Amid signs that Venezuela is trying to limit condemnation from Caricom on its May maritime decree that targeted huge swathes of Guyana’s Atlantic waters, President David Granger and Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge yesterday ramped up pressure on the regional body to take a strong stance while pointing out the threat to the wider community.
Caricom Heads will begin their annual conference today in Barbados amid reports that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will be flying in to address leaders on various matters including the controversial maritime decree that has soured relations between Georgetown and Caracas and led to calls from the administration here for a judicial settlement of the longstanding controversy with its western neighbour.
Guyana’s diplomatic offensive in the wake of the May 26th decree from Caracas has attracted support from the Commonwealth whose Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma in a visit here this week said “The Commonwealth stands as one and speaks with one voice in our commitment to Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We are an association of 53 member states worldwide accounting for one quarter of the United Nations membership. Commonwealth member governments, individually and collectively, are also committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes and to the rule of law.”
In a statement yesterday prior to his departure for Barbados, Granger, who will be attending his first Caricom Heads summit, said that Guyana remained committed to improving relations with Venezuela but is equally steadfast in its stand against the “several illegal and increasingly militant actions of Venezuela directed against Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“Guyana reasserts that its lawful boundaries that were established 116 years ago are not negotiable. Violation of them on land or at sea is an assault on the tenets of Caricom and must be condemned as such”.
He ended by saying that this would be Guyana’s message to all at the Heads of Government Conference. This would be seen as a diplomatic appeal for maximum support following years of concerns that Venezuelan largesse to Caricom countries which are members of its alternative political and economic grouping, ALBA, might dilute support for Guyana on the key issue of territorial integrity.
Granger’s statement was followed by one from Greenidge who emphatically spelt out the threat to the rest of Caricom from the Venezuelan maritime decree.
“Our analysis and those of the friendly bilaterals with which we have consulted in the last three weeks point to the fact that the 1787 decree promulgated by Venezuela, apart from being illegal in international law, seeks to appropriate for Venezuela marine spaces and related resources which currently constitute and are accepted as part of the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of every state in the Eastern Caribbean ranging from St Kitts and Nevis to Grenada as well as Suriname. It also affects states to the west and in that regard the Govern-ment of Colombia, like that of Guyana has lodged its objection. We will draw this to the attention of the Heads of the Caricom States. Obviously, it is for those Heads to take appropriate action, whatever the state of their current bilateral relations with Venezuela. Bilateral relations can only continue if you are a state!”
He added “In a matter as fundamental as this, silence is not an option if we are to remain independent, let alone as viable states. We have to stoutly and unapologetically represent our interests and pursue fairness in the international arena.”
Greenidge, in responding to a recent report that a Venezuela Government spokesman had said there was nothing to be concerned about in relation to the decree, stated that “a law calling on a Navy to enforce a security zone and to exclude other states from it is no laughing matter, neither can it be an error if after six weeks it is still in force. No subsequent amendment has ameliorated to any degree the coercion behind the decree. As of today, it still requires the Venezuelan forces to exclude us as a matter of duty and an obligation from those areas internationally recognised as ours.”
At his press conference yesterday, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said that Venezuela’s maritime decree is a threat to all of Caricom and added that Granger and his delegation will use the three-day meeting to emphasize this as part its case to woo more support for Guyana.
Granger and the delegation which includes Ambassador Keith George, who is an expert on the Venezuelan issue, the acting director general of the ministry and the head of the frontier division of the ministry, left Guyana yesterday for Barbados.
Harmon told reporters that government has been in preparation mode for the past week, compiling material to present to the regional heads with the hope that Guyana will gain major support from Caricom on this issue.
He stressed that government has been working hard to prepare a compendium of articles on the Venezuela issue. He said that when the president speaks on the matter during the meeting, a book written over the past days will be presented. He stressed that over the last week the administration “has been working tirelessly to ensure that our case is well made, that every individual will have access to our case as presented by Brigadier Granger when he speaks”.
Harmon said that the president will use the book which will be circulated to all heads of government as the basis for his argument that Venezuela’s claim “is unjust. That our claim is valid and that our claim is meant to be supported by all Caricom states”.
He said that Granger’s remarks will be centred on the fact that the Caribbean must be a zone of peace and therefore a threat by Venezuela to Guyana “is about a threat to all of Caricom”. He said that based on the position the country takes and the individual meetings the president will be having with the various heads of states and other officials, a statement from Caricom in support of Guyana is expected.
He said that the government sees the recent statement from the Commonwealth as positive.
On May 26th, Maduro issued the Decree purporting to annex maritime zones belonging to Guyana. The Decree was gazetted in Venezuela on May 27th. Georgetown has said that the Decree was a “baseless and shameless” bid to usurp Guyana’s territory and a “flagrant violation” of international law. Greenidge has told Parliament that a definitive solution must be found and signalled that the government would be moving for a juridical settlement of the border controversy.
Meanwhile, asked how concerned the government is about the impact Venezuela’s concessional oil initiative PetroCaribe may have on regional solidarity in relation to the border controversy, Harmon noted “we trust that the presentation which we make will be enough to persuade the member countries but PetroCaribe is a very powerful instrument…We believe and we are going to be pushing for harmonizing of foreign policy in Caricom because we think that there are so many issues on the international stage that require the harmonization of policies, this is something we believe is important and necessary and that while the Venezuelan situation is one matter at issue there are several matters that are looming large internationally that will require a consistent and coordinated foreign policy approach by the region”.
Harmon also informed that Finance Minister Winston Jordan is representing Guyana at the PetroCaribe summit in Caracas. He said that it is public knowledge that Venezuela has agreed to an extension of that facility. With regards to the rice barter arrangement, he said that there is no word on that. “That was not meant to be the central focus of the meeting. My understanding was that would have been raised as a tangential issue. But the central issue to be dealt with had to do with the PetroCaribe fund and Venezuela’s intention to continue to fund that”.
Late last month Maduro was to address his country’s Parliament on its new claims to Guyana’s maritime territory. However this has been rescheduled twice.
Asked about this yesterday Harmon said that he would not want to speculate as to why Maduro cancelled the statements he was supposed to make. “I just hope that it signals a sort of a lessening of the type of serious rhetoric coming out of Venezuela so that we can try to resolve our matters in a more friendly manner utilizing the mechanisms provided for at law and the mechanisms provided under the United Nations charter.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also to be present at the Caricom summit in Barbados. He presides over the UN Good Officer process that is meant to mediate the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.