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National Security Committee assessing political change in Venezuela

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

The Guyana government is assessing the implications of the now opposition-controlled legislature in Venezuela while at the same time remaining cautiously optimistic about improved relations between the two countries, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said Thursday.

“We are analyzing these changes in the National Security Committee, which meets once a week- we analyse all of these changes-and to see what impact or effect it has on Guyana and the security of Guyana so this is something we are looking at very closely,” he told a post-cabinet news conference.

He noted that one of the considerations being examined from a regional perspective was whether Venezuela might change the PetroCaribe oil concessionary financing facility. “A number of the economies in the region are dependent on that Venezuelan largesse and so a change in that might very well represent a change in the direction in the way in which Venezuela sees its relationship with several countries,” he said.

Asked whether the Guyana government would be engaging the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática or MUD), which now controls two-thirds of Venezuela’s Congress, he said it all depends on the assessment. “You just can’t step into a country and start dealing with political parties like that.

“I think we will assess the situation and basically deal with it as we see fit, but I said it represents an opportunity now for us to engage in a less bellicose manner than has been taking place in the past and I  do hope that this change will help in softening the relationship and allow us to proceed with the development of the Essequibo as we see fit,” he said in response to a question by Demerara Waves Online News.

Armed with its two-thirds majority, MUD can, among other things, seek to recall the President and pave the way for fresh general elections, and amend Venezuela’ constitution that had been crafted by late President Hugo Chavez. For the time being, President Nicolas Maduro is in charge of the executive, cabinet, security and the oil sector.

The Minister of State said it was possible there could be a shift in the way things are done by a new administration now dominated by right and centre-rightist parties. He said Guyana has to consider the “realignment” in several Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Argentina away from radical leftist governments and towards those that are right and centre-right.

A former Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela, Odeen Ishmael has recommended that the Guyana government have dialogue with MUD to ascertain their position on the controversy over the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled the land boundary between the two South American countries.

But Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo said Wednesday that contacts should be confined to government-to-government and any reaching out should be confined to the distribution of material to all Venezuelan lawmakers.

Jagdeo has said that MUD appears to have a  more hard-line stance on the border controversy compared to the administration of President Nicolas Maduro.

It was under Maduro’s administration that the Venezuelan Navy had intercepted a seismic research vessel in an offshore concession that has been granted to the Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum. Maduro earlier this year also unilaterally extended its maritime boundary to take in the Atlantic Sea off

Essequibo weeks after American oil company, Exxon-Mobil, announced the discovery of a huge deposit of high quality oil offshore Guyana.

Guyana is awaiting word on its request to the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, that the controversy be taken to the International Court of Justice for a legal opinion, a move Venezuela opposes and prefers that the matter remain in the hands of a UN-appointed mediator called the Good Officer.

On the other hand, Guyana says the Good Officer process has been a virtual waste of time since its inception 23 years ago because it has failed to find a solution.