The Guyana-Venezuela dispute

Image: Steve Johnson


The dispute can be resolved through dialogue, as long as you say no to US/ExxonMobil pressure for war

If there was any doubt about the actions taken by the Venezuelan government regarding the territorial dispute with Guyana, the joint military exercises between the Guyana Defense Forces (FDG) and the US Southern Command (SouthCom) explain what is really behind things.

The territory claimed by Venezuela, also known as Guiana Esequiba, is 159.500 km² west of the river with the same name. O SouthCom (Pentagon) never intervenes in territorial disputes, unless the territory in question contains resources of geopolitical importance to American imperialism.

In an interview given on January 21, 2023, the head of SouthCom, Laura Richardson, highlighted the importance of Latin America for US foreign policy due to “its rich resources”, an aspect she has emphasized since her appointment in 2021. She went on to highlight “the largest oil reserves, including light oil and sweet, discovered in Guyana” and “Venezuela's rich oil, copper and gold resources".

The basis of Venezuela's claim is the Map of the Captaincy General of Venezuela from 1777, created by colonial Spain on September 8 of that year, which clearly includes Guiana Esequiba. On the eve of Venezuela's independence, in 1810, the official map of the captaincy, drawn up by Spain, also included it. Since Venezuela's independence, all its constitutions (1811, 1819, 1821, 1830, 1857, 1858, 1864, 1874, 1881, 1891, 1893, 1901, 1904, 1909, 1914, 1922, 1925, 1928, 1931 , 1936 , 1947, 1953, 1961 and the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999) included Esequiba Guyana as an integral part of its territory.

Venezuela proclaimed its independence in 1811 and Simón Bolívar's liberation efforts led, in 1821, to the formation of Gran Colombia, which included Venezuela and Colombia. The newly created Republic, as early as 1821, complained about the continuous invasions of English colonists into Venezuelan territory.

The vice-president of Gran Colombia sent a formal note to the British Prime Minister, Lord Castlereagh, stating that the eastern limit of his country “ends at the Essequibo, the left bank of this river being the border with Dutch Guiana” (present-day Suriname) . Gran Colombia underwent geographic expansion and variations in 1822, 1824 e 1826, but always included Guyana Esequiba.

In 1825 the British Empire recognized its independence, with Guyana Esequiba as an integral part of that State. With the separation of Gran Colombia in 1830, Venezuela's constitution established that its territory comprised the region of [as it was called before 1810] “Captaincy General of Venezuela”. In 1834, Great Britain recognized Venezuela's independence.

The problem was the Perfidious Albion (Napoleon's precise name for British imperialism). Britain commissioned Robert Schomburgk, a botanist, to carry out a survey of British Guiana, in which he unilaterally drew a new border demarcation line that gave British Guiana 80.000 km² of Venezuelan territory.

More “Schomburgk lines” were drawn, adding more Venezuelan territory to British Guiana which, in 1897, amounted to 167.830 km² (see on the map how outrageously rapacious this was). In 1887, Venezuelan President Guzman Blanco broke off relations with Great Britain because the British refused to withdraw from Guiana Esequiba, thus forcing arbitration.

Venezuela was in turmoil. In 1892, a civil war had broken out and Venezuela was unable to pay its debts to France, Spain, Belgium, Great Britain and Germany. When civil war broke out again in 1898, a European coalition planned military intervention (in 1902, a European naval force blockaded Venezuela when British and German warships bombed Puerto Cabello).

In 1897, the controversy over the territory had already been going on for almost 60 years and the heavy intervention of the United States forced Venezuela, after the signing of the Treaty of Washington, to accept an Arbitration Commission composed of five members: two appointed by the Supreme Court of the United States United, two by the British Government and one, non-Venezuelan, to be chosen by the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela chose former US President Benjamin Harrison as its advisor. Unsurprisingly, the Arbitration Commission, in 1899, allocated almost 90% of the disputed territory (see map of Venezuela) and all the gold mines to Great Britain, but gave no reason for the decision.

In 1949, a memo from Severo Mallet-Prevost (published posthumously), official secretary of the US/Venezuela delegation to the Arbitration Commission, revealed that Friederich Martens, president and judge of the 1899 Paris Arbitration Commission, had violated the rules of the Treaty of Washington, had conspired with the two British judges to coerce the other judges to arbitrate in favor of Great Britain.

Thus, Venezuela rejected the 1899 arbitration decision as fraudulent. In 1962, his foreign minister, Falcon Briceño, demanded the vindication of his country's rights over the disputed territory. Venezuela continued to defend its historical claims over Guiana Esequiba until Great Britain finally agreed to begin negotiations through the signing, on February 17, 1966, of the Geneva Agreement.

This agreement was recognized by Guyana at the time of its independence, on May 26, 1966. Thus, Britain accepted the existence of a controversy and a protocol to resolve it, confirming that the 125-year dispute had been caused by British colonial invasions. The 1966 Geneva Agreement remains valid and current arguments by the mainstream media that the dispute was resolved in 1899 are simply false.

In 1993, contrary to the Geneva Agreement, Guyana approved exploration by ExxonMobil in the disputed Statebrok block and, in 2000, huge deposits of gas and oil were discovered. In 2000, President Hugo Chávez rejected the concession that Guyana had made to the American company Beal Aerospace Technologies Inc. to install a space launch platform.

However, he made it clear that Venezuela would not be an obstacle to social benefit projects such as “access to water for human consumption, new roads, energy programs and agricultural activities”.

In 2007, the Bolivarian government expelled ExxonMobil from Venezuela's Orinoco Basin oil fields because the oil giant refused to comply with new laws. Chávez effectively nationalized foreign oil companies and increased taxation on ongoing projects from 34% to 50%.

ExxonMobil turned its attention to the disputed Essequibo region and its exploration, under the Production Sharing Agreement with Guyana, led in 2015 to the discovery of one of the largest oil discoveries in recent years (Exxon received 75% of oil revenues for recovery costs and is exempt from any taxes). Exxon's chief executive officer was then Rex Tillerson.

In March 2015, President Barack Obama declared Venezuela “a threat unusual and extraordinary to U.S. national security” and, in May 2015, ExxonMobil announced the “discovery” of oil in Guyana Esequiba. In September 2015, Tillerson and Guyanese President David Granger met in New York, where they planned their strategy against Venezuela, which entailed ending the 1966 Geneva Agreement and pressuring the UN to appeal to the International Court of Justice. Justice (CIJ) with the support of the Department of State.

In September 2016, Tillerson and Granger met again at the UN, and in December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon sent the dispute to the ICJ. In February 2017, Tillerson was appointed US Secretary of State by President Trump. In 2018, Guyana filed a complaint with the ICJ over the dispute, which accepted it in 2020, despite only one party being in favor of doing so.

Between 2015 and 2023, Guyana joined the destabilization against Bolivarian Venezuela. He voted 16 times, out of 23, against Venezuela in the Organization of American States. Guyana also joined the now-defunct Lima Group and signed 16 communiqués, out of 45, that sought to remove President Maduro's government. In 2019, Donald Trump had adopted the “maximum pressure” policy to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

With the election of Irfaan Ali as president in 2020, Guyana massively escalated the conflict to the point of formally proposing SouthCom military bases on its territory as “protection” against Venezuela. SouthCom officials regularly visit Guyana and conduct joint military exercises, prompting Irfaan to engage in aggressive rhetoric: “The Guyana Defense Force is on high alert and in contact with the SouthCom, which is on alert.”

Irfaan granted oil concessions in waters that are not even part of the dispute. Meanwhile, Exxon pumps about 500.000 barrels per day in Venezuelan offshore waters.

Thus, Venezuela responded by holding a referendum, supported by an overwhelming majority, on December 3, 2023, conducted in the spirit of the 1966 Geneva Agreement and as confirmation of the government's position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the ICJ in controversy surrounding the Essequibo.

Furthermore, the National Assembly of Venezuela adopted a unanimous resolution creating the new State of Guyana Esequiba and, in light of the growing and persistent presence of SouthCom in Guyana, also created a High Commission for its defense.

The Venezuelan government is taking these and several other self-defense measures, making it clear that the threat is not Guyana, but Exxon and the US, which have sought to violently overthrow the Bolivarian government for years.

However, President Maduro has repeatedly called on President Irfaan to engage in dialogue and avoid getting caught up in Exxon and the US push for military conflict. The Venezuelan government also called on the government of Guyana “to desist from its erratic, threatening and risky behavior and return to the path of direct dialogue, through the Geneva Agreement”.

Fortunately, thanks to direct contacts between President Maduro, President Lula of Brazil and Ralph Gonsalves, on December 10, 2023, the President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, accepted President Maduro's proposal for dialogue.

Thus, a meeting was held on December 14, 2023 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, hosted by its president, Gonsalves. Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yvan Gil, thanked Celac and Caricom for their efforts to promote Venezuela-Guyana dialogue and sponsor this important meeting.

Gonsalves, president pro tempore da Celac, and the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, president of Caricom, were the main sponsors of the meeting, as well as President Lula's chief advisor and his special envoy, Celso Amorim, acted as main interlocutors. Philip Davis, Mia Mottley, Dickton Mitchell, Philip J. Pierre, Terrence Drew and Keith Rowley, prime ministers of the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago, respectively, were also present.

Present as observers were Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Earle Courtenay Rattay, his Chief of Staff, and Miroslav Jenca, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. Additionally, Alvaro Leyva and Gerardo Torres, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia and Honduras, were present as part of the troika from Celac.

Presidents Irfaaan and Maduro agreed to an 11-point joint declaration “For Dialogue and Peace between Guyana and Venezuela”, the most important being that “Guyana and Venezuela, directly or indirectly, will not threaten or use force against each other under any circumstances, including those resulting from any dispute existing between both States” and that the dispute “ would be resolved in accordance with international law, including the Geneva Agreement of 17 February 1966.” The two presidents also agreed to meet in Brazil in the next three months.

We must all support both, the agreed position that “the territorial dispute will only be resolved through dialogue, mutual respect and a commitment to preserving the region as a zone of peace”, the joint efforts of all participating parties, and say no to US-ExxonMobil pressure for war.

*Francisco Dominguez is professor of political science at the University of Middlesex (England).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the portal Morning Star.

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