By Kurt Campbell
Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd, on Wednesday, commended the Nicholas Maduro administration for what he said was the early release of 12 Guyanese fishermen and their two vessels.
The men, who had been detained in Venezuela for almost two weeks on a false claim that they were fishing in Venezuela’s waters, were released on Tuesday night. They began their journey home early Wednesday morning.
Todd says he sees their release as consistent with international law and norms.
“It shows goodwill and helps to rebuild some bridges between Guyana and Venezuela and by extension the rest of the Caribbean,” Todd said in a video interview released by the Department of Public Information (DPI).
Todd also heaped praise on President Irfaan Ali; he said it was Dr Ali’s leadership at home and across the Caribbean region that brought pressure to bear on Venezuela and in turn allowing for the men’s release.
“It is a collection of the President’s statements that led to Venezuela paying keen attention to Guyana’s position and it helped to bring attention to the matter from the international community and CARICOM.”
Todd believes the men’s release now opens the door for the two countries, although sharing a border controversy, to work on other bilateral matters.
“The early release of the vessels provides political space for dialogue and think it is a good show from the Maduro administration and we must commend them and at the same time we must commend His Excellency, President Ali for leadership in this regard,” the Foreign Minister said.
In an address to the nation on Saturday last, President Ali made it clear that he will not bend to threats to Guyana’s national security. The Commander-in-Chief also emphasised that he had no intention to engage Venezuela bilaterally unless it stops its aggression towards Guyana.
He had said that Guyana remains open to good neighbouring relations with Venezuela and is not averse to engaging them 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.
The 12-member fishing crew is expected to arrive in Georgetown late Thursday or early Friday morning.
In addition to the false claim that the men were in their waters, Venezuela also accused the crew of having among their catch the protected species of the hammerhead shark, a fish that is prohibited from being trawled.
Venezuela had been under mounting regional and international pressure to release the men. Just over a week after Venezuelan President, Nicholas Maduro issued a decree and laid claim to the Essequibo, Guyana received distressing reports on January 21, 2021, that a Venezuelan naval vessel seized two Guyanese fishing vessels and detained its 12-member crew.
The two vessels were intercepted by Venezuelan naval vessel Commandante Hugo Chavez, while operating off the coast of Waini Point, in Guyana’s waters.
Guyana sprang into action issuing a formal protest against the illegal act with growing support from the international community calling for the release and return of the vessels and crew.
Guyana continues to maintain that the men were arrested and detained while fishing in waters well within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and that the borders between the two countries were settled by an 1899 Arbitral Awards.
Venezuela’s rejection of the award has led to Guyana seeking a judicial settlement to the matter which is currently before the International Court of Justice.
Those who were detained are: Toney Garraway, Errol Gardener, Orland Roberts, Christopher Shaw, Shirvin Oniel, and Randy Henry from the Sea Wolf crew; those who were detained from the Lady Nayera crew are Richard Ramnarine, Ramlakan Kamal, Nick Raghubar, Javin Boston, Michael and Joel Joseph.