ExxonMobil’s operation is first major breach of Venezuela campaign to block investment here -Cedric Joseph

ExxonMobil’s operations here is the first major breach in Venezuela’s efforts to block investment in Guyana’s territory, a former senior diplomat has argued.

“All the criticisms of ExxonMobil, some of which are very valid, have not taken notice that the exploration for and discovery of oil, on the Stabroek Block is the first major breach in Venezuela’s efforts to block investment. That whole big development is having a major impact as a number of companies are now lining up to invest. Fifty years of obstruction is ending,” Cedric Joseph told the University of Guyana’s conversation on Law and Society, titled “Guyana’s Borders: Boundaries, Barriers, or Bridges,” which was held at the Theatre Guild on Thursday evening.

Joseph, a historian who has held various posts in the Foreign Service, told those gathered that a policy to obstruct investment in Guyana is part of the Venezuelan strategy in relation to the border controversy.

“Most of their [ExxonMobil] discoveries are currently in the eastern part of Guyana but it was understood long ago by the Americans that the real reserves are in the west and that accounts for the Venezuela activity, including purporting to annex the maritime area (in May, 2015) after the Liza discovery,” Joseph explained

He referenced the Upper Mazaruni Hydro-project of the late 1970s and argued that Venezuela’s objection to the World Bank led to that agency withdrawing funding from the project though it had previously decided that the project was feasible. By that time the Government of Guyana already had a significant amount of its own resources to begin the construction of the access road.

These explanations were provided in response to a member of the audience who had asked the presenting panel if it would not be in Guyana’s interest to encourage investment in those areas which are currently subject to spurious claims.

Joseph noted that the absence of investment in these areas is not through the lack of trying from government but through the obstructionist measures taken by Caracas.

He also referenced the seizure of the MV Teknik Perdana in support of this argument. On October 10th, 2013, Venezuelan naval forces seized the Teknik Perdana, a seismic exploration ship indirectly contracted to US oil company Anadarko Petroleum Corporation Inc to explore the company’s Roraima Block offshore Guyana with a view to determining whether commercial quantities of hydrocarbon existed there. Caracas subsequently charged the captain of the vessel with allegedly violating Venezuela’s exclusive economic zone and the vessel and the rest of the crew were later released. The exploration plans of Anadarko have been put on hold.

Major General (Retired) Joseph Singh supported the argument, noting that he was glad to have been able to accompany a United Nations team on a fly-over of the Essequibo region as they were surprised that that area of Guyana was inhabited.

“When they saw Mabaruma and Mahdia and the mining camps, they were surprised,” he explained, before calling for improvements in Guyana’s communication policy on the issue.

He noted that over the decades that the controversy has persisted, Venezuela has conducted a public information campaign which has conditioned its people into believing its claims. This conditioning would create a serious problem if, as expected, the World Court rules in Guyana’s favour.

“That is a major problem informing, conditioning Venezuela’s response to a definitive settlement. I am not making a judgement of right or wrong. I am stating a fact,” Singh said.

He argued that similar conditioning does not exist in Guyana, which makes the local level of vigilance less robust.

“We have produced a lot of stuff which, perhaps, need to be republished….Vigilance- and this is not only the preserve … of the military and the police. We all have to be vigilant. We all have to recognise, read and listen and that includes our diaspora who have access to information which will be very helpful to us and our diplomats,” the former Chief-of-Staff noted, before adding that Guyana’s Social Studies curriculum was not educating students about local history in any depth.

Guyana’s ambassador to Suriname Keith George, in contributing to the discussion, noted that the settlement of the maritime border with Suriname made Exxon’s exploration possible.

“If it weren’t for the 2007 Arbitral Award, Liza would not have existed. Liza is just a few kilometres away from where Suriname itself was claiming and Exxon would have been even more fearful because of what Suriname did in June, 2000; it used its gunboats,” he reminded.

On June 3rd, 2000 two Suriname gunboats forced an oil rig operated by CGX Resources to remove from an area of Guyana’s exclusive economic zone on the Atlantic continental shelf near to the Suriname maritime border. This action led to Guyana approaching the International Law of the Sea Tribunal  in Hamburg, Germany for a ruling. This matter was settled largely in Guyana’s favour in 2007 and George argued that this border is not a barrier.

He noted that between 2014 and the first half of 2017, trade between the two countries was valued at an estimated GY$53 billion.

“GY$37 billion of this was in Suriname’s favour so we have a huge deficit in spite of the fact that they are claiming our territory. We are their fifth largest trading partners,” he explained.

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