Last Updated on Tuesday, 2 January 2018, 22:06 by Denis Chabrol
Old Year’s Day, 2017 was not the deadline the United Nations Secretary General was expected to decide on whether he would be sending the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to the International Court of Justice, a senior Foreign Affairs Ministry official said Tuesday.
Director-General of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Ambassador Audrey Jardine-Waddell told Demerara Waves Online News that after the Personal Representative to the Secretary General, Dag Halvor Nylander submits his report on enhanced mediation efforts to the Secretary General, António Guterres the UN Chief would decide the next step.
“December 31 wasn’t the date of the decision. December 31 was when the process ended….Having received the report from his personal representative, the Secretary General will now make his decision and inform us of the decision,” she told Demerara Waves Online News.
Other high-level sources indicate that Secretary General Guterres could inform the two countries of his decision this month or almost certainly before the end of March, 2018.
“He didn’t have to inform us on December 31st; that was the date when the process ended,” Waddell added.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday issued a statement, reiterating that Venezuela does not have to agree to the controversy being sent to the Hague-based ICJ, also known as the World Court. “That referral does not require Venezuela’s approval beyond that given in the Geneva Agreement of 1966 and acknowledged by their then representative,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Before his tenure ended more than one year ago, then United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon had given an explicit undertaking that 2017 would have been the last year of mediation to end the border controversy and if that fails, it would be referred to the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the UN.
Guyana maintains that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled boundary between Guyana and Venezuela is full and final. However, then junior counsel to the tribunal Mallet Prevost had in 1944 written that the border decision was a result of a conspiracy between Great Britain, Guyana’s then colonial power, and Russia.
Prevost had instructed that the contents of the letter be made public after he died. When that was done in 1949 one year after he passed away by Dr. Otto Shoenrich, a junior partner of his law firm, that marked the beginning of the controversy.
Venezuela has for several decades registered its diplomatic and military objection to Guyana’s development of its natural resources onshore and offshore. Through its ambassadors, Venezuela has written to the now closed Omai Gold Mines, Aurora Gold Mines/ Guyana Goldfields and ExxonMobil’s majority-owned Essso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited , informing them that their large scale extractive operations in Essequibo were in Venezuela’s territory. On the military front, Venezuela’s navy in October 2013 seized the Malaysian-owned seismic research vessel, Teknik Perdana, that had been conducting surveys in a Guyanese oil concession offshore Essequibo for the US company, Anadarko Petroleum.
In May, 2015 when ExxonMobil officially announced a large oil find in its offshore Stabroek Block concession, Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro had unilaterally extended his country’s maritime boundary to include almost all of Guyana’s maritime space.
He, however, backed down after intense pressure from the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) after it became known that his unilateral maritime demarcation had also included almost all of the Caribbean islands.
Guyana’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday hoped that the UN Chief’s decision would pave the way for the country to exploit its natural resources unhindered by threats to investors. “This is a very important decision with the potential to put Guyana on a path that will enable us to attract investment — local and foreign — in quantities significant enough to permit the exploitation of our natural resources – not just our oil — so as to have a dramatic impact on our economic and social well-being in the near and foreseeable future,” the ministry stated.
If Venezuela gets its way and extends its land boundary to the eastern bank of the Essequibo River, it would mean that all of the Essequibo and the Atlantic Sea offshore that county would be part of that Spanish-speaking nation.