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VENEZUELA-GUYANA-BORDER: Bipartisan foreign relations committee agrees to table parliamentary motion, ramp up public awareness

Guyana’s bipartisan parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee meeting under the chairmanship of Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd. 

The National Assembly’s bipartisan committee on foreign relations on Wednesday agreed to the framework for a motion on the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to be tabled at a House sitting and to accelerate a public awareness campaign on the issue, representatives from both sides said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd said the priority right now was for the 65-seat National Assembly to approve a motion unanimously against Venezuela’s threats. “The option right now is for an extraordinary sitting of Parliament to have our voices deliberated at the next branch of government and then we take it from there,” he said.

Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amanza Walton-Desir would only say that “we talked around a motion today.”

Both the Mr Todd and Ms Walton-Desir said the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee agreed that the government and the opposition agreed that Guyana would embark on an aggressive public education campaign. “One of the things coming out of it is that we are going to advance a very proactive and aggressive public relations campaign with opposition and government being involved and the wider society. This is about the nation being involved,” he said. “We decided on the content of a strong PR campaign throughout the country and so we’re going to see the outworking of that,” she said.

The Shadow Foreign Minister said Wednesday’s “productive” committee meeting included a brief by Minister Todd. “It was a fruitful discussion. I think we’ve been able to understand the issues. We have decided on some bipartisan actions that you’ll see unfolding over the next few days,” she said.

Mr Todd signaled that it was too early for Guyana to brief the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) about Venezuela’s recent posture towards Essequibo, even as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) voiced concern that Caracas might be plotting to seize the county.

“Let’s take it step by step. We’re dealing with what is before us right now,” he told Demerara Waves Online News after an almost two-hour long meeting of the bipartisan House Foreign Relations Committee on Monday which followed talks between President Irfaan Ali and Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton.

Ms Walton-Desir said the Foreign Relations Committee did not discuss taking the issue to the United Nations Security Council but instead focused on the parliamentary agenda for the next few weeks.

Government parliamentary representatives at the meeting included Mr Todd, Minister responsible for Public Affairs Kwame Mc Coy, Junior Minster of Housing and Water Ms Susan Rodrigues, Dr Jennifer Westford and Ms Bhagmattie Veerasammy. The opposition lawmakers were Ms Walton-Desir, Mr Ronald Cox, Ms Tabitha Sarabo-Halley and Mr Devin Sears.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry was represented at the technical level by Foreign Service Officer Sharmayne Balram, Director of Frontiers Donette Streete and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Elisabeth Harper.

Minutes before the House Foreign Relations began its meeting, the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) issued a strongly worded statement, slamming Venezuela for holding a referendum on December 3, 2023 that would, among other things, seek the approval of Venezuelans to establish Guyana’s county of Essequibo as a State of that western Spanish-speaking neighbour.

“CARICOM further notes that two of the questions approved to be posed in the Referendum, if answered in the affirmative, would authorise the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to embark on the annexation of territory, which constitutes part of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, and to create a state within Venezuela known as Guyana Essequibo.

CARICOM reaffirms that International Law strictly prohibits the government of one State from unilaterally seizing, annexing or incorporating the territory of another state.  An affirmative vote as aforesaid opens the door to the possible violation of this fundamental tenet of International Law,” the regional bloc said in its statement.

Similar concerns were raised earlier this week by Guyana.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ technical team at a meeting of the bipartisan parliamentary committee on Foreign Relations. (Left to right: Foreign Service Officer Sharmayne Balram, Director of Frontiers Donette Streete and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Elisabeth Harper.

CARICOM said it noted that the language of two questions approved to be posed in the Referendum seeks an affirmation and implementation of Venezuela’s stance on the issue “by all means, according to/with the Law.”  In that regard, the regional grouping contended that, “it is open to reasonable persons to conclude that “by all means”, includes means of force or war.”

“CARICOM earnestly hopes that Venezuela is not raising the prospect of using force or military means to get its own way in this controversy over territory.  After all, it has been the long-standing position of Latin American and Caribbean counties, including Venezuela, that our region must remain a zone of peace,” said the statement issued by the Guyana-based regional headquarters.

Meanwhile, CARICOM insisted that the Referendum proposed by Venezuela has no validity, bearing, or standing in International Law in relation to this controversy. “The Referendum is a purely domestic construct, but its summary effect is likely to undermine peace, tranquility, security, and more, in our region,” it added.

CARICOM reiterated its support for the judicial process and expressed the hope that Venezuela would engage fully in that process before the International Court of Justice which has determined that it has the jurisdiction in the case brought before it to determine the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award which Venezuela questions. “The Court’s final decision will ensure a resolution that is peaceful, equitable and in accordance with International Law,” CARICOM said.

One of the referendum questions seeks a vote to agree that the International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in the matter.