EDITORIAL: Caricom, Venezuela and Guyana
There was a diplomatic note from Venezuela to Guyana earlier this month that would have come as a surprising, if not exactly curious, development for Caribbean Community leaders participating in the just concluded 23rd CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting in Suriname.
On the very day (March 9) Caribbean Heads of Government were once again “reaffirming support” for maintenance of the “territorial integrity and sovereignty of Guyana”, the foreign minister of Venezuela was dispatching a letter of concern to his Guyanese counterpart over a submission made earlier to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).
The submission by Guyana’s Minister of foriegn affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett was for an extension – beyond 200 nautical miles – of the country’s continental shelf.
Guyana stood in readiness, she said, to hear from the commission when it would be appropriate to make an oral presentation in support of its extension request.
The initiative by Guyana, which shares borders with Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname, was similar to that made by other CARICOM partners, namely Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname, and consistent with their territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Somehow, what would normally have been noted as an appropriate request, without prejudice, was seized upon by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to raise old fears pertaining to a colonial-inherited territorial dispute arising from Venezuela’s claim to some two thirds of Guyanese territory.
Specifically, the Venezuela’s minister of foreign affairs Nicolas Maduro contended that not only should there have been “prior consultation” by his Guyanese counterpart, but that his government ought to have had the opportunity to first offer a response before Guyana moved with its submission to the CLCS for an extension of its continental shelf.
For her part, the Guyanese minister of foreign affairs opted to steer clear from any provocative response and calmly explained that her government’s submission to the CLCS was “done in a manner fully consistent with the provisions of international law, including the UN Convention On The Law Of The Sea”.
In relation to the latest diplomatic exchanges between Caracas and Georgetown, it is of significance to note that CARICOM has been consistent in its policy of “maintaining friendship” with both Guyana and Venezuela while, at the same time, never wavering in its “reaffirmation” of unqualified support “for the maintenance of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Guyana”.
That reaffirmation again surfaced with the close of the CARICOM leaders’ meeting in Suriname on the same day, coincidentally, that Caracas chose to respond to Georgetown’s note in relation to its request to the CLCS to extend its continental shelf.