Border controversy: 1899 Arbitral Award was duly accepted in legitimate, irrefutable process – historian

Historian and Registrar of the University of Guyana, Dr Nigel Gravesande

In light of Venezuela’s planned referendum to annex Guyana’s Essequibo region, historian and Registrar of the University of Guyana, Dr Nigel Gravesande has positioned that the 1899 Arbitral Award was duly accepted in a legitimate process.

At the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen and Tain Talks session under the banner: “Prepare rather than fear – Venezuela’s illegal claim and its possible effects” on Monday evening, Gravesande underscored that the 1899 Arbitral Award was duly accepted by both parties of the agreement.

“The Arbitral Award of 1988 legally and conclusively settled the boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela. It is to be irrefutably underscored here that this was the culmination of a legitimate process that was agreed to by both Great Britian and Venezuela in 1897 under the auspices of the Treaty of Washington. Both parties agreed that whatever the determination was, it would be a ‘full, perfect and final settlement’.”

But now that the country has reached this junction, he voiced, “Historians will always contend that in life, as is the conduct of relations between states, there will always be hawks among some. Wars or threat of wars will never be the only alternative settlement to judicial disputes.”

Over the past few weeks, Guyana has been informing regional and international partners of Venezuela’s planned referendum. This move by Venezuela has been criticised by the United States, the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Commonwealth and the Organisation of American States (OAS) as well as several other nations in the Region including Brazil.

There is a consensus that Venezuela’s referendum threatens the peace, security, and stability of the Region.

Security considerations

In his presentation, Member of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Advisory Committee on Guyana Border Matters and Attorney-at-Law, Dr Barton Scotland underscored that there should be further recourse at the level of the United Nations.

Former House Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland

“Recourse to the United Nations with continuing strong diplomatic activity should aid in diffusing the tension and concern felt by Guyanese. Guyana, in addition to recourse to protection, must consider and discharge her obligation to Venezuelan nations, who have been admitted within our borders and who are under our control and protection.”

Scotland highlighted that Venezuelans who enter the border with animosity to Guyana will give rise to security considerations which Guyana must attend.

“Where their presence is driven by need, Guyana must maintain a legally acceptable environment in which they may live…The Venezuelans who might be admitted by Guyana but enters with animus towards Guyana and might be motivated by a different purpose.”

After years of failed good offices process, Guyana approached the World Court in March 2018 seeking a final and binding judgement 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.

The Spanish-speaking neighbour has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region and a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered largely by United States oil giant, ExxonMobil. The Guyana Government has already declared its commitment to resolve this longstanding border controversy with Venezuela through the legal process at the World Court.

Guyana’s agent to the International Court of Justice and former Legal Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge voiced that there are many dimensions to this case to make sense of the challenges. Speaking on the referendum, Greenidge said it pre-empts the decision of the Court and ignores the power of this institution.

“Guyana has lodged a complaint to the Court, in which the Court is being asked to react to this urgently and in a manner that says in effect that Venezuela is to do nothing to undermine or change the current status of Guyana, either to incorporate it or do [any]thing to its citizens.”

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will be holding a special sitting on November 14 to hear Guyana’s Request regarding Venezuela’s planned referendum.