Canada, UK join calls for release of Guyanese fishermen
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Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd

— Venezuelan forces increasingly entering Guyana’s maritime space, says Minister Todd

CANADA and the United Kingdom (UK), on Thursday, joined other nations in calling on Venezuela to release the 12 Guyanese fishermen they are holding in detention.
Even as Guyana and international stakeholders continue to press for a peaceful conclusion to the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy, Venezuela remains seemingly bent on arbitrarily laying claim to Guyana’s territory, with that country’s naval forces increasingly intruding on Guyana’s maritime space.
Increased activity by Venezuelan naval vessels and other forces in Guyana’s waters started after Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro, issued a decree claiming Venezuela’s sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed adjacent to Guyana’s coast, west of the Essequibo River.
Based on reports emanating from Venezuela, the decree points to the creation of a strategic zone for national development, called the “Territory for the Development of the Atlantic Façade”, which the Bolivarian Republic envisages will provide it adequate protection, and safeguard its jurisdiction.
However, since Guyana has sovereign rights over the coast west of the Essequibo River, as far as Punta Playa, it follows, consequently, that only Guyana can enjoy sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights over the adjacent sea and seabed.

Detained:( from left) Joel Joseph, Nick Raghubar, Javin Boston, Orland Roberts, Captain of the Lady Nayera, Richard Ramnarine and Shirvin Oneil

Despite outright condemnation of Venezuela’s latest claims and global recognition of Guyana’s sovereign rights over the contested area, a naval vessel attached to the Bolivarian Republic, just days after the issuance of the decree, entered Guyana’s territory and abducted 12 fishermen, who remain detained in Venezuela.
“Following the announcement of President Maduro’s Decree of 7 January 2021, there was increased activity in Guyana’s maritime space by Venezuelan Navy vessels and other Venezuelan State assets,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd, told the National Assembly, on Thursday.
Such illegal activity, he lamented, continues to undermine Guyana’s development, by threatening Guyana’s sovereign rights over its maritime space and hindering economic activity.
The recent abduction and detainment of fishermen and their fishing vessels, the Lady Nayera and Sea Wolf, is proof of Venezuela’s intention, Minister Todd said.

The Lady Nayera, while it was docked at home, here in Guyana

Those vessels were intercepted by Venezuelan naval vessel, Commandante Hugo Chavez GC 24, off the coast of Waini Point (well within Guyana’s territory).
The crew and both vessels were illegally detained by the Venezuelan Government and are currently still in detention at Port Guiria. It was reported recently that the men were placed before a Venezuelan court and then subjected to a 45-day detention, pending an ‘investigation’.

STRONGLY CONDEMNED
Guyana has, however, strongly condemned the illegal detention of its citizens and the illegal seizure of their fishing vessels by the Venezuelan navy.
Each family member too, when contacted by this publication, has condemned the act and has said that they are eagerly awaiting the return of their relatives, because, in some cases, they are the sole breadwinner of the house.
Minister Todd has since affirmed that his ministry is in constant contact with the fishermen who are being detained in Venezuela.
The minister in responding to questions from the media on Thursday, said: “Yes, we are in contact with them every day… we are dealing with the release of the crew and vessels.”
There have been allegations that the fishermen would have captured an endangered species, but this information remains unsubstantiated and a secondary concern at this time, as the main focus, according to Minister Todd, is on getting the Guyanese fishermen back.
“At the end of the day, the vessels were in our territory and we do not want to be distracted…we need to have the vessels and the crew released,” the minister said.

PEACEFUL AND DIPLOMATIC
Minister Todd, prior to engaging the media, had told the National Assembly that his ministry was engaging the international community as part of efforts to resolve the issue in the most peaceful and diplomatic way.
Individual Member States of CARICOM and the community as a whole, have denounced the action taken by Venezuela, calling upon them to release the crew and vessels.
The Organisation of American States has also issued a statement in which it points out that: “Resolution of the territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana is a matter that lies under international jurisdiction, and cannot be settled by unilateral action. Any attempt to derail this international legal process such as the decree, issued by the Maduro regime is contrary to international law and standards, and has no legal bearing or significance.”
“We are encouraged that the international community is seized of this matter and has encouraged Venezuela to release our Guyanese nationals and their fishing vessels and to desist from actions that violate international law and threaten the peace and stability of the region,” Minister Todd said.

Guyana, he said, values highly the support which it has received and continues to receive from individual member states of the international community such as Belize, Brazil, Canada, France, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom and the United States of America,  as well as through regional and international groupings of CARICOM, the OAS, the Commonwealth, the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States and the European Union (EU), in its strenuous endeavours to preserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Canada, in a statement, said it supports Guyana in calling for the immediate release of two Guyanese vessels and fishermen detained by the Maduro regime. The United Kingdom (UK) also expressed concern about the reports that Venezuelan vessels have detained Guyanese fishing vessels and crew. The nation called for the early release of those men.
Both Canada and the UK, in commenting on the broader issue, said international law must be respected.
The UK, in particular, said it is clear that the 1899 Arbitral Award settled the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.

“We encourage a bilateral resolution to the controversy and support the efforts of the UN Secretary General,” the UK said.
In March 2018, Guyana filed its application in the ICJ seeking an affirmation of the validity of the1899 Arbitral Award and the international boundary that it established.
On June 30, Guyana, in its virtual presentation in the Arbitral Award of October 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela) case, said that, not only is Venezuela’s current interpretation of the Geneva Agreement illogical and erroneous, but it is in stark contrast to the interpretation the Spanish-speaking country had when it signed the very agreement in February 1966.
Represented by a battery of international lawyers, Guyana said the agreement, in unambiguous terms, empowered the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General to determine an appropriate resolution mechanism to enable a peaceful settlement, which is the ICJ.
The ICJ ruled on December 18, 2020, that it has jurisdiction to hear the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy case.
Guyana is seeking to obtain a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between then British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid, and that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela. The case management exercise for the border controversy case is set for February 26, 2021.

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