IN his inaugural speech at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting last Thursday evening, President David Granger implored the Caribbean Community to reaffirm its collective support for the principles enshrined in international law for safeguarding territorial integrity, sovereignty and national independence.President Granger was at the time addressing the opening ceremony at the opening of the 36th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, at the Hilton Hotel in Barbados.
Making the case for Guyana, the President said even as this country approaches its 50th Independence Anniversary, with its sister-country Barbados, it is doing so with a ‘monkey on its back’. He described this as the unbearable burden of an ‘oppressive and obnoxious’ claim to Guyana’s land and sea space by Venezuela.
“CARICOM has been a source of solace and steadfast support for Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the years. We never needed that support more”, President Granger said.
Guyana, he pointed out, has over the years borne the brunt of having funding for a major hydro-electricity project blocked; intimidation of investors harassment of its citizens in border areas and the expulsion and seizure by gunboats of petroleum exploration vessels.
President Granger noted that Guyana’s border with Venezuela was fixed 116 years ago, when it was determined, defined, delineated and demarcated by international arbitration. In addition, maps were drawn, atlases were adjusted, border markers were cast in stone, the President stated.
“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. Our national boundaries have been recognised internationally,” he declared.
Though this territorial dispute has been alive for the past 50 years, President Granger said Venezuela has become regressive and even more aggressive.
“That country continues to threaten the development of Guyana, a CARICOM member state, both on land and at sea. That country, mindful of its superior wealth and military and naval strength and unmindful of the plight of the poor people of one of the world’s smallest and least populated states, has again resorted to intimidation and the threat of the use of force.”
It is against this backdrop that the President passionately pleaded for the support of its Sister States in the Caribbean Community.
“We clamour for the succour of the Commonwealth. We yearn for 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.”
The Guyanese Head of State told the CARICOM leaders that naval superiority cannot be allowed to supplant the supremacy of the law, and that ‘gunboat diplomacy’ has no place in the 21st century Caribbean and must be condemned where ever it occurs.
In this light, the President assured the representatives of the international community assembled at the opening ceremony of Guyana’s adherence to international law.
“We assure the Secretary General of the United Nations; we assure the Secretary General of the Commonwealth; we assure the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States and we assure the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, that Guyana, today and for all time, will pursue the principles of mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Without CARICOM’s cooperation, the President said, Guyana runs the risk of being miniaturised and marginalised and efforts to improve the economy could be trivialised. Acknowledging the fact that CARICOM is made up of small states, President Granger said these states deserve and should demand to be treated as equals among the nations of the world. “Let us not be afraid to re-engage the rest of the hemisphere as a natural family; as natural allies and as a force for peace and international law.”
He said CARICOM member states are powerless as individual states, but are powerful as a community of sovereign states, and speaking with a united voice, they can gain amplitude in order to influence the global agenda and resolve the many issues that confront small states.
Regarding the countries’ waters, or so-called exclusive economic zones, the President said these are integral to CARICOM’s survival, “because we depend on these waters for our economic sustenance — travel, trade, tourism, fishing and petroleum exploitation.”
“Our exclusive economic zones are rich in resources. These zones represent potentially lucrative economic frontiers,” Mr Granger said. However, he warned that because some have not been demarcated, this can also be exploited by forces external to the Community
He said the solution lies in the process of maritime delimitation in accordance with the International Law of the Sea.
“We must be prepared, also, to exercise absolute sovereignty over our 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.”