By  Hubert  Williams

Boston, Massachusetts, September 23,  2015  —  At every stage of its spurious claim to nearly two-thirds of Guyana’s territory – i.e. all land west of the Essequibo River – the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has flexed its muscles and sought to intimidate the government and people of what it considers a weak, defenceless and irritating little neighbour.

Venezuela scored a bulls-eye in London in February 1966 when the British Guiana representatives, concerned that nothing should block the country’s path to independence, allowed themselves to be beguiled by the British in the resurrection (to the delight of the Venezuelans) of a boundary dispute that in 1899 had been determined by an international tribunal to have been fully, perfectly and finally settled.  

All parties represented at the tribunal – including the government of the United States of America – had accepted the decision, and new borders were demarcated accordingly, yielding to Venezuela some territory which it had claimed the European colonial power had virtually stolen from it. Out of the February 1966 tripartite conference, the Geneva Agreement emerged, specifying that a Mixed Commission of Guyanese and Venezuelan representatives would be established to seek “satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy between Venezuela and the United Kingdom which has arisen as the result of the Venezuelan contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 about the frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela is null and void”.

The Agreement also provided that “no new claim or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in these territories (of Venezuela and British Guiana) shall be asserted while this Agreement is in force, nor shall any claim whatsoever be asserted otherwise than in the Mixed Commission while that Commission is in being”.

The British Government, as stipulated in the Agreement, would remain as a party to it even after Guyana achieved independence.

Google  records the following: “In the days after the conference concluded, there were intense discussions in the media in Venezuela, the United Kingdom and Guyana on the significance of the Geneva Agreement. Venezuela, for its part, saw the Geneva Agreement as the “reopening” of the border dispute, and Foreign Minister Iribarren Borges said that the agreement actually meant that the 1899 decision would be reconsidered. This position was rebutted by both the British and Guyana Governments who insisted that the controversy was really over the Venezuelan contention that the 1899 Award was null and void, and the Agreement was not aimed at cancelling the Award or revising the boundary.

“In Guyana, the PPP was critical of the agreement, claiming that it provided Venezuela with a legal base to continue to press its claim to Guyana’s territory. It stated that the Guyana Government yielded ground at the conference on vital issues with the result that Guyana was committed to joint action with Venezuela in seeking a solution to a dispute which had no legal basis but which was now given international status. In addition to this, the Party claimed that Venezuela appeared to have been given special consideration with regard to the exploitation of the natural resources of what that country calls Guyana Essequibo.

“The PNC-UF coalition Government, on the other hand, welcomed the Agreement, and on the 5th March 1966, Prime Minister Burnham insisted that there was no question of the Geneva Agreement being regarded by his Government as a compromise on Guyana’s territorial integrity. Interestingly, in a separate comment, Attorney General Shridath Ramphal admitted that the Agreement became a pre-requisite for Guyana achieving its independence.”

The process under the Agreement failed, as have subsequent efforts so far under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary General.  It is not without significance that the government of Venezuela chose May 27 this year – within hours of the close of Guyanese celebrations marking the 49th anniversary of the country’s Independence – to announce Decree No. 1787 illegally  imposing  jurisdiction  over the vast expanse of Guyana’s territorial sea off Essequibo, where there has been a substantial oil discovery by the American company Exxon Mobil.

At no stage have the Venezuelans pursued this matter in good faith and their actions have always been in breach of all the rules and conventions, the intent being to intimidate the Guyanese into surrendering their territory.

Following establishment of the Geneva Mixed Commission, the Guyana Government announced its three commissioners as legal luminaries Sir Donald Jackson, Dr. Mohammed Shahabuddeen, and Ms. Shirley Field-Ridley, disclosing also that Venezuela had named its three and agreed that the first meeting of the Commission would be held in Guyana. It was totally a demonstration of sheer muscle that the Government of Venezuela sent a large gunboat – the “Almirante Brion” into the Port of Georgetown to transport its three commissioners… and it remained there throughout the meeting.

For the second meeting, in Caracas, the Government of Guyana applied to the Government of Venezuela for visas for each of its three commissioners to enter that country. The Government of Venezuela granted visas for Sir Donald and Ms. Field-Ridley, but not for Dr. Shahabuddeen. It explained that as Dr. Shahabuddeen had been born in Essequibo, he was in fact Venezuelan and would not require an entry visa. Very cleverly done, I thought at the time, but still an act of aggression… and the Guyana Government did not have the gumption to challenge it.

(Param Sharma, a friend in California who received an early copy of this article responded: “I was tickled by the assertion that Shahabuddeen is a VenezuelanNever heard it beforeIt reminded me of the 2nd meeting that took place in Caracas. The Guyana delegation walked out in protestNext, Guyana called upon Venezuela to attend the next (3rd meeting) in GeorgetownVenezuela replied the 3rd meeting can only take place after the 2nd meeting ends.“)

Further, in 1969 the Venezuelan Government fomented revolution among Rupununi ranchers in the far south, arming ranchers, including some  members of the Hart and Melville families, and it was only a delayed but aggressive response by the Guyana military that brought an end to the rebellion. To many, it would have been thought an internal revolt by distant, dissatisfied and isolated ranchers against a faraway administration; but Venezuelan aggression was heavily a part of it. When afterwards I flew to the Rupununi savannahs to observe conditions there (the geographic and administrative isolation, the ethnic stratification), it was clear how easily secession could have been achieved.

 Venezuela again demonstrated its superior strength when it seized Guyana’s half of the Ankoko border island, about which its much smaller and very weak neighbour could do nothing other than verbally protest. I flew to Iteringbang, which is separated from Ankoko island by a narrow channel, with Colonel Ronald Pope (the Briton who first headed the Guyana Defence Force) and a small party, and, impotent to act, there was nothing that could be done but look at the heavily armed Venezuelan soldiers patrolling what used to be our territory.

In just about every aspect of this dispute so far Venezuela seems to have had all the advantage; with today’s Chronicle headline merely suggesting that Caracas is “oiling” its armaments and ramping things up more than just a little bit. Guyana on the other hand may be moving towards preliminary discussions, if such have not already been initiated, with influential friends in specific capitals who have more than just guns and rockets.

The authorities in Caracas should know that men from the military are trained not to panic; and thus a panic reaction is unlikely from the newly-elected President in Georgetown. David Granger is a 3-in-1 dynamo: scholar, soldier, statesman/politician who so very long ago, as a late-teen university student, undertook expansive research into the Guyana-Venezuela boundary dispute and for a little while worked with me.

In those times because I maintained close relationships with two of the Guyanese commissioners and wrote detailed reports for Reuters International News Service, I was considered well informed and a principal source of factual information about all aspects of the boundary dispute. I thought of myself as such too (comprehensively informed), that is until I read young Granger’s expansive and scholarly paper.

Thus, within his Cabinet, when substantive discussions turn on the Guyana-Venezuela problem, its history and its probable resolution, this President is least likely to be just a listener.

Venezuela… there’s now a man of intellect, but also of muscle, at the helm.

====== END-IT ======

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  • Cliff  On 10/08/2015 at 3:46 pm

    This matter was settled via Arbitration since 1899 therefore it cannot be null and void as Venezuela is saying. Mr Maduro and his Cohorts are greedy people and they want the richest part of our country. They will never be satisfied with what they got via 1899; but they have NO MORE to get of Guyana’s property. Further more they must return Ankoko which they seized from Guyana in the 60s and the Guyana Govt must see this is done whenever this matter goes to the World court for a judicial hearing.

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