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Venezuela’s “affront to our sovereignty” is “grandstanding”; more Guyanese troops readied for deployment

Minister of State Joseph Harmon flanked by Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman and Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force Brigadier Mark Phillips.

The Guyana government on Wednesday sought to downplay the possibility of a military strike by Venezuela, while describing the presence of gunboats in the Cuyuni River as merely an act of aggression.

“There is no cause for people to believe that we are about to be invaded or anything like that,” said Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman. “We shouldn’t panic or have a sense that we are about to be faced with guns and missiles or anything of the sort,”

He reasoned that Venezuela’s military maneuvers were politically motivated ahead of President Nicolas Maduro’s address to the United Nations General Assembly next week. President David Granger is expected to address that high-level forum hours before Maduro does so on September 29.

“Much of what we are seeing is expected to influence and to make an impact on the world stage and so Guyanese ought not to be alarmed that anything is about to happen but all precautions are in place and everything is being done to monitor and to define what is going on,” said Trotman, a graduate of the Washington DC, United States-based National Defense University.

He assured that Guyana would not provoke any action. “In no way is Guyana preparing to stage on its own or to precipitate any act of aggression so we are in the throes of some grand-standing so to speak but that is not to say that we should ignore it and we should not pay careful attention,” he said.

Other analysts say the troop deployment was an attempt by the Maduro admnistration to demonstrate that it was in control ahead of elections there in December, 2015 when he is expected to face his sternest test amid a tattered economy, food and medicine shortages and that have turned deadly in parts of that country.

Trotman’s position came one day after the Guyana government issued a statement, urging Guyanese near the border to be on the alert and to only use official ports of entry to enter and exit Venezuela.

Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Brigadier Mark Phillips stressed several times that  army was defining aggression on the  Guyana-Venezuela border and that troops at other camps have been put on a state of readiness. “We remain ready to deploy additional troops and equipment if need be to those locations,” he said.

Phillips said that in addition to the more than 200 Venezuelan troops in the border town of San Martin town and Ankoko Island and several surface-to-air missiles at El Dorado town about 57 kilometers from the border,  military vessels have been moved to the Cuyuni River. “What is unusual is the deployment of military boats with machine guns in the Cuyuni River and I wish to say that the Cuyuni River is inclusive of Guyana’s border…. To deploy armed boats in the Cuyuni River is an affront to our sovereignty,” he said.

He said troops stationed at Eteringbang and Kaikan as well as several observation posts along the Cuyuni River were monitoring the activities by the Venezuelan armed forces.

Minister of State and Secretary to the Defence Board, Retired Lt. Col. Joseph Harmon insisted that the presence of boats in the Cuyuni River was an act of aggression rather than an incursion.

He said the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Organisation of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the United Nations (UN) were being informed of these latest developments. “It is our intention to explore these possibilities to the fullest so that our diplomatic initiative is really where the efforts will be, “said Harmon.

Harmon said Guyana was also expected to dispatch communication to Venezuela about the military operations near the border because of their intensity, proximity and quality of armament and military material that are being used.

Tension has been peaking between the two countries ever since American oil company, Exxon Mobil, announced on May 20, 2015 that it had found a huge oil deposit offshore Essequibo.

Guyana insists that the controversy over the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award – and by extension sovereignty over the Essequibo Region- be taken to the International Court of Justice also known as the World Court.