Brazil, US, OAS Secretary General urge peaceful resolution of Guyana-Venezuela territorial controversy

Last Updated on Wednesday, 1 November 2023, 22:19 by Denis Chabrol

Prime Minister Mark Phillips addressing the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States

Amid concerns by Guyana that Venezuela’s military is increasing activity on their side of the border, Brazil and the United States (US) on Wednesday reiterated at the Organisation of American States (OAS) that there must be a peaceful settlement of the territorial controversy over the Essequibo county.

US Ambassador to the OAS, Francisco Mora told the OAS’ Permanent Council that the American government supports Guyana’s sovereign right to develop its own natural resources. He said the US rejected Venezuela’s efforts to settle the territorial controversy in violation of international law. Mr Mora said his country respects the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award and supports the peaceful settlement of the matter in court or bilaterally. “The United States finds efforts to infringe upon Guyana’s sovereignty unacceptable. United States supports a peaceful resolution to this issue, whether through a decision of the international judicial body or agreement of the parties. With this in mind, we call on Venezuela to respect international law including the 1899 Arbitral Award as well as the ongoing International Court of Justice process between Guyana and Venezuela,” he said.

US Ambassador to the OAS, Francisco Mora

“The Brazilian government has always defended the peaceful solution of the territorial controversy between Venezuela and Guyana in the context of the mechanisms foreseen in the fourth article of the 1966 Geneva Accord,” Brazil’s Ambassador to the OAS Benoni Belli told a special meeting of the Western Hemispheric body’s Permanent C0uncil held in Washington DC after hearing a statement by Prime Minister Mark Phillips.

Venezuela withdrew from the OAS in 2017.

The 4th Article of the 1966 Geneva Agreement between the United Kingdom and Venezuela to resolve the controversy 0ver the frontier states that the Guyana and Venezuelan governments shall choose a settlement by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or  arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice as provided for in Article 33 of the United Nations Charter.  If there is no resolution- as had been the situation through the UN Secretary General’s Good Officer Process- the Geneva Agreement provides for the UN Secretary Genera to  choose another of the means stipulated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, “and so on until the controversy has been resolved or until all the means of peaceful settlement there contemplated
have been exhausted.”

Brazil’s Ambassador to the OAS Benoni Belli

The Brazilian Ambassador noted that his country’s borders have been settled in keeping with UN and OAS Charters that provide for the peaceful settlement of disputes “in conformity with the principles of justice and international law” including the inviolability of treaties. “In the history of Brazil, this principle was decisive for the peaceful settlement of our borders, a greater legacy of Brazilian diplomacy,” he said based on an unofficial translation from Portuguese to English.

Mr Belli said Brazil’s past proves that South American nations can resolve territorial disputes through dialogue and law. He said Brazi is confident that both Venezuela and Guyana, “important partners of Brazil”, will continue to support the Common Project, signed by the South American leaders in the Brazilian Consensus.  The Brazilian envoy described the Guyana-Brazilian territorial controversy was “sensitive” fir the Western Hemisphere in general and “for Brazil in particular, for involving two neighboring countries.”

In his address to the OAS Permanent Council, Prime Minister Phillips said Venezuela, which has a history of the use of force and threat of the use of force, has increased its military presence and activities on its side of the border with Guyana ahead of a referendum on December 3 , 2023 to abandon the International Court of Justice and annex Essequibo as hers. “Coupled with the decision to conduct this referendum, it is confirmed that Venezuela has significantly increased its military forces and equipment on its border with Guyana. While the position of the government of Venezuela, which was communicated to Guyana, is that the security f0rces have been mobilised on the border to curb illegal mining, there have also been reports of the Venezuelan military building a landing strip in a zone near to the Essequibo Region. No explanation about the airstrip has been provided to the government of Guyana but it is clear that it is the intenti0n of that State to increase rhetoric on the controversy and drive fear in the Guyanese population along the borders,” said Mr Phillips, a retired Brigadier and former Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force.  He traced the journey of the controversy over the years to today where Venezuela is planning a referendum on its claim to Guyana’s 160,000 square kilometre Essequibo County. While analyses point to domestic political reasons for the referendum, he noted that the vote was aimed at setting the stage by Venezuela to abandon the International Court of Justice (ICJ) process and embark on unilateral measures by formally annexing Essequibo.

In that regard, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro hoped that Venezuela would back off its military from the border and listen to the call for a peaceful resolution to the controversy. “We have listened to the message of peace from the Prime Minister and we expect Venezuela to listen and to stop provocations, to stop intimidation and to stop concentration of military forces on the border,” Mr Almagro said. He added that the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled the Guyana-Venezuela land boundary continue to be the legally binding instrument that remains in effect today and so Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereign rights must be respected by Venezuela.

He added that there is no evidence that the Indigenous Indians want Venezuelan citizenship and doing so could be viewed as identify theft and borders on trafficking in persons.  Mr Almagro said it was disingenuous for Venezuela to have asked  the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to broker talks with Guyana when the evidence shows that there had been previous years of failed negotiations.

The OAS Secretary General said the five questions in Venezuela’s referendum threaten peace and security by seeking to abandon the ICJ and take away Guyanese citizenship from people who have been living in the Essequibo County.

Dominica, on behalf of the rest of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Barbados, The Bahamas, Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada also spoke in support of Guyana.