…amid violated Barbados Agreement
The Trinidad and Tobago Government has been advised to be cautious in its dealings with Venezuela for the Dragon gas field, owing to the latter’s violation of the Barbados Agreement for free and fair elections to be held later this year.
This was the position taken by Vice President, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday during his press conference, when the question was raised on Venezuela’s trustworthiness.
Trinidad is currently imbedded in the natural gas project to be developed in Venezuelan waters, undertaken by its state firm National Gas Company (NGC) and SHELL. The 30-year license, issued in December, granted Shell and NGC the rights to produce the gas and export it to Trinidad.When asked about Government’s concern about such actions regarding the December 2023 Argyle Declaration between Guyana and Venezuela, the vice president said, “You’re dragging me into a minefield.”
Given these developments, Jagdeo opined, “A number of people who are investing or planning to invest in Venezuela based on the removal of the embargo in the oil and gas and gold sector would now be constrained by that new development…I don’t want to say at this stage what I truly think but I just want to urge Trinidad and Tobago to be very cautious in those negotiations.”
In October, Venezuela’s Government and Opposition had signed agreements for new electoral conditions in the South American country and raising the possibility of the removal of sanctions by the United States against Caracas.
The signings were brought about following talks mediated by Norway and after multiple rounds of talks in 2021 and 2022 that had been hosted by Mexico.
The partial agreement signed in Barbados had outlined that the parties will promote together, several electoral guarantees for all the actors ahead of the presidential elections. It also proposed that the electoral process will be done during 2024 in accordance with the constitutional programme, making provisions for electoral observers including those from the European Union, the United Nations, the African Union and the Carter Center.
However, this week, the United States Government shared those actions by President Nicolas Maduro and his representatives in Venezuela, including the arrest of members of the democratic opposition and the barring of candidates from competing in this year’s presidential election, are inconsistent with the agreements signed in Barbados.
As a result, the US State Department has indicated that it does not intent to renew a wider license after it expires in April 18, allowing Venezuela’s oil to freely flow to other countries.
Despite Trinidad’s Energy Minister, Stuart Young stating that the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) licence issued is separate from that which expires in April, Jagdeo contended that Venezuela’s track record has been one which does not respect agreements.
He pointed out that even in the weighty 1899 Arbitral Award which was agreed by Venezuela in establishing its boundary with Guyana, was later backpedalled by the Spanish-speaking country. Moreover, there were significant threats to Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity just last year.
No respect for agreements
“I don’t want it seem presumptuous that we’re advising Trinidad and Tobago because they’re doing what’s good for their country too. We need to respect that in CARICOM and as a sovereign Government but the Venezuelan government often doesn’t respect agreements. If it had respected agreements, it would see that it has no evidence whatsoever that the 1899 Agreement is flawed. And if it can repudiate an agreement of that nature…then it cannot in my view be a trustworthy partner in negotiations until it demonstrates otherwise,” Jagdeo shared.
Venezuela regenerated its claims to Guyana’s Essequibo region after American oil giant ExxonMobil found nearly 11 billion barrels of oil off Essequibo in 2015.
In November 2023, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council had published a list of five questions that it planned to put before the Venezuelan people in the December 3, 2023 referendum. The referendum sought the Venezuelan people’s approval to, among other things, annex Essequibo and create a Venezuelan state. It also sought the citizens’ approval for Venezuela to grant citizenship and identity cards to residents of Essequibo.
Later, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling barring Venezuela from taking any action emanating from the referendum, to seize Essequibo while the Court makes its decision about the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award.
After years of failed good offices process via the United Nations (UN), Guyana is seeking a final and binding judgement from the ICJ to reinforce that the 1899 Arbitral Award remains valid and binding on all parties, as well as legal affirmation that Guyana’s Essequibo region, which contains much of the country’s natural resources, belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.