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Guyana keeps eyes on possible Venezuela’s options

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 February 2018, 16:00 by Denis Chabrol

The Guyana government has been paying close attention to options available to Venezuela, following United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres’ referral of the border controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ),  a senior government official said.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told Demerara Waves Online News that reports that Venezuela had been planning an incursion into Guyana’s territory was being factored into government’s analysis. “Of course, as a nation, we have to take all of these things into consideration. We cannot disregard any reports like that,” said Harmon, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Guyana Defence Force and current member of the Defence Board.

Region One (Barima-Waini) Chairman, Brentnol Ashley said there was no evidence of increased Venezuelan presence on the border with Guyana since the UN Chief’s decision. “To date, we haven’t had any reports…we haven’t seen, nor have we received any reports to that effect,” Ashley said.

Word that Venezuela was exploring options to flex its military muscles against Guyana had coincided with a high-level visit to Guyana by Brazil’s Minister of Defence and several military chiefs earlier this month. “It is not by accident that such a large and high level delegation came to Guyana,” Defense Minister Raul Jungmann Pinto.

Brazil’s historical position, in support of Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, has always maintained that it would not support an alteration of its borders.

Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge would only go so far as saying that “Look at the number of Brazilian ministers who were on the team as well as their rank. Also look at the seniority of the military officers that came. Our security is important.”

Stratfor, a United States-based geopolitical intelligence platform, earlier this month reasoned that there could be a two-pronged benefit for the President Nicolas Maduro-led administration if it invades Guyana.

“There are a number of political considerations that may motivate Caracas to make a move. In the short term, the incursion could help Caracas in its ongoing dialogue with the Trump administration over the terms of President Nicolas Maduro and his party’s departure from power. The Venezuelan president won’t leave power — or even loosen his party’s grip over the opposition — unless he has assurances from Washington that he and his acolytes will receive some form of amnesty. And seizing and holding Guyanese territory might offer Caracas a bargaining chip, allowing it to wrangle a better amnesty deal in exchange for a troop withdrawal.

In the long run, holding Guyanese territory could offer Venezuela a way to delay the International Court of Justice’s ruling about the border dispute. After all, the court may hold off on a ruling if Venezuelan troops are present in Guyanese territory. Moreover, the Maduro government may be counting on the incursion to pump up nationalism among Venezuelans. By directing attention outside its borders, the government could be able to buy time before organized domestic unrest gain critical mass, or even forestall any possible military coup attempt by moving units far from the capital,” Stratfor said in its publication, World View.

Stratfor’s World View also argued that military action by Venezuela could have implications for the start of oil production offshore Guyana by ExxonMobil and its partners. “Any Venezuelan military action against Guyana comes with major implications for foreign energy companies already doing business there. ExxonMobil, for example, is planning to continue oil exploration drilling off Guyana’s coast in 2018, and other private companies own stakes in offshore blocks. Naval activity by Venezuela or the United States would disrupt business plans and increase the risk to personnel from oil companies with current or future operations in Guyana or neighboring Trinidad and Tobago.”

Guyana is currently preparing the groundwork to file its case at the ICJ. Top legal adviser, Sir Shridath Ramphal says a “binding” decision is not expected until another few years.

The 1966 Geneva Agreement provides for the UN Secretary General to refer the controversy to the ICJ if mediation fails, in keeping with the UN Charter. Guyana maintains that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award is a full, final and perfect settlement of the border with Venezuela.