By Leonard Gildarie
Amidst rising tensions in Venezuela over a move by Guyana to extend its continental shelf by a further 150 nautical miles, the two countries are set to meet today in Trinidad and Tobago to discuss the matter.
The issue even had Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez warning that he will not allow “some sectors there (Guyana) or here (Venezuela) to create internal conflicts. We will not let that happen.”
According to news reports in eluniversal.com, Chávez is quoted as saying that the governments of Venezuela and Guyana agreed to handle their border dispute at the “highest level and in a very responsible manner”.
Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a short statement yesterday afternoon announced the meeting scheduled for today in Trinidad, a neutral neighbouring territory.
“The Government of the Republic of Guyana and the Government of the Republic of Venezuela have agreed that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the two countries will meet in Port of Trinidad and Tobago, tomorrow (today) Friday, September 30th, 2011.”
The meeting will require Professor Norman Girvan, the Personal Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations and the appointed Good Officer, to be present.
Representing Guyana will be Foreign Affairs Minister, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett while her Venezuela’s counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, is also expected to be there.
During a telephone conversation with state-run TV channel Venezolana de Television (VTV), President Chávez said his government now has one of the strongest positions in international affairs in its history.
“I assume with responsibility and without subordination to any foreign power the tasks that people have vested in me as Head of State,” Chávez said.
“Guyana has finally joined the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), but of course we defend our national interests first and therefore we agreed to handle this issue very responsibly,” he added.
On Tuesday, the Guyana government insisted that Venezuela was made aware since May 13, 2009, of this country’s intentions to extend its continental shelf by 150 nautical miles.
On Monday, the Venezuelan government in a statement reportedly criticized the move by Guyana.
Venezuela has a claim on a large portion of Essequibo – the largest of three counties – a development which has been simmering for a number of years now.
The two countries have even now developed ties with a multi-million-dollar oil agreement in which Guyana buys oil at a concessionary rate and sells rice and paddy in a deal brokered by President Bharrat Jagdeo and his counterpart, President Chávez.
According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry on Tuesday, since May 13, “Guyana under cover of a Note Verbale provided the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with a copy of the Preliminary Information and Data which Guyana submitted to the Secretary General of the United Nations.”
The extension of the continental shelf, if successful, would allow Guyana to harvest any resources, including seafoods and oil, that would fall within that area.
Venezuela is arguing that the move to extend Guyana’s continental shelf would jeopardize its claim on Essequibo. But Guyana, on Tuesday, made it clear that it was pursuing its own interests and this could in no way do so.
On Monday, Venezuela’s eluniversal.com reported that the government there was angered that Guyana has moved to extend its 200-nautical mile continental shelf by another 150 nautical miles.
“The Bolivarian Government, acting responsibly, has started to assess such an irregular situation to give a right answer under International Law, and it is taking the necessary action to preserve the law in its own right with regard to the extent of its maritime front,” a report on the eluniversal.com quoted the Venezuelan government as saying.
The Venezuelan government promised to “continue advocating the country’s pivotal interests in the firmest manner by means of internationally established mechanisms of dialogue” and reasserted its commitment to the Good Offices of the UN General Secretariat with regard to the claim of Essequibo.
Venezuela’s opposition congressman, Carlos Berrizbeitia, is reported to have called on the High Military Command to take a stance on what he termed ‘violation of sovereignty’ concerning Essequibo.
“The armed forces should not be silent on Guyana’s public intention to take hold of a territory that is being claimed, as it belongs to Venezuela,” the parliamentarian said.
“The silence of (President Hugo) Chávez’s administration made them accomplices (…) We cannot understand that a government which cries out that the country’s sovereignty should not be surrendered to any empire, says nothing in the face of glaring violation of our sovereignty,” he wondered.
Over the past week, there have been rumblings in Venezuela’s media over the move, with the same website, eluniversal.com, reporting last week that one fringe group has started its protests to whip up Venezuela’s sentiments by distributing maps of Venezuela showing Essequibo as part of that country’s territory.
The rumblings have been serious enough persuade the two countries to meet.
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