The Guyana parliament has in a rare case of national unity, formally rejected Venezuela’s claims to ownership of the mineral and forest-rich county of Essequibo through a referendum on December 3, with both government and opposition legislators denouncing the move by Caracas.
During an all-day session on Monday that ended with legislators giving the thumbs down to Venezuela’s move, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira called on Venezuelans themselves to vote against the referendum.
“I do not believe that the Venezuelan people want to annex Guyana and I call on them and use this forum here to call on the Venezuelan people the hard-working citizens of Venezuela to reject questions three and five on the referendum.
“Question Three does not recognise the ICJ (International Court of Justice) and question five of course we all know now is calling for the annexation of our new our two thirds of our country.
“I believe that the Venezuelan people are capable of reading through the lines and this decision they’re being asked to make will also have enormous impacts on their lives.
It will bring no benefit, no progress to their country. It in fact to greater harm to their lives and security. And so we need to talk to the Venezuelan people not just to the those who have access to the PR campaigns, and to be able at 24 hours every day they’re churning out their psychological warfare,” she said.
Prime Minister Mark Phillips said Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s territory has caused division among people, loss of investments and geopolitical tensions- all occurrences that harmed citizens of Venezuela and Guyana.
“We are witnessing decades of division among our people, resulting in social fragmentation stemming from contradictory narratives.
“This, in turn, has adverse effects on economic development and investments between our neighbouring nations. It is a conflict that incites geopolitical tension that can affect regional stability and international relations,” Phillips said.
He told legislators the endurance of this controversy has been excessive, and “Venezuela’s unrelenting pursuit of unfounded territorial claims, not only affects our nation, but also undermines the cherished principles of justice and sovereignty, sovereignty held by the international community”.
He called on President Nicolas Maduro to face the electorate in 2024 and seek reelection based on his administration’s performance that has led to the exodus of more than seven million Venezuelans to other South American nations.
“Companero Maduro must not be allowed by the international and regional communities to use Guyana’s Essequibo as a rallying point, or as a clarion call for his reelection in 2024. Essequibo belongs to Guyana and Guyanese only,” said Phillips, a former Head of the Guyana Defence Force. He said Guyana was facing “clear and present danger” as his country was producing oil.
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton, in describing Venezuela as a “regional bully” of small states, adding “I don’t think we can take on Venezuela but it is very important that we keep a ready force that instils hope in our people.
“Let us not operate as if we can do nothing outside of diplomacy, we have to take every measure to deal with this issue,” Norton said, adding “we will have to take measures not only to defend our territorial integrity and sovereignty but also our place in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
“Clearly, there is a need for a more robust and aggressive foreign policy, vis a vis Latin America and the Caribbean,” he added.
In apparent reference to Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley who had reportedly recently called on both Venezuela and CARICOM to ensure the region remains a zone of peace, Norton questioned the logic behind that call because Guyana is not claiming any territory and does not have the military might to breach the peace.
“To say Guyana, and Venezuela must ensure a zone of peace is classic eye pass (disrespect) because we have always maintained there must be a peaceful resolution of this matter. It was really disturbing that Caribbean nation can say that and implicate Guyana, when Guyana basically lacks the means militarily to even conceptualise that approach, much less implement it and so I think it is necessary that the opposition put on record that we disagree totally with that position,” he said.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall SC warned that Venezuela’s planned referendum can compromise the proceedings before the ICJ and called on lawmakers, Guyanese nationals and the international community to denounce the referendum.
“Anyone familiar with the curial process would know that a party in a litigation has a right to seek appropriate legal remedies, interlocutorily, if the other party in the litigation is taking steps that can defeat, compromise or render negatory, the legal proceedings itself and/or its final outcome.
“Guyana is of the considered view, that the impending referendum slated for December 3, 2023, is intended to and will compromise the legal proceedings pending at the International Court of Justice, if not subvert the legal process altogether and prejudice its outcome.
“What Guyana is ultimately seeking from the ICJ is affirmation that the 1899 Arbitral Award which established the boundary between itself and Venezuela is valid. Guyana believes that an ICJ ruling will be final and binding, settling the decades-long controversy once and for all,” he added.
Opposition legislator Khemraj Ramjattan vowed “not a blade of grass” should be given up to Venezuela even as he referred to acts of eminent domain such as the oil exploration and bilateral fishing agreements.
“We must ensure that this bonanza that is Essequibo that is ours be exploited and we must not have confrontation from our western neighbour to any extent,” he said, recommending that Guyana diversify its international relations to “get the support of everybody in the world.” He urged the diplomats who were present during the debate to give their wholehearted support to Guyana.”
Earlier, as he piloted the motion before Parliament, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Hugh Todd said “the history and the facts” regarding the border dispute are “overwhelming”.
According to the motion, lawmakers had been asked to provide “support for the government and people of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and Reaffirm recognition of the 1989 Arbitral Award and the 1966 Geneva Agreement.
“Whereas the Arbitral Award of an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the Treaty of Arbitration signed in Washington on February 2, 1897, determined the boundary line between the Colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela in 1899;”
Todd told legislators “we the people of Guyana, we are very convinced that those attorneys who sat on the tribunal did their best to ensure that they uphold decency, their character intact to ensure that they did the best in the interest of both then British Guiana and Venezuela and we are sure…that the International
Court of Justice will prevail, the world will stand with Guyana and the people of Guyana”.
Guyana has already asked the ICJ to block several questions being proposed by Venezuela which is seeking a popular vote in support of the South American government’s stance of not recognising the ICJ to settle the decades-old border issue.
Venezuela’s planned referendum and its approved questions for the referendum later this year have set off a wave of criticisms, with the Guyana government accusing Venezuela of trying to annex parts of the country’s territory in contravention of international law.
The 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat and and the Organization of American States (OAS) have also rejected the referendum stating that international law strictly prohibits the Government of one State from unilaterally seizing, annexing or incorporating the territory of another state and noted that the referendum will open the door to the possible violation of this fundamental tenet of international law.