GUYANA ratified its membership in the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) on 12th February 2010.
This organisation’s objective is “To create in a participatory and consensual manner an open space for integration and unity in the cultural, social, economic, and political affairs among its participant States.” It believes that achieving this requires granting priority to, among other issues, “political dialogue…with a view to reducing asymmetries in the strengthening of each Member State’s sovereignty and independence.”
The benefits of being in this body include that of trade, cultural development, education, and technical assistance. Where the territorial integrity of any member-state is threatened, in keeping with the body’s principles, it is reasonable to expect that efforts will be made to resolve it.
Our border issue with Venezuela, since 1962 when it informed the United Nations (UN) that it no longer respects the 1899 Arbitral Award, is not a matter of dispute but that of a controversy, since the matter was settled. UNASUR would have been aware of this.
Last year when Venezuela started acting up again with the change of administration in the Government of Guyana, a clear message was sent that Guyanese remain steadfast in refusing to give up anything that belongs to us.
In November 2015, retired diplomat and former Guyana Ambassador to Venezuela Odeen Ishmael flayed UNASUR’s South American Defence Council, which comprised member ministers responsible for defence and security matters, to at least call for peaceful solutions, the easing of tensions, and the safeguarding of the territorial integrity of aggrieved member states.
In the same month Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge expressed his concern about the organisation’s lukewarm approach in dealing with the controversy.
Since then Guyana has mounted an aggressive strategy to have the controversy resolved.
The Foreign Affairs Minister in his journeys abroad highlighted this matter at various fora, making the case for Guyana, and asking for support in having it resolved. A delegation led by President David Granger that included Sir Shridath Ramphal and Minister Greenidge went to the UN General Assembly and made the case, calling for swift resolution.
President Granger in his address the UN Assembly on 20th September said: “Guyana stands ready to have the International Court of Justice determine the matter with finality. We will work resolutely with the secretary-general in his final months in office, and his successor, to free Guyana from this surreal burden.”
It is a commitment that has not changed! None of these actions would be unknown to members of UNASUR and its Secretariat. Consistent with professed respect to reducing asymmetries in the strengthening of each member state’s sovereignty and independence via political dialogue, ipso facto, Guyana’s approach to the UN would be supported.
The UN is the world’s highest decision-making forum. Lo and behold, Guyana sees UNASUR allowing Venezuela to post its malicious claim to Essequibo on its website. This misinformation had the joint support of the Venezuela political opposition and the Nicolás Maduro government.
This act is not only a departure from the organisation’s principles, but facilitates Venezuela publicising its illegitimate claim on a legitimate website of an organisation that Guyana is a member of. This is clearly aimed at provocation, which UNASUR should not have countenanced through its facilitation. This is total disregard for the role of the UN in bringing a peaceful resolution to this controversy where it now resides for attention.
Minister Greenidge vehemently condemned what has happened and said he would communicate Guyana’s position to the hemispheric body. The lesson for us as Guyanese is that we must stand together as one in the face of threats to our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Guyana Constitution, which is the supreme legal instrument, that depicts our borders as a country, who we are as a nation, and the laws that will govern our affairs, must not be trifled with. Externally, Venezuela and UNASUR have attempted to. Internally, Russia Aluminium (RUSAL) -which manages the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) has by similar act been challenging our sovereignty in disrespecting our laws and citizens.
As Guyanese we must remain vigilant and collectively stand against aggression by foreign forces, be they internal or external. UNASUR and Venezuela must be told that Guyanese, irrespective of political loyalty, shall not cede an inch of what belongs to us. BCGI must equally be told that doing business in Guyana is contingent on respecting our laws and sovereignty.