The last time Venezuela carried out military exercises near to Guyana’s borders, Guyana pressed the alarm bells. Interestingly, this time around Guyana seems unperturbed.
Guyana is now saying that Venezuela has a right to such exercise but that Guyana would be monitoring any such exercise to ensure there are no violations of Guyana’s sovereignty.
This is a far different response by Guyana than the one it adopted in September 2015 when Venezuela began massing troops and military vehicles along Guyana’s borders.
Guyana described that development as extraordinary in scale, constituting and escalation and one that was provocative and dangerous. Guyana said that it would raise the matter with the United Nations.
It accused Venezuela of pursuing an aggressive and offensive course. In response Guyana deployed troops to its borders. It indicated that it was prepared for any eventuality.
In turn, Venezuela explained that the exercise was an operational deployment exercise.
The Defense Ministry of that country said that it was preparing itself given the tensions on the different fronts it faced – alluding no doubt to its tense relations with both Guyana and Colombia.
So what is the difference now and back then in September 2015? The major difference is that Guyana believes that it is firmly on the path to a judicial settlement of the border controversy.
The cause of this controversy was the posthumous publication in a prestigious law journal of a letter written by one of Venezuela’s lawyers in the Arbitration proceedings of 1899. He alleged that the Arbitration Award of 1899 was a political deal between the judges of the arbitration.
From thence on, Venezuela intensified its claim to two-thirds of Guyana. It used Guyana’s quest for Independence to press the issue.
Forbes Burnham ill-advisedly signed the Geneva Agreement which provides a basis, in Guyana’s eyes, for resolving the controversy relating to Venezuela contention that the 1899 award was invalid.
In Venezuela’s eyes and in the eyes of some in Guyana, including the then PPP opposition, the Geneva Agreement reopened the border dispute. Venezuela continues to maintain, onto this day that this agreement must be the basis of resolving the dispute and not the International Court of Justice.
Guyana, after May 2015 had asked the UN Secretary General to refer the matter to the ICJ. The UN Secretary General has no such powers. Under the Geneva Agreement, he is only empowered to choose one of the peaceful means of settlement and he has chosen a judicial settlement under the ICJ.
This is not the same as referring a matter to the ICJ since jurisdiction of the Court is not automatically created when the UN Secretary General chooses a means of peaceful settlement.
But this is an issue which this column will address in a subsequent article since Guyana has not heeded the advice offered within this column for it to seek independent legal opinion on the issue of jurisdiction before assembling its legal team for the ICJ.case.
Guyana has filed its petition to the ICJ but has not yet addressed the issue of jurisdiction. Venezuela, strangely, has not questioned the jurisdiction of the ICJ but it sure is likely to do so as events unfold.
It is this case which no doubt has influenced Guyana’s response to the military exercise taking place across its borders in Venezuela. Guyana is not seeking an escalation of tensions because it wants to be seen as pursuing a resolution strictly through legal means. As such, it is not making a fuss this time as it did in September 2015 when there was a similar military build-up.
Guyana is also not seeking to aggravate tensions with Venezuela which could force provocative and aggressive actions which can disrupt the legal proceedings Guyana has initiated. And it is Guyana and not the UN Secretary General which has initiated the proceedings before the ICJ.
Guyana knows that the United States is looking for an excuse to intervene in Venezuela. It has massed the region’s diplomats in Peru and has ostracized Venezuela for what it alleges is undemocratic practices in Venezuela.
The opposition in Venezuela is weak and unable to field a consensus candidate. It is boycotting the upcoming elections. In response the US and the Organization of American States are pressing for the diplomatic isolation of Venezuela.
Guyana, even though it is part of the Peru grouping is not looking to provide either the US or its lackeys with a basis for intervening in Venezuela.
And for that Guyana has shown great maturity. It is left to be seen whether it will show prudent judgment when the ICJ rules on whether it has jurisdiction to hear Guyana’s petition.
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