Honourable Prime Minister and Leader of the House;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Honourable Leader of the Opposition;
Ministers of the Government;
Honourable Members of the National Assembly;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honoured to be here for the third time, in this year 2015, to discuss with you matters of importance – matters of national interest.
I start by reminding you, Mr. Speaker that the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana defines the territory of the state. Guyanese, today, inherited that territory from their progenitors.
They have an obligation to pass it on to their progeny. They have a duty, as trustees of this precious, priceless patrimony, to protect their territory. They have a right to promote the exploitation of their resources. They have a prerogative to preserve their way of life without provocation from any foreign state.
Guyanese deserve to enjoy the God-given rights for which their ancestors struggled − their land, their liberty and their livelihood − so that they can all have a good life. It is their birth right.
Guyana received its territory from the three colonies — Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice — which had been under effective occupation by The Netherlands for over 200 years. They were transferred by Treaty to Great Britain in 1814 and united into the colony of British Guiana in 1831. Its territorial boundaries, therefore, were established since colonial times.
These boundaries were challenged by neighbouring countries. The borders were settled definitively by International Award or Agreement in the process of which Guyana lost several thousand square kilometres of territory. Guyana, nevertheless, has never laid claim to another state’s territory. It has always pursued peace despite the losses, despite the assaults, despite injuries which have been inflicted on it.
A former President of Suriname stood right here in this National Assembly on Guyana’s Independence Anniversary on 26th May 1995 and stated that, as far as Suriname was concerned, and I quote, “…the border takes the first place.” I can say, similarly today, that as far as Guyana is concerned, “…the border takes the first place.”
Guyana, today, faces threats to its territory which are similar to those that it faced 50 years ago just as it was about to gain independence for its people. The new state expected to co-exist peacefully with its neighbours, to expand its economy and to enhance its citizens’ quality of life. The prospect of peace on its borders and the promise of progress in exploiting its full potential in the hinterland soon faded.
The first jolt came when its western neighbour, now called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which claimed 159,500 km² of the western Essequibo. This area represents nearly three-quarters of our land-space. It comprises five of Guyana’s ten regions – the Barima-Waini; Pomeroon-Supenaam; Cuyuni-Mazaruni; Potaro-Siparuni and the Rupununi Regions.
The Venezuelan National Armed Forces seized the 7-km² Ankoko Island in the Cuyuni River in October 1966 – Guyana’s independence year and has remained in illegal occupation ever since. That island is used as a military garrison to harass miners and to engage in occasional acts of provocation against the Guyana Defence Force’s border detachment at Eteringbang on the opposite bank of the river. Evidence suggests also that Venezuela was involved in supporting a rebellion aimed at the secession of the huge Rupununi Region, an area of over 50,000 km².
The second jolt came from its eastern neighbour, now the Republic of Suriname, which laid claim to the New River Zone in south-eastern Guyana, an area of about 15,000 km². The Guyana Police Force expelled a team of Surinamese surveyors from the Zone in December 1967. This led to threats by Suriname to expel Guyanese living in that country. Surinamese forces returned to the New River Zone to construct a military fortification at a place it called ‘Tigri’. The Guyana Defence Force seized the camp in August 1969 without bloodshed and allowed the Surinamese forces to return to their own country.
Guyana, despite these incidents, was swift to seek peace with its neighbours. It reacted quickly by reaching agreements with each state, separately, the next year under the kind offices of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
Guyana has had to defend itself against armed attempts to seize its territory. It will continue to do so while struggling to preserve peace, while striving to maintain cordial relations and while acting in compliance with international agreements and conventions.
Guyana’s pursuit of peace had led to the signing, together with Britain and Venezuela, of the Geneva Agreement in February 1966, three months before gaining Independence. That Agreement required Guyana and Venezuela, in the event of disagreement over resolving the controversy between themselves, to refer the matter to the United Nations Secretary General who was mandated to choose one of the means for the ‘pacific settlement of disputes’ stipulated in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations.
The United Nations Secretary General selected the ‘Good Offices Process’ as one of the pacific means available under the Charter. Guyana’s assessment now is that, after 25 years, the ‘Good Offices Process’ has been exhausted. It is, therefore, not an infraction, but a fulfilment, of the Geneva Agreement to seek another peaceful option if one tried option failed to resolve the controversy.
Guyana has always acted in accordance with the terms of the Geneva Agreement. It continues to urge a peaceful and expeditious solution to the controversy arising from Venezuela’s contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899, under which Venezuela was granted over 13,000 km² of territory, was a nullity.
It was with peace in mind that I led Guyana’s team to meet the UN Secretary General, first, during the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community Meeting in Bridgetown, Barbados in July and, second, during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September.
We agreed, at the meeting with the Secretary General in Bridgetown, to receive a Mission which would visit both Guyana and Venezuela with the aim of making recommendations for the consideration of the Secretary General on the way forward with respect to ending the controversy. Guyana met with the team in August of this year.
We agreed, at the meeting with the Secretary General in New York in September, that a higher level team would also visit both Georgetown and Caracas to receive the views of both States on the way forward. The latter team visited both capitals and is expected to report to both Governments on their findings. We await that report.
Guyana’s readiness to receive both teams sent by the United Nations Secretary General evinced its commitment to observing the provisions of the Geneva Agreement. In so doing, it demonstrated its respect for the role of the United Nations and its resolve to conclude this controversy peacefully, in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations.
Guyana, in its engagements with the United Nations Secretary General, in its engagement with the teams that he has dispatched to Georgetown and, indeed, in its meetings with leaders at the international level, emphasised that the ‘Good Office Process’ failed to resolve the controversy and that the time had come for another peaceful option to be pursued. Guyana favours a juridical settlement through recourse to the International Court of Justice.
Guyana’s decision to select another one of the options available under the Geneva Agreement, therefore, was wholly consistent with that Agreement’s object and spirit. The recourse to a juridical process as a final and binding means of resolving the controversy is provided for by the provisions of the Agreement. Guyana has done nothing which can be regarded as being in breach of the Geneva Agreement.
The National Assembly will recall that, on my last visit here on 9th July 2015, I explained the specific threat to Guyana’s maritime zone posed by Venezuela’s Decrees Nos. 1.787 and 1.859 published on 26th May 2015 and 7th July 2015, respectively. We denounced that threat and detailed the actions that our administration had taken, up to that point, in response.
Guyana called on the Summit of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) held in Brasilia on 17th July 2015, to continue its vigilance to safeguard the sovereignty and security of small states in South America and for the continent to be a ‘zone of peace’. The Ministerial Group of the 53 states of the Commonwealth of Nations on the 24th September 2015 issued a statement in which it iterated:
“The unequivocal and collective support of the Commonwealth member governments to the maintenance and preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial borders, in accordance with the 1899 Arbitral Award, the upholding of the rule of international law and the resolution of conflict and differences by peaceful means.”
We reminded the international community, in my address to the United Nations General Assembly on 29th September 2015, of the mandate of the Charter of the United Nations which says, and I quote:
“To bring about by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law – adjustment or settlement of international disputes”
We expressed confidence in the capacity of the Office of the United Nations Secretary General to identify solutions that will validate the ‘just, perfect and final’ nature of the Arbitral Tribunal Award of 1899.
Venezuela continues to portray any attempt to disengage from the ‘Good Offices Process’ as an attempt to abandon the Geneva Agreement. This, as I have explained, is a flawed argument. Guyana iterates that it has always remained committed to dialogue with Venezuela, although its experience with dialogue on territorial-related issues never yielded encouraging results.
The chronicle of Venezuela’s provocations and aggression towards Guyana since independence is well known. Through unsubtle threats and undiplomatic coercion, Venezuela has sought to establish itself as the arbiter of Guyana’s development of the entire Essequibo that it still refers to as its Zona en Reclamación.
Venezuela’s claims are not only illegal. They are injurious to the economic development of Guyana. Venezuela, therefore, must desist from hindering our economic development in an obtrusive and obstructive manner that is tantamount to interference in our internal affairs. It must desist from threatening investors who have a legitimate right to pursue their activities in our territory.
Venezuela, for nearly 50 years, has exerted various forms of pressure on Guyana, hampering its development, in spite of the existence of the Geneva Agreement. The Agreement it should be understood, did not change the status quo ante in relation to Guyana’s territory. The Agreement was not concerned about re-distributing territory. It is all about whether the Venezuelan contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 was a nullity. Venezuela, despite having been invited repeatedly to do so, has never produced proof of its claims or evidence of the award’s nullity.
The Geneva Agreement, in accordance with Article 4, is the correct instrument for referring the matter to the United Nations Secretary General in the present situation. That Agreement states clearly, and I quote:
“No acts or activities taking place while this Agreement is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in the territories of Venezuela or British Guiana. No new claim or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in those territories shall be asserted while this Agreement is in force.”
Venezuela, however, has persisted in breaching the Agreement by asserting new claims, by promulgating new decrees, laying claim to vast expanses of Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone and dissuading foreign investors from developing Guyana’s territory.
Venezuela’s Ambassador to Ottawa sent a letter, dated 13th October, to the Chief Executive Officer of Guyana Goldfields Inc., which operates mines at Aurora in Guyana’s Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region. The letter warned, inter alia, that the opening of the gold mine would be, and I quote:
“Infringing on the territorial sovereignty of Venezuela and committing unlawful actions which could incur legal consequences. As such, you are hereby fully given notice of the respective legal actions that could herein occur.”
The Ottawa letter reflects the approach adopted by the late President Hugo Chávez Frias during his state visit to Guyana in February 2004. He told the press plainly that his administration would have no objection to everyday infrastructure works such as roads, water and electricity that directly enhance the lives of residents.
Strategically sensitive projects – including major offshore oil exploration ventures, mineral exploration or the involvement of foreign governments – were another matter. They should, Chavez said, “be discussed within the framework of the High-Level Bilateral Commission (Comisión Bilateral de Alto Nivel).”
The ‘Chavez doctrine,’ in short, meant that Venezuela demanded a role in determining the developmental destiny of Guyana’s Essequibo.
Another impudent example of that ‘doctrine’ was President Chávez’s opposition to the proposed satellite project in the Barima-Waini Region in 2000. Chávez at that time intervened to undermine the agreement between the Government of Guyana and Beal Aerospace Technologies Inc., which aimed at establishing a satellite launch station in the Barima-Waini Region.
Is it that Venezuelan leaders derive satisfaction from the prolongation of this controversy? The territorial issue, in the hands of President Hugo Chávez and his successive Ministers of External Relations, became a sharp instrument of ‘Finlandisation.’ Venezuela’s interest in the continuance of the ‘Good Offices Process’ would allow it to exert perpetual pressure on Guyana’s economy and to enhance its political influence in the Caribbean with regard to its territorial claim. Venezuela, for 25 years, has been able to apply that pressure with impunity and in spite of the existence of the ‘Good Offices Process.’
Venezuela’s aim has been to obstruct Guyana’s development in spite of the so-called bilateral dialogue. The Foreign Ministers of both countries engaged in dialogue in the wake of the incident of 10th October 2013 in which the Venezuelan naval corvette – the Yekuana – expelled the ‘Teknik Perdana,’ a petroleum exploration vessel, unarmed, from Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The vessel, however, never returned to continue its work. The investors as well as others were scared into inactivity by the Venezuelan aggressive naval action.
Venezuela’s claim that Guyana is an aggressor defies logic and plain common sense. Who is the aggressor? Who owns the corvette?
Venezuela, apart from sending its navy to expel vessels from Guyana’s waters, also promulgated decrees purporting to annex Guyana’s maritime spaces; it augmented its military manpower and exhibited offensive weapons and materiel to unprecedented levels; it conducted provocative manoeuvres on Guyana’s borders; it recalled its ambassador to Georgetown and it suspended the process of acceptance of Guyana’s Ambassador-designate to that country.
Guyana reacted to these provocations with dignity and firmness and on the basis of compliance with international law. It has always been respectful to the government and people of neighbouring states, confident in the correctness of its policies and in the justice of its cause. Guyana has no need to resort to force to advance its rights.
Venezuela’s fear is that, once a juridical process could prove that its contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 was a nullity was proven to be baseless, its 50-year strategy of attrition aimed at gaining territory from Guyana would stand in jeopardy of the prospect of collapse.
Guyana has never been in doubt as to the shape or the extent of the territory to which it succeeded upon independence on 26th May 1966. Mr. Speaker, with respect to Suriname, The Netherlands could not have bequeathed to Suriname at that country’s independence on 25th November 1975, what it did not possess.
Guyana is confident that the boundary between Guyana and Suriname was definitively established by 1936. There is an agreement as to what constitutes the territory of Guyana and what constitutes the territory of Suriname, despite the fact that there is no formal treaty that encapsulates such an agreement.
Suriname, in the absence of a formal treaty, sought to seize Guyana’s territory. Its claim was based on an arbitrary, municipal, legislative resolution passed in October 1965 by which the Staten – as Suriname’s legislation was then called when it was part of the Tripartite Kingdom – the Staten changed the name of Guyana’s New River to ‘Boven Corantijn’ or Upper Corentyne.
The President of the Republic of Suriname told the country’s National Assembly last month that the New River Zone issue will be placed “back on the agenda,” words, which to me, are still unclear in meaning.
Inter-state relations over the past 50 years have encountered testing times. The Suriname Government in Operation Schoon Schip – meaning Clean Sweep – in 1985 expelled over 5,000 Guyanese (and Haitian) workers, on the pretext of ‘national security’.
Surinamese gunboats in 2000 evicted the Guyana-licensed, Canadian-operated, CGX petroleum exploration platform from what is believed to be one of the region’s largest petroleum and natural gas fields.
Mr. Speaker, Guyana, in view of the fact that there is at present a mechanism for addressing this matter, is willing to continue a bilateral discourse with the Government of Suriname on the matter of that country’s territorial claims. That discourse, however, must be grounded on the principles of mutual respect and a repudiation of the use of force.
Guyana has no doubt about the soundness of the bases on which it exercises sovereignty over its territory. It has no fear in having Suriname’s claim to its territory resolved by an adjudicatory process.
The discourse will be helped by ready access to the archival documents which are pertinent to the issues to be resolved. These must be open to both sides for scrutiny in order to determine that there has been full adherence to the principles of international law as they relate to sovereignty over territory.
Guyana has already made a large portion of its documents available to Suriname for its scrutiny. It is hoped that the Suriname Government will reciprocate by requesting the Netherlands Government to open the relevant Dutch Archives to facilitate research by both sides. The British Archives are open to all. Guyana has nothing to hide.
Suriname, if it is convinced that its claim can withstand legal scrutiny, should agree to take the matter before an internationally recognized adjudicatory body. Guyana is of the view that, if an agreement cannot be reached at the bilateral level within a given time frame, the matter should be taken to adjudication so that this controversy can be concluded.
Mr. Speaker, the Governments of Guyana and Suriname can find a way of resolving their differences without acrimony or without the use of force and in a spirit of cordiality. We must bring finality to our differences in a permanent and internationally recognized legal manner.
We welcome the several initiatives outlined by the National Assemblies of Guyana and Suriname that will undoubtedly serve to deepen collaboration between the two states. We therefore commend you, Mr. Speaker, and the Members of this Honourable House for the delegation that recently visited the Republic of Suriname.
Guyana is prepared to continue discussions on the unresolved issues within the mechanism of the National Border Commissions which have been meeting over the past two years. We do believe that we should seek to build our relations on those issues which can bring our two countries and peoples closer together and not divide us and push us further apart. We are committed to collaborating on reaching a peaceful solution to these territorial controversies.
Mr. Speaker, Guyana fully respects the Geneva Agreement. We await the results of the Secretary-General’s determination in the wake of the visits of his teams to both Venezuela and Guyana.
We shall continue to work with both the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of Suriname to make our region a more peaceful and prosperous place and to pursue cooperation arrangements, but not to the detriment of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Guyana has never, and will never, violate any international treaty to which it is a Party. This country has no intention of displaying aggression towards its neighbours and it never has. It will continue to work to bring about a peaceful resolution to the controversies with Venezuela and Suriname.
Let there be peace.
I close as I started by saying that, as far as Guyana is concerned, “…the border takes first place.”
I thank you.