“Peace and love” as Presidents Ali, Maduro exchange gifts in SVG

President Dr Irfaan Ali exchanging gifts with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, in St Vincent and the Grenadines

…Bolivia called out at CELAC Summit over inaccurate statements on foreign military operations in Guyana 

Amid tension over the ongoing border controversy between the two neighbouring countries, President Dr Irfaan Ali on Friday exchanged gifts with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The two South American Leaders are currently in SVG for the VIII Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

President Dr Irfaan Ali sharing a light moment with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, during the CELAC Summit in St Vincent and the Grenadines

On the sidelines of the summit, President Ali presented his Venezuelan counterpart with a bottle of rum made in Guyana and a medal, while he received a box full of Venezuelan products from President Maduro.

In fact, the Venezuelan President said, “Peace and love” in English as he gave President Ali the items.

Meanwhile, during the CELAC Summit on Friday, President Ali reiterated Guyana’s commitment to the peace and stability of Latin America and the Caribbean Region as he called out the President of Bolivia over his inaccurate statements regarding military exercises in Guyana amidst the ongoing border controversy with Venezuela.

During Friday’s plenary session of the summit in St Vincent, Bolivian President Luis Acre accused Guyana of allowing foreign countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) to conduct military air and sea exercises in the country just after Guyana and Venezuela had signed the peace accord – the Argyle Declaration – following raising tensions between the two neighbouring South American nations late last year.

However, President Ali, in response, called out his Bolivian counterpart for not having his facts on the matter right. “Instead of drawing conclusions, States within the region must ascertain the facts. Statements that are not based on facts can only add to destabilisation. As we heard this morning from our friends in Bolivia, the air surveillance and sea exercises mentioned by Bolivia were part of bilateral and regional security cooperation, and had nothing to do with the Guyana and Venezuela controversy,” the Guyanese Leader clarified during his presentation at the summit.

He further stated while Bolivia accused Guyana of provoking Venezuela, there was no mention of the Spanish-speaking nation’s attempt to annex Guyana’s territory. “It is also important to note that no mention was made about the incursions into Guyana’s territorial space,” President Ali posited.

Back in December, the planned visit of a UK warship – HMS Trent, a river patrol vessel – to Guyana’s waters as part of a regional tour had sparked concerns in Caracas, with President Maduro accusing Guyana of violating the peace pact and announced plans to bolster Venezuela’s military presence at the borders between the two nations.

At the time, President Ali had reassured that Guyana’s partnership with regional and international states is aimed only at enhancing internal security, and not to pose a threat of aggression or offend anyone.

Only last month, images shared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington showed Venezuela expanding its military base near its border with Guyana – a situation the Ali Government has said it is monitoring.

Venezuela 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. To settle the longstanding border controversy, Guyana is seeking a final and binding ruling on the October 3, 1899 Arbitral Award.

The Spanish-speaking nation 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.

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

Following the referendum, President Maduro announced a series of actions, including, among other things, issuing identification cards to Guyanese living in the 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 under the Argyle Declaration, 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.

Zone of Peace

This position was reiterated by President Ali at Friday’s summit, where he lauded the CELAC leadership for facilitating the December engagement.

“I assured everyone at that time, and now, that I am prepared, and continue to be prepared, to speak with President Maduro on any aspect that may contribute to enhancing the relationship between our two countries,” he noted.

In fact, on the sidelines of the CELAC Summit, Presidents Ali and Maduro exchanged gifts on Friday. President Ali presented his Venezuelan counterpart with a bottle of rum made in Guyana and a medal, while Maduro gave President Ali a box full of Venezuelan products.
Maduro said, “Peace and love” in English as he gave President Ali the items.

Judicial settlement

According to President Ali, while Guyana remains committed to the judicial settlement of the border controversy with Venezuela, its unwavering pledge to uphold the peace and security of the region still stands.

“I can assure you that Guyana remains steadfast in its commitment to the international judicial process, as well as to maintaining our region as a ‘Zone of Peace’. We want peace. We want prosperity for our neighbours, and all in this region. We want to be our brother’s keeper with our neighbour.

“My commitment to this august body is that Guyana and everything we do is built on peace, and our fundamental values are based on peace. We are a peaceful people. Fairness is standing on a platform of principle, honesty and values, nothing else… I assure all leaders here that Guyana’s priority is peace, and you can have the confidence that our territory will never ever be used as a platform of war or for war,” the Guyanese Leader declared.

Meanwhile, during the recently concluded Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Heads of Government Conference held in Georgetown earlier this week, Leaders reaffirmed their “solid support” for the maintenance and preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called on Venezuela to participate in the ongoing case before the World Court.