Former GDF Chief-of-Staff warns against large settlement of Venezuelans in Essequibo

Last Updated on Friday, 29 September 2023, 21:12 by Denis Chabrol

Retired Rear Admiral Dr Gary Best.

The Guyana government should manage the migration of Venezuelans to Essequibo to stave off the possibility of future generations of Spanish-speaking Guyanese calling for a referendum for that county to break away, former Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Retired Rear Admiral Gary Best warned on Friday.

“Successive Guyana governments must be nationalistic, meaning protecting Guyana’s sovereignty now, and for future generations, by not creating any type of conditions via its immigration policies that allow Venezuela, in the future to threaten a referendum in any part of Essequibo because second and third generation Spanish speaking Guyanese would have become the majority population in the county,” said Dr Best, the holder of a Doctorate in International Relations.

He feared that if nothing is done, Guyana could face a situation like Crimea which was seized by Russia in March 2014 on the grounds that the population there is made up of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. “In other words, we must avoid a Crimea type situation occurring in our dear land of Guyana,” said Dr Best who is also Central Executive member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).

President Irfaan Ali and Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, in separate interviews, recently expressed concerns about the security implications of the more than 30,000 Venezuelan migrants here. Most Venezuelans are said to be militarily trained and there is a concern that Venezuelan undercover personnel might be present here under the guise of fleeing the social and economic crisis in their homeland. Dr Ali had suggested that security concerns were raised with the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration.

Dr Best, however, dismissed the decision by Venezuela’s National Assembly to hold a referendum on Essequibo, a sovereign county in Guyana, after the government here received eight bids in response to an auction for 14 offshore blocks in shallow and deep waters. “It is apposite to note also that reports suggesting Venezuela’s intention to hold a referendum on Essequibo (a sovereign county in Guyana) in Venezuela, and only among Venezuelans, is of no real threat to Guyana, since it will lack all the ingredients necessary for any form of international validity,” said Dr Best, an Attorney-at-Law.  Since the threat to “apply all the necessary measures” to prevent operations by those companies in Guyanese waters and the decision on the referendum, Venezuela has faced stiff international isolation by the United States, Brazil, Organisation of American States and the Commonwealth; all of which have called on Caracas to respect the International Court of Justice (ICJ) process and have sided with Georgetown in endorsing its right to explore and exploit its resources.

Instead, he argued that only a referendum in Guyana could impact on the existing borders. “Additionally, Guyana’s sacrosanct borders are described in detail in its Constitution, and only a Referendum in Guyana and among Guyanese can offer any change to its Borders,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr Best advised that no government official should participate in any discussion whatsoever with Venezuelan officials about the Guyana-Venezuela territorial controversy. That “direct talks” ship has sailed from the date this matter entered the jurisdiction of the ICJ. Importantly, no Government official, including Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela, should enter into or deceived into entering or described at entered into any direct talks with Venezuela on its ‘claim’ of Guyana’s Essequibo region,” he said.

PNCR member, Richard Van West Charles, a Cuban-trained medical doctor, is tipped to become Guyana’s next Ambassador to Venezuela.

The Guyana government has firmly ruled out any possibility of bilateral talks on the controversy, saying that it is only committed to the ICJ process as laid down in the 1966 Geneva Agreement.

Despite Venezuela’s objections and refusal to recognise the ICJ in Guyana’s case for a reconfirmation that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award is the final settlement of the land boundary between the two South American neighbours, that Court has ruled that it has jurisdiction.