President goes to Essequibo and tells Venezuela “every square inch” is Guyana’s’ assures security forces will protect Guyanese

Last Updated on Friday, 27 October 2023, 21:45 by Denis Chabrol

Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Omar Khan and President Irfaan Ali in Essequibo

President Irfaan Ali on Friday night travelled to the Guyanese county of Essequibo and sent a clear message to Venezuela that his country w0uld not surrender a “square inch” of territory to neighbouring Venezuela and said he was confident the security forces would defend the country.

“The government and the opposition recently issued a joint statement in which we made it very clear for no one to make a single mistake. This Essequibo is ours, every square inch of it,” he said in his address to the opening of a business exposition at Anna Regina, Essequibo Coast. The expo there is an annual event that brings together thousands of people from the Essequibo coast and nearby riverain communities to showcase and purchase products as well as entertain themselves.

Recognising Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Omar Khan, whom he said was traversing all the villages in Essequibo, the President said he was confident that with the uniformed services “every square inch is assured and protected.” “I can assure you that they are committed to duty and they are committed to service and your President is tremendously focussed and be assured that we stand strong and committed and focussed,” he said.

The President’s comments come amid deep-seated concern that a December 3 referendum in Venezuela would formally set the stage for Venezuela to abandon the World Court process, press for bilateral talks with Guyana and more important seize Essequibo County from Guyana.

He again ruled out bilateral discussions on the territorial controversy outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which Guyana has asked to decide on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled the Guyana-Venezuela land boundary. “We respect international law and that is where this controversy raised by Venezuela must be settled. It must be no other place but in the realms of the International Court of Justice, as was assigned by the United Nations Secretary General,” he said.

President Ali emphasised that Guyana is committed to peace and at the same time “safeguarding and defence of every square inch of our country.”

Dr Ali thanked his colleague Heads of Government in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for issuing a “very strong statement” and making it very clear that Venezuela’s only option to settle the territorial controversy is to participate in the ICJ process and “more importantly respect the outcome” of that process. Venezuela on Thursday said CARICOM should try to arrange talks between the two countries but stayed clear of the region’s concern that the referendum would be used to annex Guyana’s territory in breach of  international law.

Even as Venezuela was increasing the presence of soldiers on its side of the border with Guyana, the President called out the names of several locations such as Morawhanna and Imbotero in north-western Guyana close to the border. “I enjoy the freshness of the Guyanese wind, I enjoy the  goodness of the spirit of the Guyanese people, I enjoy the hospitality of the Guyanese people,” he said.

After at least 50-years of United Nations-led mediation, Guyana exited that process saying there had been no solution and asked the United Nations Secretary General to refer the controversy to another mechanism for settlement and he chose the International Court of Justice.

The 65 parliamentarians were Friday informed that the National Assembly would be meeting in another seven days to consider a motion on Venezuela’s increasingly aggressive claim to Guyana’s Essequibo County.