Venezuela is alleged to have looked with disfavour on the so-called interference by the British High Commis-sioner, Mr Quinn, in the current controversy between Venezuela and Guyana. If this allegation is correct, it merely operates to substantiate the contempt or ignorance the competent authorities of Venezuela display for the applicable rules of international law. Failure by such authorities to recognise the right of the United Kingdom’s duly appointed representatives to comment on an issue arising from the Geneva Agreement 1966, to which the United Kingdom is a principal party, ranks in ignominy with its refusal to recognise its obligation to abide in good faith with the award of the Arbitral Tribunal 1899 which was established pursuant to the Treaty of Washington between the United Kingdom and Venezuela in 1897.
As a principal party to the Geneva Agreement, 1966, the United Kingdom is fully entitled to comment on the perceived breaches of this agreement by Venezuela. In point of fact the United Kingdom may even be perceived to have an obligation so to do where such breaches by Venezuela appear to compromise the territorial integrity and political independence of Guyana, successor in title to the United Kingdom, and the stability of the Caribbean region. By attempting to confine the current controversy exclusively to the “sovereign” and “brotherly” states of Venezuela and Guyana, Venezuela must be seen as attempting to exclude all other states of the international community which have a legitimate concern in this controversy.
For, although applicable rules of international law entitle all states, as an attribute of sovereignty, to unilaterally determine their maritime space, compliance of such delimitation with the applicable rules of international law is a fundamental requirement for its validity and recognition by other states of the international community. Venezuela, by disingenuously attempting to exclude other states with legitimate interest in this controversy, hopes to confine relevant negotiations which may ensue between itself and Guyana to two state parties where its superior negotiating strength, or more appropriately, bullyism, will hopefully prevail in Venezuela’s favour.
And, to the extent that the United States was instrumental in coercing the United Kingdom to agree to
arbitrate the relevant territorial dispute with Venezuela and in ensuring its own nationals with a seat on the Arbitral Tribunal and as agents to espouse Venezuela’s claims before the said tribunal, to that extent the United States must be perceived as an interested party in any juridically misconceived allegation that the determination of the Arbitral Tribunal was tainted by fraudulent conduct. Indeed, would it were that the United States was more viscerally forthcoming on this issue of considerable juridical and political significance for the international community as a whole!
In endorsing our Minister of Foreign Affairs’ assertion that Venezuela’s decree of 26 May, 2015 was baseless and shameless, it is also recognised that the aforementioned decree marked the culmination of a series of reprehensible acts which defined the scant respect of Venezuela for international law, as exemplified by its reneging on its initial agreement with the determination of the Arbitral Tribunal 1899, its agreement that the award would be a full and perfect settlement of the dispute, its subsequent rejection of the validity of that award based on an unsubstantiated allegation of fraud, its failure to abide by the terms of the Geneva Agreement 1966 and the issuance of a decree by President Leoni egregiously claiming Guyana’s territorial waters, its encroachment on the Exclusive Economic Zone of other Caribbean states, its refusal to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea 1982, and the infamous decree of President Maduro purporting to claim sovereignty over Guyana’s maritime space contrary to the applicable rules of international law. In short, the conduct of Venezuela today avails no plausible expectation of a peaceful settlement of the controversy and Guyana must, unfortunately, resign itself to living with this Amazonian monkey on its back for the rest of its existence. In the meantime the present administration must not only continue to protest Venezuela’s illegal occupation of Guyana’s part of Ankoko island but must enlist the support of all political groups in Guyana in defence of its national sovereignty over every inch of territory in the words of Dr Cheddi Jagan, and every blade of grass in the word of Mr Forbes Burnham, not to mention the felicitous, resonating incantations of the Tradewinds.
This medium of communication does not allow for an exhaustive examination of the contempt for international law meretriciously and flagrantly displayed by Venezuela. Suffice it to state, however, that Guyana’s strongest armour in the struggle to secure its territorial sovereignty and political independence as a state is to be found in its commitment to good governance and reliance on relevant rules of international law. And, its foreign policy must be informed accordingly whether in relation to the territorial disputes of other states, international human rights issues, and other emerging issues of international concern.
And this brings me to the principled policy Guyana has adopted until recently in respect of the Falklands issue. In this context it is important to enquire whether Guyana’s destiny is indeed continental such as to prompt flirtation with UNASUR. Diplomatic and political entanglement with UNASUR may isolate Guyana in a maelstrom of Spanish-speaking, pseudo-imperialist states, which, when the crunch comes, are likely to empathise with Venezuela, oblivious to the legitimacy of Guyana’s sovereignty in respect of the Essequibo. Not unlike Guyana, Britain’s claim to the Falklands is grounded on international law, as exemplified in conquest (1831), effective occupation and acquisitive prescription.
In the premises, considerations of principle coupled with an uncompromising commitment to international law must be accorded pride of place in the reordering of our foreign policy as intimated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Professor Justice Duke
Pollard Department of Law
University of Guyana