CHIEF of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Mark Phillips stated firmly yesterday that the Army will not sit idly by and allow any illegal incursion of this country’s territory.Brigadier Phillips in an invited comment was speaking specifically to the latest posture by Venezuela in issuing a decree claiming sovereignty over Guyana’s territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean off the Essequibo region.
The Chief of Staff is of the firm view that any claim to Essequibo is illegal, and thoughts to the contrary must not be entertained by any Guyanese, Venezuelan or international body. He added that the ruling in 1899 was binding, and still remains legal, and more so an international law that has to be honoured.
Asked specifically about the ability to defend Guyana should the issue get out of hand, Brigadier Phillips made it clear that the nature of the GDF is to defend Guyana, and it is in the psyche of the men and women who serve in the Army.
Brigadier Phillips dismissed the notion of limited manpower and resources, as he maintained that Guyana is ready and capable of addressing any invasion.
Last year, heavily armed soldiers from Venezuela were found in Guyana at an area in Essequibo where they were reportedly providing protection to a group of Venezuelans who had boated into Guyana and were conducting some form of survey in the same disputed area between the two countries.
Back then, many persons thought that the then Government’s approach to addressing the issue was a very soft one that sent a message to the Government of Venezuela that Guyana will tolerate their intrusion uninterrupted.
The Government of Venezuela had however claimed that the presence of the soldiers and other personnel on Guyana’s soil was not sanctioned by that country, even as the presence coincided with a State visit by President Nicholas Maduro.
There were suggestions that the group was part of a Venezuelan Opposition move to provoke a situation between Guyana and Venezuela, and that those persons were attempting to undermine the Maduro administration.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s State-owned airline, Conviasa, has since been barred from landing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport for want of the deposit of a security bond in keeping with regulations of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority.
The passenger bond is usually to offset any expenses, should the airline cease operations suddenly, leaving stranded passengers.
Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro, just a few days ago issued a decree claiming sovereignty over Guyana’s territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean off the Essequibo region.
In the Venezuela Official Gazette of May 27, 2015, President Maduro authorized sovereignty over Guyana’s coastal waters which include the Stabroek Block where the US oil company, ExxonMobil recently announced that they had found significant deposits of oil.
Twice, Venezuela has written to the local subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil, warning against the oil exploration venture by the company in what they consider Venezuelan waters.
Dr. Odeen Ishmael, former Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela, also weighed in on the issue, disclosing that this new extension of Venezuela’s claim to Guyanese territorial waters was made official in the presidential decree, No. 1787, and published in the Ordinary Official Gazette No. 40,669, dated May 27, 2015.
Dr. Ishmael further related in his blog that this is not the first time a decree of this nature is being made, as it was done previously by President Raul Leoni 47 years ago in July 1968, where he purportedly claimed “sovereignty” over a twelve-mile strip of Guyana’s continental shelf along the Essequibo coast.
Since these developments, the Government of Guyana has informed the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about these recent acts of aggression by Venezuela.
(By Leroy Smith and Ravin Singh)