By Kurt Campbell
In an outright rejection of Venezuela’s renewed aggressive stance against Guyana, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and President of Guyana, Dr Irfaan Ali has vowed to counter the antagonism as he seeks to protect his country’s national security, integrity and sovereignty.
“Just as we will not relent in the battle against COVID-19, so will we not bend to threats to our national security,” Dr. Ali said during an address to the nation on Saturday.
President Ali’s address denounced reports of intermittent naval incursions into Guyana’s waters by Venezuela’s navy over the last two weeks.
“We maybe a small country, but we are a proud people. We have no military might, but we have moral and legal right. We pick fights with no one, but we will resist threats from anyone. In doing so, we will seek the protection of international law and the support of the international community,” the Commander-in-Chief added.
The President said he has no intention to engage Venezuela bilaterally unless it stops its aggression towards Guyana. He said Guyana remains open to good neighbouring relations with Venezuela but it will resist all threats to national security posed by that country and the government of Nicholas Maduro.
Dr. Ali said his government is not averse to engaging Venezuela on issues such as the increasing number of Venezuelan migrants in Guyana and the COVID-19 pandemic, but those talks will not take place while Venezuela continues its aggressive stance in pursuit of Guyana’s sovereign territory.
Dr. Ali said such discussions, while welcomed, especially if the United Nations (UN) wishes to play a good offices role, will only proceed after a clear demonstration from Venezuela that it will desist from any acts of aggression, starting with the release of two detained Guyanese fishing vessels and its crew for more than a week now.
Guyana continues to maintain that the men were arrested and detained while fishing in waters well within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
STAND YOUR GROUND
Meanwhile, Advisor on Borders and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, is imploring Guyanese to stand their ground. He said no Guyanese, especially those living in the Essequibo region, should cower at the threats posed by Venezuela.
Greenidge said if Guyanese were to recoil, they would be handing Venezuela exactly what it wants; the abandonment of the country’s land and marine resources.
“Venezuela would be happy if Guyanese decide, out of fear, that they will get up and leave Essequibo. They can then say to the world that these people don’t want this territory. We have to avoid this,” he added.
Appearing alongside President Irfaan and senior members of his government at State House on Saturday, Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Godfrey Bess, said Venezuelan navy ships have been spotted in waters that make up Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
According to Brigadier Bess, recent sightings of the Venezuelan navy in Guyana’s waters commenced on January 14, 2021, one week after Maduro issued a Decree to establish a new maritime territory in which he laid claims to Guyana’s resource rich maritime space.
The Chief-of-Staff said the Venezuelan Navy was last seen in Guyana’s waters on January 27, 2021, approximately 25 nautical miles from the coast of Guyana. To counter these incursions, Brigadier Bess assured Guyanese that the GDF is prepared to ensure its presence felt in the EEZ.
Along with Dr. Ali, Bess assured those operating in Guyana’s EEZ, whether it includes oil workers or fishermen, that the GDF will ensure they are protected from any threat that Venezuela poses in pursuit of its claims that Guyana’s Essequibo and the associated maritime space belongs to them.
Guyana has seen increased Venezuelan military presence in the Atlantic sea offshore Essequibo following the unilateral delimitation of the maritime boundary up to the eastern bank of the Essequibo River.
GUYANA IS A PEACEFUL NATION
Both countries continue to share embassies in both capitols and have a diplomatic presence. The President said Guyana is a peaceful nation and will always choose the path of peace as he talked up a final legal settlement to the border controversy, calling on Venezuela to respect the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that it has jurisdiction to hear the border case and bring the matter to finality through a judicial ruling.
“It should be noted that President Maduro issued this new Decree, even as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) pronounced that it has jurisdiction to hear and decide upon a case brought by Guyana in refutation of Venezuela’s contention over the 1899 International Arbitration that fixed our borders in a full, perfect and final settlement.
“It is well known that Venezuela had rejected the jurisdiction of the ICJ. It is a matter of speculation as to whether the Decree, issued by the Venezuelan President, was a reaction to the decision of the most authoritative International Court, simply because it did not favour Venezuela,” the President added.
During his address, President Ali revealed that he received correspondence from the General-Secretary of the United Nations, who reaffirmed that the ICJ is to be used as the means for a solution to the controversy as was agreed in the Geneva Agreement.
The President said his single most important responsibility is to keep Guyanese safe.
“It is the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning. It is the last thing on my mind at night. And my working day is consumed by it. But, I want no mistake about it: my Government is doing all in its power to vigorously protect our people’s health and our country’s territorial integrity.”
Just over a week after Venezuela issued the decree and laid claim to the Essequibo, Guyana received distressing reports that a Venezuelan naval vessel seized two Guyanese fishing vessels and detained its 12-member crew.
Guyana sprang into action issuing a formal protest against the illegal act with growing support from international community calling for the release and return of the vessels and crew.
Guyana says it fully supports and await an outcome of the judicial process even as it called on Venezuela to participate in the process it has so far rejected.