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Handing over Essequibo to Venezuela not automatic

In this ad hoc map by Retired Major General Norman McLean, the area awarded to Venezuela by the Arbitral Tribunal Award can be seen at the top left.

Guyana’s Foreign Minister, Carl Greenidge on Saturday said even if Venezuela makes a legally acceptable challenge to the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award of the land border between the two countries,  the mineral and forest-rich Essequibo Region would not be handed over to its Spanish-speaking automatically.

“If it is able to make its case, it would not follow that it would now be awarded the Essequibo.  What it means is that the entire case will then have to be adjudicated since just as Venezuela claims territory that is fully part of Guyana today, the British – with evidence – prior to 1899 claimed territory that is part of Venezuela today.

Instead, he said Guyana would file a counter-claim that would include lands that Britain had given up and are now part of Venezuela’s territory. The Tribunal awarded 5,000 square miles to Venezuela.

“Guyana, it therefore needs to be acknowledged, would then have the right to have British claims to parts of the territory now controlled by Venezuela, also considered,” said the Foreign Minister who has a wealth of international negotiating experience.

While maintaining that the Tribunal Award is  a full, perfect and final settlement of the border with Venezuela , Guyana is pushing very hard for the controversy to be settled by the International Court of Justice, widely known as the World Court, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN).

After accepting the 1899 Award and participating in the border demarcation from 1901 to 1905, Venezuela in 1962 and 1966 challenged the boundary settlement and extended its claim to the 167,839 square kilometer Essequibo Region. Since then, Venezuela has either blocked or scared away investors in offshore and onshore projects in concessions awarded by Guyana.

Greenidge confirmed that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is making efforts to have President David Granger and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicola Maduro meet on the margins of the UN General Assembly scheduled to be held next month in New York.

“The SG (Secretary General) has indicated that he is looking into the matter and has asked whether both Presidents will be attending the UN General Assembly in September. That forum may offer the opportunity of a meeting,” said Greenidge.

The UN Chief is also preparing to send a fact-finding mission to Caracas and Georgetown. Venezuela is pressing for the resumption of the UN ‘Good Officer’ process but Guyana says it is now virtually a waste of time.

Tensions between the two countries reached boiling point in May 2015- weeks after American oil-giant ExxonMobil announced a significant oil find 120 miles offshore Guyana- when President Maduro issued a Decree unilaterally taking in all of the Atlantic sea offshore Essequibo and making it part of an Integrated Maritime Defence Zone.

Top Venezuelan officials including Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and Vice President Jorge Arreaza are on a fan-out across the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) seeking to make a case out for its border posture.  Caricom Chairman, Barbados’ Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has already told Arreaza that the regional grouping is backing Guyana. “We are committed to assisting Venezuela and Guyana in this dispute, preferring at all times a peaceful solution. But as of now, having regard to the fact that there was an arbitral award in 1899 and having regard to the fact that the Geneva Agreement of 1966 has not yielded the kind of results that either Venezuela or Guyana expected, CARICOM’s formal position has to be a commitment to the territorial integrity of Guyana,” Stuart was quoted as saying by the Barbados Advocate.

The Guyanese Foreign Minister reiterated that apart from the border controversy, President Granger remained willing to discuss other areas of mutual interest with President Maduro.

“He (Granger) is willing to speak to President Maduro on a variety of issues of common interest, apart from the border. He rightly observed that there is a lot else of importance to be discussed, including trade and stability in the region. That position is a longstanding one and is captured in diplomatic and other correspondence between the two countries,” said Greenidge.