Venezuela says will not participate in ICJ hearing on border dispute

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Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza

With little over a week to go before Guyana begins defending its border case against Venezuela’s illegal claims on Essequibo, the Spanish-speaking country has indicated that it will not be attending the June 30 International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearing on jurisdiction.

This was revealed by Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza, who shared a Venezuelan communique on his official social media account. In announcing this decision, the Minister explained why they would not be attending the meeting.

“Venezuela informs that, in accordance with its historical position and in strict adherence to the 1966 Geneva Agreement, it will not attend the unusual and irregular hearing called for June 30 by the International Court of Justice,” Arreaza said.

The February 17, 1966 Agreement gave the United Nations (UN) Secretary General the responsibility to choose a means of peaceful resolution of the dispute and the possibility of finding another way in case it does not succeed.

Venezuela has said in the past that it does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ to mediate the matter and had unjustly claimed that UN Secretary General António Guterres exceeded his authority under the Geneva Agreement by referring the case there.

Guyana filed its case with the World Court on March 29, 2018, seeking a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award which established the location of the land boundary between the then-British Guiana and Venezuela remains valid and binding, and that Guyana’s Essequibo region belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela as is being claimed by the Spanish-speaking country.

The case was originally scheduled to be heard on March 23, 2020. However, the ICJ had postponed the long-anticipated hearing of the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute case, citing the worldwide crisis of the coronavirus.

In a previous notice, the Hague, Netherlands-based ICJ had informed the parties of the schedules for the upcoming public hearings to determine whether the court has jurisdiction to preside over the matter.

The first round of oral arguments was supposed to be held on the first day, with Guyana presenting its pleadings. The following day would have been awarded to Venezuela. With Venezuela confirming its non-attendance, it’s unclear what will happen to this second day.

At present, however, both Guyana and Venezuela are in the throes of domestic troubles of their own. In the case of Venezuela, its economy has collapsed under the Nicholas Maduro regime and sanctions imposed by the United States over Maduro’s undemocratic grip on power based on elections widely panned as lacking credibility.

The Venezuelan President has even been charged in the US for narco-terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption. Meanwhile, Guyana is without an official declaration by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), three months after elections were held.

The past few months have been marked by court cases and attempts by certain officials to rig the elections in the favour of the APNU/AFC.

Officials in the US and other countries have already warned that Guyana could be sanctioned and isolated on the world stage if the legitimate results are not used to swear in a President, a situation that analysts have said could impact Guyana’s case at the ICJ.

The border controversy gained new life when oil giant ExxonMobil announced in 2015 that it had found oil offshore Guyana. Venezuela had inexplicably been against oil exploration in Guyana’s Stabroek Block, where multiple oil deposits were found by ExxonMobil, and had laid claim to the Essequibo region, which represents two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.

After some two years of mediation, the UN announced back in 2018 that it had sent the matter to the ICJ after careful analysis of the good offices process.