As Venezuela prepares to hold a referendum today on the disputed Essequibo territory, former head of International Relations at the University of the West Indies, Dr Anthony Gonzales, says war is possible between the two neighbouring countries.
Venezuela is seeking a referendum from its citizens to claim the Essequibo, an oil-rich territory that is part of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
On Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Venezuela not to take any action to challenge, disrupt or interfere with Guyana’s long-standing control and administration of the Essequibo region which makes up two-thirds of Guyana.
Speaking to Guardian Media about the latest developments, Dr Gonzales said, “One cannot rule out war. War is a possibility. The mere fact that Venezuela is going to its population and asking the population to make a decision and to say whether it is in favour of annexing the territory enhances the possibility of a war taking place.
“I am sure over 90 per cent of the population in Venezuela will go in favour of annexing Essequibo.”
Dr Gonzales said President Nicolas Maduro was gearing up for the election next year.
“That appeal to nationalism is a bit frightening, so I think we have to be concerned,” Dr Gonzales said.
He noted, however, that a lot of international forces were working to stop any war.
“Americans and Brazilians are taking a position against a settlement by violence and war. There is diplomacy going on to find some alternative solution so there is still a lot of hope. None of us knows where this is going. We have to guide it,” Dr Gonzales said.
Asked what practical advice he could give to citizens at this time, Dr Gonzales said, “Monitor the situation carefully and see how it evolves. After the referendum, we do not know what Venezuela is likely to do. We have to wait and see.”
He added, “If you are in Guyana you have to prepare for all eventualities. They are very concerned about war breaking out and they have to take measures to deter that. The rest of the Caribbean is not in that situation and we have to see if there could be some other solution.”
Venezuelan Ambassador: We do not recognise ICJ
Meanwhile, Guardian Media reached out to Venezuela’s Ambassador to T&T Álvaro Enrique Sánchez Cordero for a comment. He shared correspondence outlining Venezuela’s stance in the land dispute.
In a statement released on Friday, the Venezuelan Government declared that “Venezuela’s Sun rises on the Essequibo.”
Saying it had taken note of the pronouncement issued by the International Court of Justice, the Venezuelan Government said it “does not recognise the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to settle the territorial controversy over the Guyana Essequibo, especially in view of the existence of the Geneva Agreement of 1966”.
The 1966 Geneva Agreement states that in case Venezuela and Guyana fail to resolve the border dispute peacefully, “they shall refer the decision as to the means of settlement to an appropriate international organ upon which they both agree or, failing agreement on this point, to the secretary-general of the United Nations”.
Although Venezuela’s Government said it does not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ, it expressed victory that the ICJ did not stop the planned referendum.
“Nothing in international law allowed the Court to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs, nor to pretend to prohibit or modify a sovereign act organised within the framework of its participatory political system and based on its Constitution,” the Venezuelan Government stated.
It also noted, “Likewise, with this decision, it has demonstrated that Guyana is not a victim, has no title over the territory in dispute, is a de facto occupier and has repeatedly violated the Geneva Agreement.”
Furthermore, Venezuela also accused Guyana of violating international legality by granting concessions and facilitating military deployment in the disputed territory.
“Guyana had violated the Geneva Agreement and international legality by unilaterally granting concessions in the land territory and the waters pending delimitation, as well as facilitated its territory for the military deployment in our region of the main warmongering power in the planet.”
Under its sacred Constitution, Venezuela said it would continue with its referendum.
“Nothing and no one will prevent the Venezuelan people from expressing themselves freely on December 3 on a matter that belongs to it, is internal and of enormous transcendence, such as its territorial integrity,” Venezuela said.
It stated that Venezuela would defend international legality and the Geneva Agreement to reach a practical solution through “friendly, political and peaceful negotiations”.
Caricom has thrown support behind the ICJ insisting that Venezuela complies with international law in all respects, and the Charter of the United Nations, and called on the Maduro regime to take no actions in violation of them.
Caricom said the Venezuela-Guyana controversy was properly before the ICJ by the decision of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for “final settlement” and demanded that Venezuela pursues its claims within the law and that legal process.
Guyana President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali has also said the ICJ ruling was legally binding on Venezuela regardless of the outcome of Venezuela’s referendum today.
Guyana will defend itself
Vice President of Guyana Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, meanwhile, told Guyana’s News Room yesterday that Guyana will defend itself “by any means whatsoever” if Venezuela ignores the ruling of the World Court and tries to seize control of the Essequibo region, noting that the Government is pursuing defence cooperation with several foreign powers.
“If they act in contravention of the ruling of the Court and have aggressive intent on our country, all options are on the table for the defence of our country,” Jagdeo told the News Room.
“We are exploring defence cooperation with several countries. And we’re not a belligerent country, but if any country, and particularly Venezuela, thinks they can alter the boundary established by the 1899 tribunal, unilaterally, then we’d defend our country by any means whatsoever,” Jagdeo said.
Jagdeo hailed the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as “a great victory” for Guyana.
Jagdeo told News Room that Guyana is not bothered about that, seeing it as an “internal matter” and part of the playbook of the Venezuelan leadership to bolster its chances at next year’s elections there, but what is important is that Venezuela cannot use the referendum as a licence to invade Essequibo.
“… The operative part of the ruling explicitly–the unanimous ruling of the ICJ–is that they have to recognise the existing borders and they cannot take any action to alter those borders,” Jagdeo told the News Room.
He pointed out that Guyana has robustly pursued the legal route on the controversy and has so far won. He said, too, that Guyana has pursued the diplomatic route and has received “overwhelming” support from the international community.
And now, he said, the country is seeking defence cooperation with its allies.
“The court made a very important ruling–that Venezuela has to refrain from taking any action that will affect the territory given to Guyana by virtue of the 1899 award–that is all we wanted.
“We were fearful that they would have utilised the referendum to then justify aggressive actions against Guyana, possibly invade our territory. The Court has made it clear they cannot do that. So, this is a great ruling for Guyana, we’re extremely pleased with it,” Jagdeo stated.
Venezuela has vowed not to accept the ruling of the Court and, in fact, one of the questions in its referendum today is to seek a rejection of the Court in handling the case.
Jagdeo noted that the international community is on Guyana’s side, and “… whether they accept it or not, the international community is what matters. And no country in the world would recognise any border other than the border that we currently have–or after the (substantive) ruling of the ICJ–the border defined by that court.”
Meanwhile, Luis Almagro, head of the Organisation of American States (OAS) said the Court’s ruling was “fundamental in requesting Venezuela to refrain from all provocative, warmongering and illegal actions that encroach on the established boundaries of Guyana’s territory”.
“The Court’s decision is binding and must be respected by the Venezuelan regime,” Almagro said.