Statement by Honourable Carl B Greenidge, MP, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs to the National Assembly
Thursday, January 3, 2019
I would like to take this opportunity to brief the Honourable Members of this House on the recent aggressive actions taken against our country by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the developments which followed and the action taken by the Government of Guyana.
On Saturday December 22, 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a report from Esso Exploration & Production, Guyana Limited (Exxon Mobil) that vessels under contract by the company and its partners CNOOC of China and NEX of the USA, performing exploratory seismic work within the Stabroek block were intercepted at 10.30 hours that same day by the Venezuelan Navy. A reckless attempt was made by the Venezuelans to land a helicopter on the deck of one of them, the Ramform Tethys. That vessel was flagged by the Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and had a total of seventy crew members on board including the Captain. It was intercepted in the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana at an approximate distance of 140 kilometres from the nearest point to the provisional equidistant line with Venezuela and some 250 kilometres from Punta Playa, the westernmost point on the land border of Guyana.
More than two weeks (on December 6, 2018) prior to this interception which the Venezuelan report feigned was a surprise, the world and its mariners, including Venezuela, had been alerted to the intended commencement of seismic work in Guyana’s EEZ. This alert was by way of an Advisory from Guyana. Rather than speak to us Venezuelan authorities waited, tried to seize the vessel and then sent us a Note Verbale dated 20th December. It apparently had taken until 22nd December to move electronically or physically from their MoFA, Miaflores Palace, in Caracas to our Embassy in Caracas. Of course there is a Venezuelan Embassy in Georgetown.
Guyana’s response has been to defend its sovereignty and sovereign rights firmly, consistently, peacefully and fully in accordance with international law.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent that same day, a formal protest to the Government of Venezuela conveying the complete rejection by the Government of Guyana of this hostile and unlawful act. It stated that Venezuela’s threat and use of force to impede Guyana’s exercise of sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone, is a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations and general international law.
Concerned for the security of the crew of the vessel, and in keeping with its international obligations, Guyana also informed the several Governments of the seventy crew members whose safety had been endangered.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guyana informed the Secretary General of the United Nations of the incident and requested that the matter be placed on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
The predictable Notes of protest subsequently received from Venezuela were reciprocated with immediate responses from Guyana.
More alarmingly, on December 23, the Government of Venezuela issued a Communique asserting that the incident took place in the same area identified by Guyana but alleging that the position was ‘within the Orinoco River Delta maritime waters over which Venezuela has unquestionable sovereignty’. In other words, the coordinates put out by Venezuela and Guyana were practically identical.
May I stress therefore that Guyana is aware of no incident occurring in the Orinoco Delta or its projection, much less an incident involving vessels having permission from the Guyana authorities to undertake seismic surveys there.
It is to be noted that Venezuela’s claim to the waters lying along Guyana’s coast has until now, been based on their supposed and fictional historic ‘ownership’ of the Essequibo and therefore of its coast. In fact, that land territory, one of the three counties of Guyana has been part of Guyana since 1648. Venezuela’s most recent statements make mention, not of ownership of the Essequibo coast but refer to a ‘direct projection of the Orinoco Delta’ to a link between that delta and the continental shelf well to the east off of the delta. This mysterious veering to the east just coincidentally encompasses all the hydrocarbon reserves on the sea bed of Guyana.
In other words, in order to capture public sympathy in Latin America in particular, Venezuela has misleadingly recast the issue as involving Guyana -inspired Exxon Mobil intrusion into the Orinoco Delta. Clearly then, what is globally accepted by the world and the United Nations as Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone and its continental shelf, an area from Punta Playa to the Corentyne River extending 200 miles north of Guyana’s Atlantic coast, has now been re-christened as the projection of the Orinoco Delta. Using this new language Venezuela is seeking to confuse the public and gain sympathy for an outrageous case. All the world knows that the Arbitral Award of 1899 granted to Venezuela the Orinoco River and its Delta. It has become synonymous with Venezuela. Guyana has no interest in the Orinoco River and we had never imagined that the Orinoco Delta could naturally project across the entire coastal front of Guyana.
This is an unjustifiable position which flies in the face of international law.
Guyana has always been willing to discuss maritime delimitation with Venezuela, but it cannot move outside of the framework set by international law, and will not now do anything that could undermine the process before the International Court of Justice.
In order to enjoy the protection of the international community and to avoid the consequences of capricious behavior by bilateral partners, law-abiding States, particularly small ones, have from bitter experience, learnt to scrupulously follow international Conventions. Those governing maritime space are set by the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention which Venezuela has opted not to sign, but nevertheless reflects principles of general international law which are binding on all States, including Venezuela.
In regard to Venezuela’s wholly baseless claim that it enjoys sovereign rights over our maritime area, Guyana has reminded Venezuela that pursuant to the decision of the United Nations Secretary-General of 30 January 2018 further to his authority under Article IV(2) of the 1966 Geneva Agreement, choosing the International Court of Justice as the next means of settlement of the controversy that has arisen from Venezuela’s contention that the 1899 Arbitral Award is “null and void”, Venezuela is under an obligation to settle its contention of nullity and accompanying territorial and maritime claims before the Court, and not through threats or use of force that carry serious consequences.
Guyana has made it clear to Venezuela that it reserves the right to take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and sovereign rights against further hostile acts contrary to Venezuela’s fundamental obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and general international law.
In 2016 after the promulgation of a Decree 1787 signed by the President and Cabinet of Venezuela that claimed a maritime area infringing on the areas of some 14 Caribbean States, the Heads of Government of CARICOM called on Venezuela to withdraw the decree. Although agreeing to do so, they promulgated the same sentiments in another form under Decree 1859.
According to recent reports, once again by way of a decree of December 29, the Venezuelan government is seeking to enforce domestic legislation with the assistance of the Venezuela Navy over the maritime space off the coast of Guyana. Let me be clear: under well-established principles of international law, that maritime space belongs to Guyana. The enforcement of domestic legislation by military forces, especially when such legislation has neither a basis in international law nor the sanction of the international community is routinely decried by Venezuela when employed by other States. We can only agree that such behavior which seeks to enforce by dint of force of arms illegal and irresponsible national decisions on other States poses a threat to regional peace and security which can easily escalate.
The claims by Venezuela as to the extent of their land and maritime territory are false. They are simply a pretext for seizing territory that they have no hope of gaining under international law. The public statements and the renaming of the area in question is an attempt to win by buster and bombast what they failed to win by logical argument and juridical means.
I wish to recall for the Honourable Members of this House, that in March of 2018, following the binding decision of the United Nations Secretary General that the longstanding controversy be resolved by the International Court of Justice, Guyana formally initiated proceedings before the Court, asking it to adjudge and declare that the Arbitral Award of October 3, 1899 remains valid and binding on both States, and permanently establishes the land boundary. Notwithstanding Venezuela’s defiance of the Secretary General’s decision and refusal to participate in the case, the Court will proceed to determine first, if it has jurisdiction, and then, whether Guyana’s claims are meritorious. Guyana has invited the Court to uphold the validity of the Arbitral Award and the existing boundary, fully rejecting once and for all Venezuela’s pretensions to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s sovereign territory.
In response to Venezuela’s recent aggressive actions in the maritime areas under Guyana’s jurisdiction, Guyana has sought and successfully obtained the support of the international community, especially from CARICOM, the United States and the United Kingdom, all of which have issued statements condemning Venezuela’s unlawful conduct. We are grateful for the consistent support of these countries for Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and for their principled position for the respect for the rule of law.
Mr Speaker, no State which seeks to impose by force its own unilaterally decreed “rules” on a militarily weaker state can expect to have that smaller State willingly accept to engage in dialogue under conditions of coercion. Guyana is not averse to dialogue, provided that it has no effect on the proceedings before the International Court of Justice. Indeed, it is committed to the peaceful resolution of all international disputes, and considers good faith dialogue to be the most direct means to that end.
For these reasons, Guyana calls on its sister republic to: immediately withdraw its unilateral decree, cease all uses and threats of military force against unarmed civilian vessels duly licensed by Guyana to engage in offshore exploratory activities, present its case before the ICJ and, in due course, commit to accepting the Court’s Judgment on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award and the location of the land boundary.
Guyana has informed Venezuela that it will not be intimidated by the heightened hostility by that country as we continue to pursue our economic development agenda.
Further Mr. Speaker, we have reminded Venezuela that the Stabroek Block is an area over which Guyana maintains sovereign rights, located in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Guyana. Companies with concessions licenced by the Government of Guyana in this area will continue to implement their scheduled programmes of activity.
We have reiterated our invitation to Venezuela to join Guyana in seeking a peaceful, just and final resolution of the controversy by participating in the proceedings before the International Court of Justice, presenting all of its claims and defences to the Court, and accepting the final Judgment of the Court, in compliance with Article IV (2) of the Geneva Agreement and the binding decision of the Secretary-General.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I should like to add that I have been authorized to say that this statement has the full support of the Leader of the Opposition and the members of the Opposition.