GUYANA, still only a budding nation, became Independent on 26th May, 1966 and continued, by severing all ties from the United Kingdom on 23rd February, 1970, as we became a republic.
However, we have been plagued by an idea that the Essequibo belongs to Venezuela, since the Latin American Wars of Independence, where they claimed more than half of the British colony; but was settled by arbitration in 1899, both territories accepting the judgement that the land belongs to British Guiana, which later became Guyana. One of the major guideposts of the decision was that Venezuela would not hinder the economic development of British Guiana as they were assured of unearthing several resources in the area. In 1962, Venezuela declared that it would no longer follow the arbitral guidelines which ceded part of the Orinoco basin to the British, an area that has immense mineral wealth.
Guayana Ezequiba or “Zona en Reclamacion” is referred to as the area that is disputed by the Venezuelans; the status of the area as per Geneva Convention was signed by the United Kingdom, Venezuela and British Guyana in February 1966, stipulating that all should find a peaceful, practical and satisfactory outcome to the dispute. However, this was not the case, as Venezuela used diplomatic and military actions to ensure we were intimidated, even threatening us with economic sanctions, the very thing they agreed not to do, in the 1899 decision.
Later, in October 1966, five months after independence, Venezuelan troops invaded Ankoko Island constructing a military base and even an airstrip in the area. It was Burnham’s decisive leadership as Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs that protested, asking Venezuela to exit the sovereign territory forthwith; this protest was met with a forceful response of “…until today Anacoco Island is Venezuelan and from that moment operates a Venezuelan airport and military base there.” – Raul Leoni, President of Venezuela 1966
As the Mixed Commission under the Geneva Agreement, Presidents, Forbes Burnham and Rafael Caldera signed the Port of Spain Protocol, an arbitration-style commission that was agreed upon by both parties to help hammer out various differences that arose during the talks, finally signing a 12-year moratorium to promote cooperation and keep the peace throughout the period. In 1983 the Protocol expired, as Venezuela refused an extension and resumed its claim to the territory.
Fast forward to modern times, according to the Guyana Chronicle dated October 24, 2015, “FORMER President Bharrat Jagdeo, now opposition leader, on Friday said the idea of negotiating a settlement with Venezuela that would see that country being given “a channel out to the sea” was discussed while he was in power.” He went on to say, “… Negotiated settlement which did not see any land concession that the 1899 award would remain intact, but there was one view that you could probably on the maritime area, give Venezuela a channel out to the sea.” To hear our President utter these words was like a slap in the face; leaders before him, said not one carass, and now this. Our sovereignty was threatened and our President wanted to give up areas that were later found to be oil-rich. I wanted a President who would fight to maintain what was ours — always.
As the new era of economic wealth dawned in 2015, as the President David Granger-led administration took over, my President stood resolutely in his approach to Venezuela, as he said in an article, “…this ongoing issue is like a “fishbone in our throats.” He posited that the objective is to have all threats by Caracas smothered by a long-term judicial settlement of the issue. As His Excellency laid out his government’s plan to deal with the situation, again the People’s Progressive Party boycotted the issue. His Excellency purported that Venezuela’s actions were a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention and that Caracas has no grounds under international law to stop the work by Exxon Mobil in the Stabroek Block. The President continued his firm stand, saying to both the Guyanese and Venezuelans that the Treaty of 1899 stands, and that any international panel would rule in favour of Guyana.
The right to self-determination led our founding father Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
to lead the struggle for independence, to finally have a Guyana governed by its own people. As we celebrate 54 years of independence and 50 years as a republic, we have seen Guyana metamorphosise from a territory to a proposed virtual economic powerhouse. As a result, we must not let one inch of territory go. “Not one Carass!”
With His Excellency David Arthur Granger at the helm, we have just started to see that little economic giant rise out of the ashes, as we are slated to be one of the fastest rising economies in the world; on March 2, 2020, we must stand resolutely against proposed international lawlessness as posited by the previous administration. We must not let the reins of power return to those who once wanted to let our sovereignty go.
Moving Forward Together, Don’t Stop the Progress.
Douglas Charles Gittens