By: Devina Samaroo in St Vincent and the Grenadines
Staying true to his commitment to the Guyanese people, President Dr Irfaan Ali, during talks with his Venezuelan counterpart, did not waver on his position that the border controversy case shall be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in keeping with the 1966 Geneva Agreement.
He succeeded in coming to several agreements with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has, in recent times, intensified threats against Guyana in the furtherance of his regime’s baseless claim that the Essequibo region belongs to that Spanish-speaking nation.
President Dr Irfaan Ali displaying ‘all of Guyana’ (his leather band emblazoned with the map of Guyana) to journalists at a press briefing in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
After more than eight hours of engagements on Thursday at the Argyle International Airport in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Presidents Ali and Maduro have agreed that Guyana and Venezuela, directly or indirectly, will not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstance, including those consequential to any existing controversies between the two States.
In a joint declaration, the Heads of these two States also agreed that any controversy between the two States would be resolved in accordance with international law, including the Geneva Agreement dated February 17, 1966.
The two countries have also committed to the pursuance of good neighbourliness, peaceful coexistence, and the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean.
It was also agreed that both States would refrain, whether by words or deeds, from escalating any conflict or disagreement arising from any controversy.
The joint declaration states: “The two States will cooperate to avoid incidents on the ground conducive to tension between them. In the event of such an incident, the two States will immediately communicate with one another, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC), and the President of Brazil to contain, reverse and prevent its recurrence.”
Importantly, it was “noted” in the joint declaration that “Guyana’s assertion that it is committed to the process and procedures of the International Court of Justice for the resolution of the border controversy noted Venezuela’s assertion of its lack of consent and lack of recognition of the International Court of Justice and its jurisdiction in the border controversy.”
Further it was also agreed that the States will continue dialogue on any other pending matters of mutual importance to the two countries, and will immediately establish a joint commission of the Foreign Ministers and technical persons from the two States to address matters as mutually agreed.
This joint commission will submit an update to the Presidents of Guyana and Venezuela within three months.
Additionally, both States have agreed to meet again in Brazil within the next three months, or at another agreed time, “to consider any matter with implications for the territory in dispute, including the above-mentioned update of the joint commission.”
Joint Declaration of Argyle for Dialogue and Peace between Guyana and Venezuela
The announcement of the historic “Joint Declaration of Argyle for Dialogue and Peace between Guyana and Venezuela” was made to a crammed room of journalists from around the world, including a Guyanese delegation comprising State and private media, who had been in the host country since Wednesday, covering the latest developments in this matter.
The head table at the Argyle International Airport where the press conference was hosted following over eight hours of dialogue
Stakeholders of this historic event included Chair of CARICOM, Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica; Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley; Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley; Prime Minister of Grenada, Dickon Michell; Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Philip J. Pierre; Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Philip Davis; Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Terrence Drew; Special Adviser and Personal Envoy of H.E. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Celso Amorim, among other high ranking officials.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados greeted by Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves upon her arrival at the Argyle International Airport
Attending as observers on behalf of Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, were Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Earle Courtenay Rattray, and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Miroslav Jenca. In addition, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Colombia, Alvaro Leyva Durán, and Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Honduras, Gerardo Torres Zelaya, in his capacity as CELAC Troika, also participated.
Zone of peace
There were several rounds of meetings, the first being a dialogue between Guyana’s delegation and representatives of the Caribbean Community (Caricom). During that discussion, President Ali said he made a presentation reiterating the Government’s fundamental position in accepting the invitation to participate in the engagement, i.e. that the border controversy with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is not up for discussion, negotiation, or deliberation.
Presidents Dr Irfaan Ali of Guyana and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela meet face-to-face for discussions
The second phase was a similar meeting between Caricom and the Venezuelan team, which included Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.
The third phase was the first round of face-to-face talks between Presidents Ali and Maduro, wherein the two leaders shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
During these initial talks, each side had an opportunity to present its respective positions, wherein they both agreed that the region must remain a zone of peace.
President Ali, in updating a news conference after that third phase of engagements had concluded, revealed some of the positions he reaffirmed during his discourse with Maduro.
Among these are that Guyana has all right to exercise its sovereignty within its territorial space; to approve of and facilitate any development, any investment, partnership, training, collaboration, and cooperation; the issuing of any licence, and the granting of any concession within its territorial and sovereign space.
President Dr Irfaan Ali flanked by Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Foreign Minister Hugh Todd during the news conference
“The priority is peace, and that every threat of force or the use of force must be denounced, and that every party must take responsibility,” President Ali told a brief news conference after the face-to-face meeting with the Venezuelan president.
“We made it very clear that Guyana is not the aggressor, Guyana is not seeking war, but Guyana deserves the right to work with all of our partners to ensure the defence of our country,” he added.
Even before agreeing on the joint declaration, both parties on Thursday committed to ensuring the region remains a zone of peace.
After updating the press, President Ali returned to the discussion table, where the talks continued for several hours. It was not until almost 20:30hrs that PM Gonsalves, et al emerged to address the room full of journalists, where the declaration was read in English and Spanish. No questions were allowed to be asked.
Presidents Ali and Maduro were not present during that closing press conference.
President Ali, however, in a social media post, has since thanked Guyana’s technical team, inclusive of all state actors, lawyers, expert national, regional and international diplomats who supported Guyana with their expertise on Thursday’s endeavour.
“I also extend my gratitude to the leaders of CARICOM, CELAC, Brazil, Representatives of the UN Secretary General, the Prime Minister and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines for hosting us,” Ali posted on his social media page.
President Ali is accompanied by Attorney General Anil Nandlall, Foreign Minister Hugh Todd, Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud, among other senior officials.
Maturity, wisdom & patience
Earlier, before the arrival of the two South American Presidents, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, urged both leaders to exercise maturity, wisdom, patience and calm during their engagements.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro greeted by Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves upon his arrival at the Argyle International Airport
These talks were brokered by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves in his role as President Pro Tempore of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), CARICOM and Brazil.
Heading into the talks, President Ali had made it clear that the matter of the border controversy is not up for discussion, as it is being adjudicated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
President Dr Irfaan Ali greeted by Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines upon his arrival at the Argyle International Airport
Venezuela maintains that the border with Guyana, a former colony of The Netherlands and the United Kingdom (UK), was fraudulently imposed by the British, which it has denounced as a “land grabber”. Guyana, on the other hand, maintains that the line was determined on October 3, 1899 by an arbitration panel (Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899).
The Anglo-Venezuelan Arbitral Tribunal met in Paris, France, and on October 3, 1899 — 122 years ago — gave its award defining the border between Venezuela and then-British Guiana.
After abiding by the 1899 Arbitral Award for over half a century, Venezuela in 1962 claimed that the Essequibo area of Guyana belonged inside its borders. The debate heated up after ExxonMobil found oil in Guyana in 2015, and has intensified in recent months, with Venezuela holding a referendum on December 3 in which it was voted to purportedly annex the Essequibo; however, the country’s Opposition has since reported that 89 per cent of eligible voters did not vote.
Nevertheless, following the referendum, Maduro claimed that, among other things, he would now authorise oil exploration in Guyana’s Essequibo River.
Maduro also claimed that he has announced the activation of a human and social care plan for the population of Guyana’s Essequibo that includes censuses and identity cards.
He also claimed to have announced the creation of the “High Commission for the Defense for Guyana’s Essequibo region”; and the creation of the Comprehensive Defense Zone for Guyana’s territory.
The Venezuelan President also announced that in addition to oil, he would be issuing licences for mining and other activities to be conducted in Guyana’s Essequibo county.
The Maduro regime has been untruthfully claiming that Venezuela demonstrated that the award issued in 1899 by the Paris Arbitration Court was “null and void”, and that the controversy under the Geneva Agreement must be amicably resolved in a manner that is acceptable to both parties, while ignoring that such discussions had failed for over 30 years, and that the Geneva Agreement provided for the Secretary General of the United Nations to choose another path for the settlement of the controversy, if not settled by discussion between the two countries.
Maduro also ignores the fact that the Secretary General, in accordance with the Agreement, on January 30, 2018 had advised both Venezuela and Guyana that “having carefully analysed the developments in the good offices process during the course of 2017” and “significant progress not having been made toward arriving at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy”, he had “chosen the International Court of Justice as the means now to be used for its solution”.
Within the framework of the 1966 Geneva Agreement between the two countries, the Secretary General conducted Good Offices processes from 1990 to 2017 to find a solution to the border controversy. On January 30, 2018, Secretary General António Guterres, following a careful analysis of developments in 2017, chose the ICJ as the means to be used for the solution of the controversy.
As a consequence, Guyana, on March 29, 2018, filed its application to the World Court. In the substantive case, Guyana seeks, among other things, to obtain from the ICJ a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between then-British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid and binding; and a declaration that Essequibo belongs to Guyana.