Guyana will not be intimidated by Venezuela’s December 22 incursion into Guyana’s maritime space and interception of a research vessel, says Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge who yesterday rejected false claims by Caracas that ships carrying out oil-related surveys were in that country’s territory.
“Let me be clear: under well-established principles of international law, that maritime space belongs to Guyana…The claims by Venezuela as to the extent of their land and maritime territory are false. They are simply a pretext for seizing territory that they have no hope of gaining under international law,” Greenidge declared in a strongly-worded address in the National Assembly yesterday.
“Guyana has informed Venezuela that it will not be intimidated by the heightened hostility by that country as we continue to pursue our economic development agenda…we have reminded Venezuela that the Stabroek Block is an area over which Guyana maintains sovereign rights, located in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Guyana. Companies with concessions licenced by the Government of Guyana in this area will continue to implement their scheduled programmes of activity,” Greenidge said as he updated the House on events since the incursion.
On December 22, the Venezuelan Navy intercepted a research vessel subcontracted by ExxonMobil to work in Guyana’s territory. The ship, the Ramform Tethys, was undertaking seismic data acquisition but left the area after the incident. The Caribbean Community and the United States have condemned Venezuela’s actions.
Greenidge updated the House on Venezuela’s “aggressive” actions yesterday and disclosed that a “reckless attempt” was made by the Venezuelans to land a helicopter on the deck of the Bahamian-flagged Ramform Tethys. He emphasised that the ship was in Guyana’s EEZ and continental shelf at an approximate distance of 140 km from the nearest point to the provisional equidistant line with Venezuela and some 250 km from Punta Playa, the westernmost point on the land border of Guyana.
The Minister pointed out that despite Caracas feigning surprise at the presence of the vessels, more than two weeks prior, on December 6, 2018, an advisory was issued alerting all including Venezuela to the intended commencement of seismic work in Guyana’s EEZ. “Rather than speak to us, Venezuelan authorities waited, tried to seize the vessel and then sent us a Note Verbale dated 20th December,” Greenidge said, while observing that it apparently had taken until 22nd December to move the Note Verbale from Miraflores Palace to Guyana’s Embassy in Caracas.
“Guyana’s response has been to defend its sovereignty and sovereign rights firmly, consistently, peacefully and fully in accordance with international law,” Greenidge said. He recounted his ministry’s actions that day including a formal protest to the Government of Venezuela conveying the complete rejection by the Government of Guyana of the hostile and unlawful act. The minister said that Guyana protested that Venezuela’s threat and use of force to impede Guyana’s exercise of sovereign rights in its EEZ is a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations and general international law. He also highlighted that the governments of the 70-member crew as well as the Secretary General of the United Nations were informed of the incident.
Guyana also requested that the matter be placed on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council while the Notes of protest subsequently received from Venezuela were reciprocated with immediate responses from Guyana.
More alarmingly, Greenidge said, the following day, Caracas issued a Communique asserting that the incident took place in the same area identified by Guyana but alleging that the position was ‘within the Orinoco River Delta maritime waters over which Venezuela has unquestionable sovereignty’. In other words, the coordinates put out by Venezuela and Guyana were practically identical, Greenidge pointed out.
He emphasised that Guyana is aware of no incident occurring in the Orinoco Delta or its projection, much less an incident involving vessels having permission from the Guyana authorities to undertake seismic surveys there.
Greenidge accused Caracas of making false claims. He highlighted that Venezuela’s claim to the waters lying along Guyana’s coast has until now, been based on their supposed and fictional historic ‘ownership’ of the Essequibo and therefore of its coast. In fact, that land territory, one of the three counties of Guyana has been part of Guyana since 1648.
“Venezuela’s most recent statements make mention, not of ownership of the Essequibo coast but refer to a ‘direct projection of the Orinoco Delta’ to a link between that delta and the continental shelf well to the east off of the delta. This mysterious veering to the east just coincidentally encompasses all the hydrocarbon reserves on the sea bed of Guyana,” Greenidge pointed out.
“In other words, in order to capture public sympathy in Latin America in particular, Venezuela has misleadingly recast the issue as involving Guyana-inspired ExxonMobil intrusion into the Orinoco Delta. Clearly then, what is globally accepted by the world and the United Nations as Guyana’s EEZ and its continental shelf, an area from Punta Playa to the Corentyne River extending 200 miles north of Guyana’s Atlantic coast, has now been re-christened as the projection of the Orinoco Delta,” Greenidge said.
“Using this new language, Venezuela is seeking to confuse the public and gain sympathy for an outrageous case. All the world knows that the Arbitral Award of 1899 granted to Venezuela the Orinoco River and its Delta. It has become synonymous with Venezuela. Guyana has no interest in the Orinoco River and we had never imagined that the Orinoco Delta could naturally project across the entire coastal front of Guyana,” he added.
This is an unjustifiable position which flies in the face of international law, he declared.
While Guyana has always been willing to discuss maritime delimitation with Venezuela, it cannot move outside of the framework set by international law, and will not now do anything that could undermine the process before the International Court of Justice, the minister asserted.
“Guyana has made it clear to Venezuela that it reserves the right to take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and sovereign rights against further hostile acts contrary to Venezuela’s fundamental obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and general international law,” he told the House.
Further, the minister also highlighted recent actions by Caracas that infringe on Guyana’s sovereignty. He said that according to recent reports, by way of a decree of December 29, the Venezuelan government is seeking to enforce domestic legislation with the assistance of the Venezuela Navy over the maritime space off the coast of Guyana.
Greenidge condemned the action and emphasised that under well-established principles of international law, that maritime space belongs to Guyana.
“The enforcement of domestic legislation by military forces, especially when such legislation has neither a basis in international law nor the sanction of the international community is routinely decried by Venezuela when employed by other States. We can only agree that such behaviour which seeks to enforce by dint of force of arms illegal and irresponsible national decisions on other States, poses a threat to regional peace and security which can easily escalate,” he said.
He emphasised that claims by Venezuela as to the extent of their land and maritime territory are false and are simply a pretext for seizing territory that they have no hope of gaining under international law.
“The public statements and the renaming of the area in question is an attempt to win by bluster and bombast what they failed to win by logical argument and juridical means,” he declared.
Greenidge called on Caracas to immediately withdraw its unilateral decree, cease all uses and threats of military force against unarmed civilian vessels duly licensed by Guyana to engage in offshore exploratory activities, present its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and, in due course, commit to accepting the Court’s Judgment on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award and the location of the land boundary.
After years of fruitless efforts and a pattern of aggressive behaviour by Venezuela, Guyana on March 29th, 2018, filed an application with the ICJ requesting that it confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the 1899 arbitral award settling the boundaries between British Guiana and Venezuela. Caracas has refused to participate.
Responding to a request from Caracas for dialogue, Greenidge said that no state which seeks to impose by force its own unilaterally decreed “rules” on a militarily weaker state can expect to have that smaller state willingly accept to engage in dialogue under conditions of coercion.
“Guyana is not averse to dialogue, provided that it has no effect on the proceedings before the International Court of Justice. Indeed, it is committed to the peaceful resolution of all international disputes, and considers good faith dialogue to be the most direct means to that end,” he said, while reiterating his call for Venezuela to participate in the proceedings before the ICJ.