Guyana and Venezuela commit to maintaining a ‘zone of peace’, but no resolve in Essequibo dispute

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Guyana and Venezuela commit to maintaining a ‘zone of peace’, but no resolve in Essequibo dispute

The leaders of Guyana and Venezuela promised in a tense meeting Thursday that neither side would use threats or force against the other, but failed to reach agreement on how to address a bitter dispute over a vast border region rich with oil and minerals that has concerned many in the region.

Instead, a joint commission composed of the foreign ministers of both countries and other officials will address the problem, with a report expected within three months.

Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro agreed to meet again in Brazil within three months or at another agreed-upon time, according to an 11-point declaration read at a press briefing late Thursday at which no questions were allowed.

They also agreed to “refrain, whether by words or deeds, from escalating any conflict,” the declaration said.

Tension over the border region of Essequibo has raised worries about a military conflict, though many believe that is unlikely. Venezuela insists Essequibo was part of its territory during the Spanish colonial period and argues a 1966 Geneva agreement among Venezuela, Britain and then-British Guiana, now Guyana, nullified a border drawn in 1899 by international arbitrators.

The century-old dispute was recently reignited with the discovery of oil in Guyana. The dispute escalated when Venezuela reported that its citizens had voted in a Dec. 3 referendum to claim two-thirds of their smaller neighbor.

The hourslong meeting between the two leaders took place at the main international airport in the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, with various Caribbean prime ministers attending, including TT’s prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley.

In the end, the following items were agreed upon:

1. Agreed that Guyana and Venezuela, directly or indirectly, will not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstances, including those consequential to any existing controversies between the two States.

2. Agreed that any controversies between the two States will be resolved in accordance with international law, including the Geneva Agreement dated February 17, 1966.

3. Committed to the pursuance of good neighborliness, peaceful coexistence, and the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean.

4. Noted Guyana’s assertion that it is committed to the process and procedures of the International Court of Justice for the resolution of the border controversy. Noted Venezuela’s assertion of its lack of consent and lack of recognition of the International Court of Justice and its jurisdiction in the border controversy.

5. Agreed to continue dialogue on any other pending matters of mutual importance to the two countries.

6. Agreed that both States will refrain, whether by words or deeds, from escalating any conflict or disagreement arising from any controversy between them. The two States will cooperate to avoid incidents on the ground conducive to tension between them. In the event of such an incident the two States will immediately communicate with one another, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC), and the President of Brazil to contain, reverse and prevent its recurrence.

7. Agreed to establish immediately a joint commission of the Foreign Ministers and technical persons from the two States to address matters as mutually agreed. An update from this joint commission will be submitted to the Presidents of Guyana and Venezuela within three months.

8. Both States agreed that Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves, the Pro-Tempore President of CELAC, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, the incumbent CARICOM Chairman, and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil will remain seized of the matter as Interlocutors and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres as Observers, with the ongoing concurrence of Presidents Irfaan Ali and Nicolas Maduro. For the avoidance of doubt, Prime Minister Gonsalves’ role will continue even after Saint Vincent and the Grenadines ceases to be the Pro-Tempore President of CELAC, within the framework of the CELAC Troika plus one; and Prime Minister Skerrit’s role will continue as a member of the CARICOM Bureau.

9. Both States agreed to meet again in Brazil, within the next three months, or at another agreed time, to consider any matter with implications for the territory in dispute, including the above-mentioned update of the joint commission.

10. We express our appreciation to Prime Ministers Gonsalves and Skerrit, to President Lula and his Personal Envoy Celso Amorim, to all other CARICOM Prime Ministers present, to the officials of the CARICOM Secretariat, to the CELAC Troika and to the Head of the CELAC PTP Secretariat in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, His Excellency Dr. Douglas Slater, for their respective roles in making this meeting a success.

11. We express our appreciation to the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for their kind facilitation and hospitality at this meeting.

Neither Ali nor Maduro spoke to journalists after their meeting.