the US enjoy close military cooperation thorough the exchange of expertise and experience. ““I think it is safe to say that the US has a long -standing relationship with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). We have engaged in a number of co-operative and developmental efforts over the years to provide training and expertise to both forces and exchange experience in a wide variety of areas,” he said.

The Guyana government has also bluntly denied that its country was being used as a staging post for covert activities against its oil-rich western neighbour. “I can categorically say that there is no such training taking place in Guyana, sponsored by the State or by any element of the State,” Minister of State Joseph Harmon categorically stated when asked of the allegations. He said “People are trying to justify their actions by declaring these things.”

The American envoy appeared to downplay the US’ key interest in the border controversy because of implications it could have for American oil giant, ExxonMobil, which  announced in May that it found a “significant” deposit of high quality oil offshore Guyana. “Our principle concern is the state of relations between Guyana and Venezuela and we think that if this dispute is resolved amicably, that will resolve all concerns that may exist,” including Venezuela’s concern of infiltration, he affirmed, adding that the US was watching the situation “very, very closely.”

In apparent reference to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, President Granger has denied that Guyana was being aggressive to his country. Instead, the Guyanese Head of State and Government rattled off a pattern of economic, political and military aggression and sabotage since the 1960s by successive Venezuelan governments while they paid lip-service to peace and cooperation.

Granger said Decree 1859, which has no coordinates unlike the repealed Decree 1787, remained offensive to Guyana and constitutes a breach of peace to this former British colony. “While the new Decree number 1859 does not contain the coordinates of Decree number 1787, it does contain a general description of all the defence zones with the description of the eastern, central and western regions remaining consistent with the previous versions of the decree,”he said.

Guyana maintains that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award has settled the land border with Venezuela.

The border issue was reopened in 1949 when an American jurist presented to Venezuela a memorandum written in 1944 by the Official Secretary of the U.S./Venezuela delegation in the Tribunal of Arbitration, Severo Mallet-Prevost that surmised a political deal between Russia and Britain based on the private behaviour of the judges.