viernes, 31 de julio de 2015

Raw aggression/ Guyana / La Guayana Esequiba

Mapa Oficial de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela con la Zona en Reclamación - La Guayana Esequiba

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On May 27th a decree which had been issued by President Nicolás Maduro the previous day was gazetted in Venezuela. Decree No 1,787 purported to annexe huge swathes of Guyana’s territorial sea and continental shelf between Punta Playa – the terminus of the land boundary between the two countries – and the Essequibo River. In other words, since a state is only entitled to the seas off its own coast, our neighbour, by implication, is also including in its maritime claim one to sovereignty over the land space of Essequibo. It should be noted that the decree in addition mandates the Venezuelan navy to secure the maritime area.

Leaving aside the utter nonsensicality of this sovereignty claim over the territory of another state, which breaches both international law and the Geneva Agreement, there are some curious features about this decree. The first of them is the almost clandestine way in which it was done. At the time of its gazetting no public statement was issued by Miraflores, and certainly Guyana was not given any official notification. Even the Venezuelan opposition knew nothing of it, and they were still complaining in robust terms about their government’s handling of oil and maritime issues in relation to Guyana three days after the publication in the Official Gazette.

In company with everyone else, their government’s radical change of direction did not come to their attention until the newspaper El Estimulo published a news item on the subject on 5th June. That item also reproduced the Official Gazette entry along with the co-ordinates of the ‘annexation’. For its part, the English-speaking world was apprised of it courtesy of Dr Odeen Ishmael’s blog based on the same newspaper report. By this time, however, more than a week had passed. For an action which was so aggressive and blatant, Caracas appeared strangely reticent about making it public.

Then there are the bizarre co-ordinates of this fanciful line which the Venezuelans have dreamed up in their imaginations. First of all, it seems to impinge on the maritime space of other states and not just Guyana, and secondly, as far as can be established from a layperson’s point of view, it embraces Demerara waters as well. At least, from maps issued by a maritime NGO to coincide with the gazetting of the decree, Exxon-Mobil’s DeepWater Champion oil rig which is sited offshore Demerara, is located within the boundaries of President Maduro’s illusory delimitation.

This seems inordinately careless. After all, in Venezuela’s position who would want to have unnecessary disputations with other states who could find common cause with Guyana, unless the pre-eminent consideration was to encompass the Deep Water Champion within the new claim, irrespective of where the extended line across the continental shelf ended up. Even Emilio Figueredo, who was a negotiator on boundary issues with this country at one time, was quoted in Nelson Bocaranda’s column in El Universal as saying that the decree had not been well prepared.

Be that as it may, the discovery of oil in Guyana’s waters is clearly a significant factor in this story, along with the fact that the company involved is Exxon-Mobil which in February of this year was awarded US$1.6 billion by the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes following the nationalization of its oil operations in Venezuela by the Hugo Chávez government. Hardly surprisingly, Venezuela is seeking an annulment of that decision.

It should be mentioned that Caracas on more than one occasion has written to Exxon-Mobil about its operations here, while in an interview on state television last week, President Maduro grumbled that Exxon-Mobil “was the mastermind behind the border dispute [sic] between Guyana and Venezuela.”

This is a curious statement, since oil companies don’t claim sovereignty over territorial seas, states do; and it is the latter which license the former, not the other way around. It is almost as if Mr Maduro doesn’t want to blame Guyana directly, but then again, he was the man who swanned in here in August 2013 and told a slightly bemused media corps that the border controversy had Cold War origins, implying that the 1899 Award was seen as valid by his government. The moral of the story is don’t trust neighbours who mouth sweet nothings in your ear.

What can reasonably be surmised is that Venezuela does not want Guyana to develop an oil industry, and as has been the case for the last half century, doesn’t want this country to develop at all, let alone attract investors. It likes us weak and underdeveloped; that way it can better manipulate and bully us, and play the carrot and stick game with PetroCaribe and rice deals on the one hand, and threats on the other. Its problem on this occasion was that Exxon-Mobil was offshore Demerara, not Essequibo – although the larger concession in which the well is sited does extend into Essequibo waters – so one way or another, as said above, it had to find a way to bring it within a definition of Essequibo.

There are other elements in this story too. The first is that Venezuela is in an economic crisis which some observers think will have political consequences sooner or later. This may be a convenient time from the government’s point of view, therefore, to revivify the spurious claim; it will generate a bit of nationalist fervour and distract the population. Then there is the opposition, which takes a very hard line on the Guyana boundary issue, both territorial and maritime, and which has been lambasting President Maduro’s government on the issue – one deputy called its lack of action over Exxon-Mobil and maritime matters a “sell-out” and “treason.” Furthermore, Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections in the last quarter of this year, which some political pundits think will give the opposition a majority in the Assembly. No doubt Miraflores is happy to deprive its opponents of one major plank in their platform.

The other group which can never be ignored is the military in Venezuela, which has always leaned to confrontation with Guyana, and over which Mr Maduro has considerably less influence than Mr Chávez had. In this instance the navy may be the critical service; it was, after all, the one which evicted the exploratory vessel the Teknik Perdana from Guyana’s waters in 2013. No one this side of the border knows exactly what pressure, if any, the military are exerting on the President.

The timing of this Venezuelan action is easy to understand. Caracas thinks it may now be facing a ‘PNC’ government as it sees it, and PNC governments in the past have had an uncompromising approach on this issue. It is not, therefore, about to wait around until that government gets into its stride. Furthermore, it will view this as a divided country following a bitter election, so it may possibly feel there will be a lack of unanimity across the political party spectrum about how to proceed with Venezuela. If that indeed is their thinking, they would have been quickly disabused of it by the PPP, which, to its great credit, issued a statement condemning the Venezuelan action. The parties here may disagree about elections, politics and the past, but there is no divide where this nation’s territorial integrity is concerned.

But is all this enough to explain Miraflores’ aberrant behaviour? Possibly not. There is something else underlying all of this which may have Venezuela unnerved, and that could be Guyana’s declared intention to move under the Geneva Agreement from the Good Offices process, to a judicial settlement. It has always been Guyana’s best option to take the 1899 nullity issue alone to a juridical settlement; however, it has never been considered a practical option since Venezuela has always strongly opposed it. That country knows very well that it would probably lose its case in front of the International Court of Justice, for example, and nowadays it also recognizes that a decision against it would also have the effect of drastically restricting its maritime claims.

For some reason, Guyana now appears to believe that it is after all possible to move to some judicial body, Venezuela’s strenuous objections notwithstanding. The public was first alerted to Guyana’s different thinking by former foreign minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett at her end-of-year press conference in December, but it now must be clear to Caracas that the current government intends to follow the same line. It is a course which Venezuela wants to stymie at all costs, hence the ferocity of its reaction.
The question is, will Venezuela use its navy to try and enforce its decree along Guyana’s coast, with all that that implies? The danger to itself of doing so was recognized by Mr Figueredo, as reported by Bocaranda in his column, and certainly, strange as it may seem, Venezuela has more to lose in the long term by this course of action than Guyana has, although the immediate term is a rather different proposition.
There is a precedent for what has happened, although the context was rather different, and that was the Leoni Decree of 1968. On that occasion President Raúl Leoni declared Venezuela’s sovereignty over a nine-mile maritime strip beyond the three-mile territorial sea off Guyana’s Essequibo coast. In those days, of course, Caracas and Washington were close, but it did not prevent the US from making its position very clear. According to documents released a few years ago, then Under Secretary of State in the Lyndon Johnson administration told the Venezuelan Ambassador in Washington, among other things, that the US did not accept the decree’s validity, and if the matter came up in an international forum America would not support Venezuela. Furthermore, American concern about the intention to enforce the decision was firmly conveyed.

As for Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, he wasted no time, and sent the GDF in to patrol the area. As far as is known, Leoni made no attempt to have the decree enforced.

June 14, 2015

2005 La Guayana Esequiba – Zona en Reclamación. Instituto Geográfico Simón Bolívar  Primera Edición

Nota del editor del blog:

Al referenciarse a la República Cooperativa de Guyana se deben de tener en cuenta los 159.500Km2, de territorios ubicados al oeste del río Esequibo conocidos con el nombre de Guayana Esequiba o Zona en Reclamación sujetos al Acuerdo de Ginebra del 17 de febrero de 1966.

Territorios estos sobre los cuales el Gobierno Venezolano en representación de la Nación venezolana se reservo sus derechos sobre los territorios de la Guayana Esequiba en su nota del 26 de mayo de 1966 al reconocerse al nuevo Estado de Guyana:

“...por lo tanto, Venezuela reconoce como territorio del nuevo Estado, el que se sitúa al este de la margen derecha del río Esequibo y reitera ante la comunidad internacional, que se reserva expresamente sus derechos de soberanía territorial sobre la zona que se encuentra en la margen izquierda del precitado río; en consecuencia, el territorio de la Guayana Esequiba sobre el cual Venezuela se reserva expresamente sus derechos soberanos, limita al Este con el nuevo Estado de Guyana, a través de la línea del río Esequibo, tomando éste desde su nacimiento hasta su desembocadura en el Océano Atlántico...”


Terminología sobre cómo referenciar la Zona en Reclamación-Guayana Esequiba.

Mapa que señala el Espacio de Soberanía Marítima Venezolana que se reserva, como Mar Territorial mediante el Decreto Presidencial No 1152 del 09 de Julio de 1968

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