PRESIDENT David Granger last evening urged his colleagues in the regional trade and integration bloc, CARICOM, and other foreign partners to condemn the May 27th decree by Venezuelan President which seeks to annex Guyana’s maritime space and force out an oil rig owned by the American firm, Exxon Mobil.“We ask this Conference to affirm its solidarity with Guyana to repudiate this Decree,” Mr Granger said as he addressed the opening of the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting at the Hilton Hotel in the Barbadian capital, Bridgetown.
The Decree by Nicolás Maduro, which Guyana sees as intimidation, was issued with Venezuela’s superior wealth and military and naval strength in mind, the President said.
He, however, countered, “Naval superiority cannot be allowed to supplant the supremacy of the law.
“Gunboat diplomacy has no place in the 21st Century Caribbean, and must be condemned wherever it occurs.”
Noting that CARICOM has been a source of steadfast support for Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the years, he said the country needs that support now more than ever, with Venezuela extending its land claim to also claim territorial waters, part of which is what is called the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Such zones of all Caribbean territories, the President said, are integral to national territory, and are essential to survival, “because we depend on these waters for our economic sustenance: Travel, trade, tourism, fishing and petroleum exploitation.”
He said that because countries’ exclusive economic zones are rich in resources, they represent potentially lucrative economic frontiers. But the problem is that many of the exclusive economic zones of CARICOM Member States are interlocked, with some not even being demarcated. And so, he said, this absence of maritime demarcation not only represents a possible source of conflict within the Community, but can also be exploited from forces external to the Community, such as in the case of the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy.
As such, the President said any potential sources of conflict among Member States must be removed, by pursuing the process of maritime delimitation in accordance with the international Law of the Sea.
He assured representatives of the international community attending the Summit, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, of Guyana’s adherence to international law.
But while Guyana pursues a definitive legal remedy in the controversy with Venezuela, President Granger said member nations of CARICOM must be prepared also to exercise absolute sovereignty over their maritime waters and resources. “We must protect these resources from being invaded and annexed; we must pursue the principle of collective security, which provides that a threat to any of our members represents a threat to our entire community,” President Granger said.
Apart from CARICOM support, he said Guyana clamours for the succour of the Commonwealth, the security of the United Nations, and the shelter of international law to bring a peaceful end to Venezuela’s rejection of the validity of a boundary which has been defined as a ‘full, perfect and final’ settlement, and which all parties at the time vowed to accept and respect for all time.
The President said the issuance of the Decree by Venezuela is an act of aggression against Guyana’s sovereignty. “It is an assault on our right to access and to develop our maritime resources,” he said.
The President appealed for CARICOM’s support against the “oppressive and obnoxious” Decree, which has the potential to destabilise the region.
In order to show the seriousness of the Maduro Decree, he pointed to past actions which have slowed down Guyana’s growth.
“Guyana has borne the brunt of having funding for a major hydro-electricity project blocked; of having investors intimidated; of having its citizens in border areas harassed and of having petroleum exploration vessels expelled and seized by gunboats,” the President said.
Noting that Guyana’s border with Venezuela was fixed 116 years ago, having been determined, defined, delineated and demarcated by international arbitration, the President said:
“Maps were drawn; atlases were adjusted; border markers were cast in stone. Any State that systematically, cynically and sedulously seeks to repudiate solemn international agreements, and to undermine the security and sovereignty of another State must be condemned.”
The burden of Venezuela’s claim to one-third of the country’s territory and now its maritime space, he said, must be removed in order for the country to eliminate poverty.
Noting, too, that Guyana will, for all time, pursue the principles of mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and mutual cooperation for peaceful co-existence between neighbours and among States, President Granger said:
“Guyana calls on the Caribbean to condemn, in the strongest terms, any State that seeks to undermine these principles.”
Without the cooperation of our CARICOM Member States, he said, the regional bloc risks being miniaturised and marginalised, and efforts to improve their economies could be trivialised.
By Neil Marks in Barbados