Source/Translated from: http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-39321228
20 March 2017
As can be expected from a dispute that threatens almost two-thirds of what Guyana considers its territory, Venezuela’s claims about the Essequibo region usually occupy a prominent place on the agenda of the Guyanese foreign minister.
Visiting London for a meeting of British Commonwealth ministers, Carl B. Greenidge touched on the subject with his Commonwealth colleagues and included him in a conference on the challenges of the small South American nation that will dictate at the prestigious London School of Economics.
And the Guyanese vice-president also spoke about the matter with BBC World less than a month after the appointment of a new UN mediator for the controversy , which was reheated in 2015 after the discovery of important offshore oil fields in the claim area .
For Greendige, recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague is inevitable and close.
Copyright of the imageBBC MUNDO
The mediator is a Norwegian diplomat Dan Nylander, best known in Latin America for his role as guarantor of the peace process between the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas.
But while the Vice-President of Guyana also held the credentials of the new UN envoy, he also insisted that it was time to bring the matter before the International Court of Justice in The Hague for its resolution.
Where are the efforts to resolve the dispute at the moment?
Under the Geneva Agreement of 1966, the Secretary-General of the United Nations convened a meeting between the two countries in September 2016.
But he had also promised to terminate the exercise of his good offices in December 2016, assuring that if the matter had not been resolved by that date, he would refer it to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The issue was not resolved, but just before leaving, the Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) made the decision to give more time to the dialogue, for another year, insisting that if that extension did not produce the expected results – that is, if There was no substantial progress in the resolution of the dispute, specifically the alleged annulment of the arbitration award of 1889 – then it would refer to the court.
The award of 1899 is, of course, the only treaty governing the frontiers of Guyana. The Geneva Agreement is often mentioned, but it makes absolutely no mention of changes of territory, it does not mention at all some exchange of persons between countries.
What it says (the Geneva Accord) is that if the two countries can not agree on a peaceful settlement of the dispute, what the UN Secretary-General must do is choose from the menu (of possible mechanisms of solution) content In Article 33 of the United Nations Charter.
And do you think that with this timeline and the seemingly imminent entrance of the International Court of Justice, is the definitive solution of this controversy almost 200 years approaching?
It is not a dispute of 200 years …
Well, there are almost 170 … (The so-called Schomburgk Line, which served as the base for the border that is the subject of the controversy, was drawn in 1840).
No, I would put it differently. The dispute began in the 1890s, perhaps a little earlier, when the United States helped Venezuela bring the UK to an arbitration table.
At that table, they received the mouth of the Orinoco River and agreed, as part of the Washington Treaty of 1897, to accept the decision of the arbitration tribunal as final and definitive.
Therefore, as far as we are concerned, that claim ended at that moment: Venezuela received territory, Guyana received territory and the treaty operated without problems for 63 years.
It is from 1962 when the current problems begin.
In any case it is a problem that has been prolonged for a long time …
And do you think that a final solution is finally near?
Obviously a final solution requires both parties to accept and implement what they have agreed upon. And we have had problems with the willingness of the Venezuelan government to honor its obligations, which has not been a problem for Guyana alone.
We believe, however, that the nature of this claim, which is that there is a null and void treaty, is one that can usually be settled by a court. A country can not decide unilaterally, which is what happened in this case.
Then, in our opinion, once the matter is brought to court, it will be resolved in the sense that it will not be possible to reuse that excuse.
Of course, borders are never perfect, so do not expect the problems to disappear completely. But the fact is that the claim itself is so absurd that Venezuela has never ever exercised sovereignty over the Essequibo!
What makes Venezuelan claims “absurd”?
After the United Provinces of the Netherlands separated from Spain in 1648 – after the Treaty of Münster – Spain never had sovereignty over the area, as it was granted to the Dutch as stipulated in the treaty.
And when the Netherlands lost the Napoleonic Wars, by fighting on the side of the French, the territory was transferred to Britain in 1814. And then we gained independence in 1966.
“Venezuela has never exercised sovereignty over the Essequibo.”
In other words, no Spaniard has ever exercised sovereignty over the territory. In fact, in Guyana you can find places with names in French as a result of French pirate incursions, but there is no place with names in Spanish, neither on the coast of Guyana nor in Essequibo.
And when slavery was abolished in Guyana in 1834, it was the result of a conflict between slaves who spoke English and Dutch with the English planters. There is no mention, no evidence, no proof of the involvement of Spanish-speaking people.
In fact, if the Essequibo had actually been part of the General Captaincy of Venezuela, African slaves would not have been able to obtain their freedom until 1865. This is another testimony to the absurdity of this claim.
And if the dispute is really so absurd, why has it not been resolved?
For a matter of power. The claim is absurd but has been perpetuated by the asymmetry of power between the two countries.
When Guyana approached its independence in 1966 the Venezuelans told the British that unless the subject of the territory was solved, Venezuela was not going to allow Guyana to obtain its independence. Then the British resorted once again to a negotiation and that was where the Geneva Agreement was negotiated.
Since then, Venezuela has been able to force Guyana to do certain things.
For example, it occupied the island of Anacoco, which according to the 1899 treaty was shared by the two countries, but Venezuela occupied it militarily in 1968. And in 2013, when the American ship Anadarko seismic exploration on the marine platform, Venezuela captured the Boat
In addition, the Venezuelan Congress recently passed a law stating that the maritime area off the coast of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice, ie all of Guyana, and even the one off the coast of Suriname, belongs to Venezuela, And therefore will not allow oil drilling in those areas.
That is an ignorant position, as the Geneva agreement nowhere says anything on the subject of maritime space. And although Venezuela has rights, because it has a coast, it can not be that its maritime rights leave Guyana and Suriname without maritime space.
So, although the law says one thing, Venezuela has had in the past the ability to do whatever it wants, or almost everything it wants, and to exert military pressure because it is much more powerful. Two divisions of the Venezuelan army are practically the same as the entire population of Guyana.
“Two divisions of the Venezuelan army are practically the same as the entire population of Guyana.”
Venezuela has almost 40 times the population of Guyana, but also a territory several times bigger. That is, it is as sparsely populated as Guyana. So it is surprising that they are fighting for more territory.
But of course, having obtained the mouth of the Orinoco as part of the 1899 agreement, and now being the owners of some of the most valuable land in the world, but having squandered them and left their people in distress, they are now seeking other resources. That’s what’s behind all this.
What do you think Venezuela would consider as a “practical, peaceful and satisfactory” solution, which is what led to the Geneva agreement?
I have no idea what Venezuela needs. And if a country is able to sign a treaty saying that they will accept the outcome of a final and final process, and then deny that commitment, it is very difficult to have faith that an agreement can be reached between the two countries that Will be honored.
That is why Guyana will under no circumstances accept a simple bilateral agreement, because if Venezuela can break a treaty that also involved the United Kingdom and the United States, it would be very reckless to assume that we can work together and structure an agreement today that they will go to Respect tomorrow.
Then I do not know. I only know what international law says: if you sign a treaty, you can not unilaterally deny that treaty, no practical solution can allow you to deny that treaty.
We can talk about everything else they want, but the rights enshrined in the Geneva Agreement can not be waived.
Venezuela argues, however, that the arbitration process was flawed …
That’s total nonsense.
You know what I mean, do not you? The letter, the allegations of collusion …
Yes, but to begin with, if you believe that we are both the beneficiaries of a decision that is flawed, you can not take the part of the decision that benefits you – in this case to stay with the Orinoco, its basin and The eastern bank (of the Cuyuní River) – to work with her for 61 years and one morning to get up and say ‘You know what? I want everything else. And we will demand the rest. ‘
One has to go to an independent body and that independent body makes a decision.
As for the allegations that the treaty was biased and that the Venezuelans were not represented in the arbitration panel, let me tell you this: Venezuelans elected their representatives on the panel.
And as it was the United States that forced the UK to sit at the negotiating table Venezuela elected a former US Supreme Court president. And his lawyer was a former US president! You can not get more muscle than that! Venezuela certainly did not have that capability at the time. But he had representatives.
Moreover, the man who later made the allegations that fuel the Venezuelan argument – that the arbitration award was biased because it should have given Venezuela all or nothing, which is a ridiculous argument – that man (Severo Mallet Prevost) did Part of the panel and at the time, in 1899, said that it was fair. That is documented in Reuters reports from The Times .
That is, he allowed forty years to pass, almost 50 years to write a letter, saying that it should not be opened until after his death. And when they opened the letter it was stated that (Federik) De Martens – who was the president of the court and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts as a mediator in the second half of the nineteenth century – had colluded with the British …
Now, it’s fine to make those accusations, But why did not you do them when you were alive? And why did he wait until after receiving a decoration from Venezuela, shortly before he died? Why did not he give him a chance to defend himself against the people who participated in the agreement?
“Venezuela has never provided any evidence that collusion occurred. “
It’s absolutely ridiculous. And throughout the time that Venezuela has made that argument, Venezuela has never provided any evidence that such collusion occurred or that in any way affected the justice of the agreement.
And you think all that can be clarified by going to The Hague? What would the International Court have to establish?
If it is argued that the accusation of 1899 is null and void, the court must establish whether there is another agreement (which defines the borders between Venezuela and Guyana).
But first it has to establish whether the 1966 Geneva agreement implies that the arbitration award of 1899 is null and void. And they can not get to that concussion because the agreement does not say that.
Is there therefore a country that has been behaving in a way that is consistent with international law simply to ignore a treaty they accepted and honored for 61 years? And is that acceptable? Those are the things that the court must decide.
If a country is allowed to ignore international law and apply its own formulas because it has money, or because it has military power, we will be returning to an era of chaos and I think we are not ready for that. There is enough chaos around the world without letting go of regrets wake up one day and do whatever they want.
But if it is so obvious that the only way to resolve this is by going to the International Court, why has it taken so long? UN measurement efforts have lasted over 40 years. Was there ever progress?
I would say that until the last decision of the Secretary-General, which was communicated to us in February 2017, there has been absolutely no progress, not a drop.
What happened between 1966 and 2017, prior to that letter, was simply that Venezuela was getting away with it.
There was a mutually negotiated moratorium that lasted 12 years and was unilaterally broken by Venezuela. In 1968 Venezuela claimed the entire territorial sea of Guyana by means of the Leoni decree, which was never withdrawn.
And in 2013, Venezuela captured a ship that operated on our platform, causing the Anadarko company to leave and never return.
We have also had incidents inland, with Venezuelan aircraft attacking vessels operating on the Cuyuní River, on the portion of the Cuyuní River that the arbitration court gave Guyana …
That is to say that from 1966 to the date we have had plateaus, with good relations between both sides, and valleys, in which military pressure has been exerted to try to obtain greater territory.
Now, since the claim is one of nullity, it is one that can be settled by a court of law.
I do not mean by this that I completely trust the International Court of Justice, because it is not so. As every court is composed of human beings and has never been completely free of political influence.
But at least it is an independent body that can examine the claim and make a legal decision that can end this problem.
Would Guyana recognize that decision, whatever it was?
We will abide by the decision of the court. It would be the end of the road.
And how much appetite do you see from the Venezuelan side to go to The Hague?
Venezuela has already indicated, through its foreign minister and its president, that they are not enthusiastic about the idea. Or worse, they are not willing to go to the International Court.
But that’s not my problem. There has to be a solution to this controversy. And the solution can not be one imposed by Venezuela, because it would be unfair and a recipe for chaos.
Do you feel that there is less willingness to reach a solution with the current government, especially if compared to that of Hugo Chavez?
With Chavez there was an improvement compared to what had happened before, because Chávez eventually admitted what everyone knows: that Venezuela made its claim in 1962 not so much as a result of the posthumous letter, but for reasons of global politics.
At that time Guyana was led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan, who had been part of the government overthrown by the British in 1953, a government that had come out in favor of socialism and communism.
So, the Venezuelan claim was a way to keep that government under control and Chávez acknowledged that fact. And he also indicated that he would not put himself in the development of the region, provided that it was developed for the benefit of the inhabitants of the area, his own words.
I think the Guyaneses thought that was a reasonable position. In other words, Chávez had a much more sensible and politically acceptable position. But I would not say that the attitude of the current administration is the worst.
The period between 1962 and the Chávez government, for example, was very bad: although at the level of heads of state there were always contacts, part of Guyanese territory was militarily intervened and Venezuela went to the World Bank to advocate against the construction of a Hydroelectric power plant.
And they also made efforts so that Brazil did not cooperate with the Guyanese, boycotting even the construction of a bridge over Tacutú, on the border between both countries, the construction of a space station …
Then, there have been worse periods than Maduro. And perhaps one can not expect different or better behavior from the opposition.
In fact it is possible that an alternative government is worse. Guyanese have to be very attentive with Venezuela in general.
But things got very hot in 2015, under the current administration …
At this moment the situation is not as tense as in September of 2015, when Venezuelan warships were in our waters.
And the present source of tension at the moment seems to derive mainly from its annoyance because we have been able to begin to exploit the resources in the Essequibo and its maritime space.
The truth is that being the party that has made all the concessions, we have also been the most harmed.
Venezuela has been able to explore and exploit the Orinoco delta and the sea off the Orinoco delta, but then it goes and tells everyone that the rest of the area can not be exploited without mutual agreement.
But we should have been very foolish to accept that Venezuela can exploit its part of the agreement but that we need your permission to exploit ours. What kind of nonsense is that?
What has been the cost to Guyana of all this?
The cost has been immense. If GDP is measured against the usual criteria, Guyana is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, despite being located between territories that have managed to exploit their resources to be among the richest in the region.
There is Venezuela, with the largest oil reserves in the world, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, which have been able to exploit their mineral resources, including oil and gas.
If Guyana has not been able to do so, and its people continue to live in poverty, it is because they have not left us nor explored those riches.
Even the difference in infrastructure on the border with Venezuela reflects the cost Guyana has had to pay.
Compared with what is on the Venezuelan side and especially in the Brazilian, the physical infrastructure of Guyana is quite inadequate.
But we must also say that as the population of Venezuela is not concentrated in the border area with Guyana, Venezuelans who live there often as poorly served as Guyanese, or even worse.
What would you tell those people and the Venezuelans in general?
Guyana needs its neighbors. And at the level of people the relationships are very good. In fact, a significant number of Guyanese live in Venezuela, have emigrated to Venezuela over the years, especially in the area of Puerto Ordaz.
So my message would be that we are brothers and sisters that we have found by chance of fortune, good or bad, occupying certain spaces. And neither has been able to fully develop the resources at their disposal.
Our task and our desire is that our governments be wise enough to develop these places for the welfare of all.
Faced with the internal challenge of improving the living conditions of our people, and facing common external problems on a political and economic level, our responsibility as individuals and as governments is to work together and cooperate.
We have no interest in tensions or conflicts with Venezuela or with any of our neighbors.
Guyana is the only South American country that has English as an official language.