Venezuela border controversy: Special Guyana parliamentary sitting now set for Nov 6

The National Assembly being held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre


November 6th has been settled on as the date for the extraordinary sitting of Guyana’s National Assembly to discuss developments on the Venezuela border controversy, following a meeting between representatives of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government and the parliamentary Opposition.

It was announced on Wednesday that Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira had met with Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones and shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Amanza Walton-Desir, earlier in the day.

According to a statement from the Minister, both sides amicably agreed to change the previously determined November 3 date for the extraordinary sitting of the National Assembly, to November 6 at 10:00h. The National Assembly has been on its annual recess since August 10, 2023.

The extraordinary sitting, according to the Minister, will be “to discuss a motion of support for the Government and people of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and reaffirming recognition of the 1899 Arbitral Award and the 1966 Geneva Agreement”.

Last week, a notice had been sent out to Members of Parliament (MPs) indicating that a special sitting would be held on Friday, November 3. Subsequently, however, Jones had raised concerns over this announcement, noting that there had been no prior meeting between the two sides to come up with a date – even though the opposition has been consistently calling for an extraordinary session of Parliament on the border controversy.

Following Jones’ airing of the Opposition’s concerns, Teixeira had responded indicating the Government’s willingness to meet, and she urged the Opposition not to seek to “split hairs” over an issue that they should be united on. According to her, there had never been an agreement for a meeting with the Opposition before setting a date for the extraordinary sitting.

“It was agreed that this sitting would be held as soon as possible and within the first week of November. Further, Minister Todd, as Deputy Chair, and Minister of Foreign Relations and International Cooperation, would convene a meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee to brief the members,” Minister Teixeira said in her response.

Tensions with our western neighbour Venezuela have escalated after its recent proposed referendum which seeks its population’s approval to seize Guyana’s Essequibo county.

In Venezuela, the National Electoral Council had issued five questions to be asked in a national referendum scheduled for December 3, 2023, including a question that seeks the approval of the Venezuelan people to create a new Venezuelan state out of Guyana’s Essequibo region – which the Guyana Government has already lambasted as “brazen” and “pernicious”.

“In particular, question three of the set of questions to be placed before the people of Venezuela speaks to the “historical position” of Venezuela “of not recognising the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve the territorial controversy…” a statement from the Guyana Government had said.

“Question five seeks the approval of the Venezuelan people for the creation of a new Venezuelan State consisting of Guyana’s Essequibo region, to include “the granting of citizenship and Venezuelan identity card in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and international law”. This is a deliberate misinterpretation of the Geneva Agreement and a clear violation of international law.”

Since then, several regional bodies including the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) have condemned Venezuela’s actions, calling for the Spanish-speaking country to adhere to a peaceful settlement of the border controversy and to desist from any aggressive action.

Caricom has already stated that the conduct of a popular referendum on Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo has no validity in international law and also reaffirmed its support for the border controversy between the two countries to be settled via the judicial process currently before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Meanwhile, Guyana has approached the ICJ seeking an injunction from the world court to prevent Venezuela from taking actions through its provocative referendum over Guyana’s territory.

According to the ICJ in a statement on Tuesday, Guyana is also seeking an order from the court that “Venezuela shall not take any actions that are intended to prepare or allow the exercise of sovereignty or de facto control over any territory that was awarded to British Guiana in the 1899 Arbitral Award” and further that “Venezuela shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve”.

Meanwhile, the Government sent out a statement of its own on Tuesday explaining this approach to the ICJ. In its statement, the Government said that the ICJ’s protection was urgent, adding that Guyana has asked the Court to schedule oral hearings on its request at the earliest possible date in advance of December 3.