The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has issued a statement commenting on the decision of the Venezuelan National Assembly to conduct a popular referendum on defending on invading the Essequibo region, which comprises two thirds of the territory of Guyana on the north coast of South America.
CARICOM remarks notes that two of the questions approved to be posed in the Referendum, if answered in the affirmative, would authorise the government of Venezuela to embark on the annexation of territory, which constitutes part of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, and to create a state within Venezuela known as Guyana Essequibo.
In its statement CARICOM reaffirms that International Law strictly prohibits the government of one State from unilaterally seizing, annexing or incorporating the territory of another state. An affirmative vote as aforesaid opens the door to the possible violation of this fundamental tenet of International Law.
“It is to be emphasised that the land and water in question — the Essequibo Region of Guyana — comprises more than two-thirds of the whole of Guyana itself.
The referendum questions reveal the Venezuelan government’s intent.
The first two questions focus on rejecting the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award and supporting the Geneva Agreement of 1966 as the only valid legal instrument to resolve the dispute over the Essequibo territory.
The third question challenges the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in this matter, while the fourth question opposes Guyana’s intention to unilaterally dispose of a sea pending delimitation, viewed by Venezuela as a violation of international law.
The fifth and final question seeks Venezuelans’ approval for the creation of a new state and an accelerated plan for its population, including granting Venezuelan citizenship and identity cards.
Aside from the question as to how a general population is qualified offer opinions on complicated historical and diplomatic questions, CARICOM is mainly concerned by the final question which seems to hint on an invasion of the territory in the case that Guyana does not agree.
“CARICOM notes that the language of two questions approved to be posed in the Referendum seeks an affirmation and implementation of Venezuela’s stance on the issue “by all means, according to/with the Law.” It is open to reasonable persons to conclude that “by all means”, includes means of force or war.
“CARICOM earnestly hopes that Venezuela is not raising the prospect of using force or military means to get its own way in this controversy over territory. After all, it has been the long-standing position of Latin American and Caribbean counties, including Venezuela, that our region must remain a zone of peace.
“Meanwhile, CARICOM insists that the Referendum proposed by Venezuela has no validity, bearing, or standing in International Law in relation to this controversy; the Referendum is a purely domestic construct, but its summary effect is likely to undermine peace, tranquility, security, and more, in our region.
“CARICOM reiterates its support for the judicial process and expresses the hope that Venezuela will engage fully in that process before the International Court of Justice which has determined that it has the jurisdiction in the case brought before it to determine the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award which Venezuela questions. The Court’s final decision will ensure a resolution that is peaceful, equitable and in accordance with International Law.
The territory under dispute has been the cause of conflict since the nineteenth century and ultimately dates back to when the land was under the control of the colonial powers of Britain and Spain. Today, although the area is not densely populated, the interest in the area concerns rights to offshore oil drilling, and also possibly deposits of gold.
The government of Guyana awarded the American oil corporation Exxon a licence to drill for oil in the disputed maritime area in early 2015, and the company is currently extracting oil very profitably from offshore rigs and the government of Guyana is benefiting massively from royalties.
In recent days Chevron Corporation swallowed up Hess Corporation, which has drilling rights in the area called the Stabroek oilfields, and claimed that this was one of the most profitable oilfields in the world.
Guyana’s position at this time, as per President Ali, is that the matter is subject to the judgment of the International Court of Justice, that Venezuela should also abide by that determination, and that Venezuala cannot dismiss the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice by referendum.
Sources: SKNIS, CARICOM.