Essequibo: Guyana and Venezuela agree “not to use force”, but stick to their positions

Guyana and Venezuela agreed "not to use force" over the Essequibo, an oil-rich territory disputed between the two countries, but stuck to their positions during a summit between their heads of state, Thursday, December 14, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Essequibo: Guyana and Venezuela agree “not to use force”, but stick to their positions

Guyana and Venezuela agreed "not to use force" over the Essequibo, an oil-rich territory disputed between the two countries, but stuck to their positions during a summit between their heads of state, Thursday, December 14, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The two countries also committed to “refrain in words, in deeds, from intensifying any conflict” between them, according to a joint declaration following the meeting between the presidents of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, and Venezuelan, Nicolas Maduro.

Since the discovery of significant oil reserves by the American company ExxonMobil in 2015 and calls for tenders from Guyana for exploitation in the area, the dispute has continued to grow. The referendum organized on December 3 in Venezuela on the fate of this 160,000 square kilometer zone, under Guyanese administration and claimed for decades by Caracas, acted as an accelerator.

The summit organized on Thursday aimed to reduce this tension after vigorous declarations from both sides. The two presidents shook hands in front of the cameras before and after the meeting.

Mr. Maduro said he was participating in the meeting to find “the path to dialogue and negotiation.” Returning to Venezuela on Thursday evening, he celebrated the “victory of dialogue.” “It was a fruitful, intense, sometimes tense day, but one where we were able to express the truth,” he stressed. A new meeting will take place “within three months” in Brazil, according to the agreement.

In the joint declaration read by the prime minister of the host country, Ralph Gonsalves, rotating president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the two countries agreed to resolve their dispute in “accordance with international law including the Geneva Agreement”, which is the main Venezuelan demand.

Two thirds of Guyana's land area

Venezuela argues that the Essequibo River should be the natural border, as it was in 1777 during the time of the Spanish Empire. Caracas believes that the Geneva agreement signed in 1966 – before Guyana’s independence – lays the foundation for a negotiated settlement. Guyana believes that the border between the two countries dates from the English colonial era and that it was ratified in 1899 by an arbitration court in Paris. It is this border that is in force. But the statement “notes that Guyana wants to continue ongoing proceedings before the International Court of Justice” (ICJ) in The Hague, the UN’s highest court, and “notes that Venezuela does not recognize its jurisdiction.”

President Ali, who spoke to reporters before the joint statement was read, had reaffirmed “the defense of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.” “Guyana has every right (…) to facilitate any investment, any partnership (…), to issue any license, to grant any concession in our sovereign space,” he argued. “Guyana is not the aggressor, Guyana is not seeking war, but Guyana reserves the right to work with all its partners to ensure the defense of our country,” he said, while Caracas has repeatedly accused Guyana of being under the orders of the United States and the oil company ExxonMobil.

Upon his arrival in the archipelago, President Maduro said: “I come with a mandate from the Venezuelan people, with a word of dialogue, with a word of peace, but to defend our rights. »

The non-recognition of the ICJ was one of the five points that the government included in the referendum. More than 95 percent of Venezuelans, according to disputed poll results, supported this position.

Some 125,000 people, or a fifth of Guyana's population, live in this territory covering two-thirds of its land area.