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Guyana should discuss border controversy with Venezuela’s victorious opposition – former Ambassador

Former Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela, Odeen Ishmael.

A former Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Odeen Ishmael Monday recommended that the Guyana government engage the new legislative leaders in Venezuela on the border controversy following the landslide defeat of President Nicolas Maduro’s party in legislative elections.

While it is well-known that the Maduro administration wants to retain the United Nations Good Officer mediation process rather than have the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon give into Guyana’s request for the border controversy to be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Ishmael says it will be important for Georgetown to interact with Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática MUD).

“We haven’t heard their opinion on it as yet. And remember, they are the ones who will now be calling the shots in the National Assembly. Maduro (the leader of the PSUV) has stated that they are not interested in the UN Secretary General deciding to ask the International Court for an opinion. If the MUD has a different view, then it will help us to understand how a future MUD administration will act in relation to the border controversy,” Dr. Ishmael told Demerara Waves Online News.

MUD won 99 of the 167 seats in Sunday’s State Legislature elections by capitalising on massive discontent about shortages of food, medicine and other vital consumer supplies as well as  an economic collapse marked by triple-digit inflation.

Ishmael, who served as Georgetown’s top envoy to Caracas from 2003 to 2011, noted that despite Maduro’s utterances and action the Communist Party of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela  (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela PSUV) prefers a soft approach in dealing with the controversy over the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award of the land border between the two South American countries. “Despite Maduro’s aggressive language and action against Guyana, his party itself is not antagonistic towards Guyana. Some forces within the MUD coalition have very strong positions with regard to the claim to Guyana’s territory,” he said.

While MUD enjoys an overwhelming majority, Maduro still controls the executive reins, oil production, defence and security. The opposition hopes to win a two-thirds majority in the final count that could see a referendum to recall President Maduro  and rewrite Hugo Chavez’s 1999 Constitution.

Ambassador Ishmael cautioned against believing that MUD’s win would see a retraction of the claim over the mineral and forest-rich Essequibo Region because that issue cuts across the political divide. Unlike the Communist Party that Ishmael says is interested in ending the claim, he was unsure what was MUD’s position. He noted that a former Venezuelan Ambassador to Guyana, Sadia Garavini, was keen on improving relations with Guyana. “He has always been very keen to cement better relations with Guyana and so it will be useful to initiate conversations with him,” said Ishmael of Garavini who was posted here in the 1980s.

He is of the view that MUD would also support the need to continue the 23-year old UN Good Officer process but the key was finding out where the opposition stands on going to the World Court. Guyana hopes to win an ICJ legal opinion to add to its international clout against Venezuela, further sway public opinion and convince foreign investors that they should not be fearful of exploring and exploiting natural resources onshore and offshore.

In his assessment, Ishmael believes that MUD will not force the cancellation of the low-interest advance oil payment system, PetroCaribe, because that party hopes to build good relations with Caribbean nations ahead of general elections in another few years. “The opposition-controlled legislature will bide its time until the next presidential election when they will try to win full power. Until then, it is possible the PetroCaribe arrangement may continue. And it may be doubtful of the MUD will want to force a cancellation of PetroCaribe immediately considering that it will want to improve relations with Caribbean countries if it eventually win the presidency in three years’ time,” he said.

The former Guyana envoy expects that the MUD-controlled legislature will seek to improve relations with Guyana and Colombia that have suffered badly since May, 2015. “The leaders of the MUD will want to flex their diplomatic muscles to show that they can work to improve the relations with their neighbours.”

The Venezuelan President had unilaterally extended his country’s maritime boundary to take in all of the Atlantic Sea offshore Essequibo, shortly after Exxon-Mobil found a significant deposit of high quality oil there.

Shortly after, he had deployed troops and missiles near the borders with Guyana and Colombia.