Guyana’s government is preparing to defend the Esequibo region disputed with Venezuela
(1 March 2016)
The Government of Guyana has reserved $200M for the legal defence of the Esequibo, a region that the country disputes with Venezuela and which comprises nearly 40 per cent of Guyana’s current territory. Guyana also intendins to raise this issue at the next Caricom summit.
Venezuela’s claim to the territory dates back to a dispute with what was then British Guyana in the late 1800s, a claim that was adjudicated by international tribunal in 1899 in favour of the British. The Venezuelan government expressed almost immediate disapproval of this arbitral award. Their criticism was only exacerbated when in 1949 accusations emerged of collusion and corruption of the Russian chair of the tribunal in favour of the British. In 1966, after Guyanese independence, both parties agreed to the Treaty of Geneva, which established a framework for resolution of the border dispute. Venezuela argues that the Geneva agreement invalidated the 1899 Tribunal Agreement, whilst Guyana denies such claims.
The Geneva Agreement established a Mixed Commission of Venezuelan and Guyanese representatives who were given four years to find a practical settlement to this controversy. After the Mixed Commission failed in this task, the UN Secretary General, as empowered by the Agreement, was then given the authority to select a means of solution as listed in Article 33 of the UN Charter. Together with Guyana and Venezuela the Secretary General decided to apply the Good Office methodology, by which a representative of the Secretary General met with both governments separately or together to hear their ideas for reaching a solution. But after 25 years, this method has not produced any tangible result.
Subsequently, Guyana announced in early 2015 that it would opt out of the Good Office process and proposed that the UN Secretary General should now involve the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to help solve the issue.
The Maduro administration in Venezuela objects to the involvement of the ICJ, insisting that the UN Good Office should be retained. The Democratic Unity Roundtable, the opposition to Maduro’s government in Venezuela, wants a ‘mediation’ of the border controversy. In the past, Venezuelan administrations have also suggested bilateral negotiations on the issue, a position that Guyana does not support.