By Lakhram Bhagirat
Slated to make his Budget 2018 presentation on Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge was forced to bring forward his contribution on Wednesday after the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s Special Representative on the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy, Ambassador Dag Nylander, scheduled a meeting in Antigua for Friday.
Greenidge told the National Assembly that the meeting is expected to be much more of an informal level to determine a way forward as it relates to addressing the issue surrounding the disputed territory. He noted that Guyana and Venezuela had to formulate teams to further the negation process and it is those members that are expected to meet.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry has been unable to confirm the attendance of the Venezuelan representatives but President Nicholás Maduro is expected to be in Antigua at the same time.
The Minister said Guyana’s team consists of 10-14 persons inclusive of persons with international experience in the fields of international and maritime laws along with constitutional laws.
He noted that the negotiation process is an expensive one but a vital one since one cannot afford to be “penny-pinching” in defending Guyana’s territorial integrity.
He also lauded the Opposition for their contribution to the negotiation process, much to the agreement of his Government colleagues. The Minister noted that while he is not at liberty to get into the nitty gritty of the negotiation process, he can reveal that the talks have so far been focused on proposals, ideas and concerns.
Greenidge informed that Nylander has committed to sticking to his word of taking the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Guyana is relying on the decision by then United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon that the border controversy over the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal, if not resolved by the end of 2017, then the matter would be taken to the ICJ honouring Guyana’s request.
In February this year, Norway’s Nylander has been selected to represent Secretary General António Guterres in the Good Offices Process. Nylander had visited Guyana a number of times to hold talks with President David Granger and Foreign Minister Greenidge, among others.
Relations between Guyana and Venezuela have worsened ever since oil giant ExxonMobil announced in 2015 that it had found oil in Guyana. Venezuela has staunchly been against oil exploration in Guyana’s Stabroek Block, where ExxonMobil found multiple oil deposits.
In fact, Venezuela’s National Assembly had approved an agreement to reject the oil exploration activities in March 2017.
Venezuela, with almost 40 times the population of Guyana and a territory that is several times bigger, claimed in 1968 the entire territorial sea of Guyana by means of the Leoni Decree, which has never been withdrawn.
In 2015, the Government of Guyana requested then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to take steps toward resolving the controversy. In 2016, because of a stalemate on the matter, the outgoing Ban Ki-moon agreed with his successor, Guterres, to continue to use the Good Offices Process until the end of 2017 as a means of arriving at a settlement.
It is with this intention that Guterres appointed Nylander as an envoy to resolve the border controversy. According to the mandate of the Personal Representative, “If, by the end of 2017, the Secretary General concludes that no significant progress has been made towards arriving at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy, he will choose the International Court of Justice as the next means of settlement, unless the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that he refrain from doing so.”
Guyana has maintained that the only way to settle the controversy is by way of a juridical settlement at the International Court of Justice. Venezuela’s claim to two-thirds of Guyana has escalated over the years, with various shows of aggression and harassment.