Jan 27, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Late on Saturday night, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out a press release, in which it stated that it “…has confirmed reports that two Guyanese registered fishing vessels – the Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf – operating off the coast of Waini Point within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone, were intercepted by Venezuelan naval vessel, Commandante Hugo Chavez GC 24, on Thursday January 21, 2021. The Captains were instructed to chart a course to Port Guiria where the boats and crew have been detained. To date, the Government of Guyana has not been informed by the Government of Venezuela of the detention of its nationals. The Venezuelan vessel was illegally maneuvering within Guyana’s EEZ and Contiguous Zone when it intercepted, boarded and commandeered the Guyanese fishing vessels. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently seeking to ascertain the status and welfare of the crew members.”
This clear act of provocation by the besieged government of Nicola Maduro follows upon his issuing of a decree two weeks ago claiming, once again, ownership of the Essequibo, and a tweet declaring his intention to ‘reconquer’ Guyana’s largest county for the men and women of Venezuela. Since then, there have been diplomatic exchanges over what has taken place but the Government of Guyana has remained unequivocal in its condemnation of the incident.
The seizure of Guyanese commercial vessels by a neighbour is not new, but the sort of relatively low-level provocation that has been used before to send a signal to Guyana that the aggressor – in this case, Venezuela – means business. A similar prior incident involved the seizure, in 2009, of the sugar transport boat, the MV Lady Chandra 1, by Surinamese coastal authorities who had gone as far as the coast off of Skeldon to board the vessel and escort it back to Nickerie – this was a year after a United Nations tribunal had ruled in favour of Guyana in our border dispute with our Eastern neighbour. Relations between Guyana and Suriname have been on much better footing, since with the two countries ramping up cooperation in developing the once-disputed area.
It should be noted that the Maduro regime chose to intercept and detain two fishing boats, but kept away from the joint patrol exercises carried out by Guyana and the United States navy earlier this month. This shows that there is in fact, a cautious method to his apparent madness. That however does not mean the madness does not exist.
As this paper has editorialized before, sabre-rattling at Guyana in the face of international condemnation is a non-starter and, like the episode with Suriname and the seized sugar boat, will likely not escalate any further. Like the seizure of the MV Lady Chandra, condemnatory memos were sent out, and headlines will be made but unless Maduro is prepping for a land invasion and occupation of the Essequibo – to carry out the insane ‘development’ plan he has been promoting – then sabre rattling it remains. Maduro’s detention of the two Guyanese fishing vessels is largely theatre, down to the fact that the naval vessel that intercepted the boats was named in honour of Maduro’s late predecessor, the iconic Venezuelan populist strongman, Hugo Chavez.
Further, if there is need for evidence that Maduro has no plan when it comes to how it is he intends to make meaningful representation for his country abroad on this matter, one simply needs to consider that even as he is rejecting the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in deciding the border issue between the two countries, he has made an appeal to the International Criminal Court claiming that the international sanctions, particularly those levied by the United States, are crimes against humanity. Aggression by Maduro’s government against a smaller state and the illegal detention of that smaller state’s citizens in the furtherance of an unsubstantiated territorial claim, one that Maduro is rejecting international authority in resolving, surely cannot bolster his appeal to the ICC.
That is, of course, not to say that we should not take Venezuela’s aggression seriously. Any infringement upon the rights of any single citizen of this country in Guyana’s sovereign territorial space is in itself an act of state aggression and there is no legality in seizing either ships or their crew which means that the government of Maduro has engaged in theft of property and kidnapping, no matter the fig leaf of having now charged the men in Venezuelan courts. One gets a sense that in the wake of the Trump administration having cracked down further on his government, sanctioning both senior functionaries of his regime and companies that do business with it, the Venezuelan leader is using Guyana, in which Exclusive Economic Zone there are significant American interests operating, as a proxy bargaining chip for the easing of sanctions by the newly installed Biden administration. Yet, even that seems to be manic desperation more than meaningful deliberation.
We can be sure that the provocation and the aggression from Maduro will continue, even if it is unlikely to truly escalate. Either way, as we have stated in this editorial page before, Venezuelan aggression offers Guyanese a meaningful reason to cast aside or constructed differences and unite our every effort into combatting the mindless menace to the West.
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