We must zealously guard our sovereignty, promote democracy – Pres Ali

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

…says Guyana seeking “friendly relations” with neighbours, wants peace & stability

President Dr Irfaan Ali has reaffirmed Guyana’s commitment to defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity while at the same time foreign friendly relations with its neighbours to ensure peace and stability in the region.

These were the sentiments of the Head of State on Thursday evening during his Address to the Nation at the Flag Raising Ceremony to commemorate Guyana’s 54th Republic Anniversary.

According to the President, when Guyana declared itself as a Republic on February 23, 1970, it effectively severed constitutional attachments to the United Kingdom from which it attained independence in 1966. This Republican status, he noted, vested in the people of Guyana full sovereignty over the entirety of the country as well as the political, social and economic processes within.

“We, the custodians of the Republic, must zealously guard our nation’s sovereignty, promote its development and safeguard democracy. A threat to our territorial integrity poses a direct challenge to our sovereignty because it stakes a claim upon the settled geographical boundaries that define our nation,” he stated.

The Guyanese Leader noted that territorial integrity is not merely lines on a map but symbolizes the autonomy and control which a nation exercises over its land, waters, air, air space, resources and people. He posited that without this total control over its territory, Guyana’s sovereignty is compromised.

“We shall never surrender an inch of our territory or cede national sovereignty. A threat to national development undermines the prosperity and well-being of our people,” he added.

Ali stated that Guyana will never return to the era where its Republic was tainted. He explained that over the years, the country has fashioned a Republic that is democratic and which continues to work to unite its people and defend its territorial integrity.

“We are protecting our motherland from all threats from outside of our borders.”

In doing so, he outlined that his government has been strengthening Guyana’s national defense and improving the capabilities of the national defence forces. “Defense diplomacy is being strengthened and defense cooperation is being fortified,” Ali added.

“Our Republic threatens no one. We have acute aggression. We are a peaceful nation. We settle disputes peacefully and repose our trust in international law. We seek friendly relations with our neighbours. We want peace and stability. We are for peace and stability and our investment is to ensure peace and stability remains in our region. Our investment is to ensure peace and stability is the foundation through which neighbourly love is built. Peace and stability are the foundation through which goodwill is built,” the Head of State contended.

President Ali’s statements come on the heels of heightened tensions between Guyana and Venezuela. The Spanish-speaking country continues to lay claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass, the Essequibo, and a portion of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in which almost 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered over the past eight years, and in which oil production activities are ongoing. In 2018, Guyana moved to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after exhausting all means of negotiation with Venezuela, including the good office process between the two South American neighbours. Guyana is seeking a final and binding ruling on the October 3, 1899, Arbitral Award to settle the longstanding border controversy.

Venezuela had challenged Guyana’s move to settle the matter but the ICJ ruled in December 2020 that it has jurisdiction to entertain the application for a final settlement. Having rejected both of Venezuela’s preliminary objections, the ICJ has set April 8, 2024, as the time limit for the filing of a Counter-Memorial by Venezuela.

However, tensions between Guyana and Venezuela have been simmering since then but escalated late last year when the Nicolás Maduro Government held a referendum on December 3, 2023, to annex Guyana’s Essequibo region.

Following the referendum, President Maduro subsequently announced a series of actions including, among other things, issuing identification cards to Guyanese living in Essequibo and issuing licences for mining and other activities in Guyana’s Essequibo County.

Given Venezuela’s threatening posture, a historic face-to-face Caricom/ CELAC/ Brazil-brokered meeting was held on December 14, 2023, between Presidents Ali and Maduro in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and was geared towards maintaining peace in the region.

The two South American leaders came to several agreements, including that Guyana and Venezuela, directly or indirectly, would not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstance, including those consequential to any existing controversies between the two States.

Even as Guyana reaffirms its commitment to the judicial process before the World Court, it was also agreed that a Joint Commission of Foreign Ministers and Technicians of Guyana and Venezuela would be established and meet on behalf of the two presidents in Brazil to continue peace dialogue.

That first meeting of the Joint Commission of Foreign Ministers and Technicians was held on January 25 in Brasilia. Guyana’s delegation was led by Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Hugh Todd, who described the meeting as a “good start” to creating a better future of good neighbourliness for the next generations.

Amidst this tension over the border controversy, however, President Maduro earlier this week formally accredited Dr Richard Van West-Charles as Guyana’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Georgetown said in a statement that during the ceremony in Caracas on Tuesday, “President Maduro requested Ambassador Van West-Charles to convey a message of high regard to President Ali, stating his great respect for the President and the people of Guyana.” (G-8)