Claim by Venezuela3453 07 Nov, 2013
November 07, 2013
Mrs. Rodrigues-Birkett: Mr. Speaker, Colleague Members of Parliament 43 years ago our predecessors met in this very Honourable House to speak with one voice in denouncing the illegal claim by Venezuela to our territory both offshore and onshore. I was not yet born nor were more than 60% of the Guyanese people living today, but today
we all share the ongoing burden placed on us to seek solutions to the problems, which this spurious claim by Venezuela has created for us as a small developing country.
I would like also to believe that in this Honourable House, today we share as our predecessors did, the unswerving commitment to do all that is possible, within the laws that govern the peaceful relations between and among States to secure the preservation of Guyana's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Mr. Speaker, as I have done in the past, when matters relating to our borders arose, I now wish to update this National Assembly on the most recent incident. It was less than a month ago, on the 10th October, 2013, that the RV Teknik Perdana, a research vessel contracted to Anadarko – an oil Company operating under license in Guyana’s exclusive economic zone – was intercepted by a Venezuelan naval vessel. Both the RV Teknik Perdana and its crew were ordered to proceed to a Venezuelan port. The vessel and its crew have since been released.
Mr. Speaker, the details of this incident are now in the public realm and need not detain us here, except for these salient facts which I wish to emphasize and bring to the attention of Honourable Members.
The first is that both Guyana and Venezuela are in agreement as to the precise location where the vessel was detained and escorted under arms to a Venezuelan port. It is an incontrovertible fact supported by all the relevant principles of international law that the RV Teknik Perdana was well within Guyana's waters.
Secondly, the rejection of the use of force in the settlement of disputes is a principle enshrined in international law governing the peaceful relations between and among States. It certainly has been a principle which Guyana throughout our history has championed, endorsed and supported.
Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, Guyana has always chosen the path of dialogue in the settlement of its bilateral disputes and controversies. Indeed some among us will recall that in some of the darkest days in our relationship with Venezuela, Guyana chose the path of diplomacy in thwarting Venezuela's ambitions and in opening
the way for a more ordered development of our young nation with less apprehension and with increasing confidence.
These, I venture to say, are important and relevant considerations on which I wish to elaborate.
When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was informed on the evening of 10th October of the arrest of the RV Teknik Perdana by the Venezuelan Navy the reaction of the Government was immediate, decisive and firm. I immediately made efforts to speak with my counterpart in Caracas. The Charge d'Affaires of the Venezuelan Embassy was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a diplomatic note protesting the action by the Venezuelan navy was dispatched. A media release was issued to ensure our population was informed. My communication with my counterpart resulted in an agreement to meet in a neutral territory — Trinidad and Tobago was agreed upon. For Guyana, the principal aim of that engagement was to discuss the incident, to demand the safe release of the vessel and its crew and to engage in discussions on the way forward. It was in my Government's judgment the correct and rational response, given all the circumstances which I shall dilate on.
The Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago with my Venezuelan counterpart took place on 17th October 2013. It lasted for close to six hours with an occasional break to consult with the Members of our respective delegations. The fact that the Meeting took place at all, coupled with the range of issues it covered, is essential to a clearer understanding of the fundamental nature of the relations between Guyana and Venezuela at this time. It also provided the framework for the acceptance of the Guyana initiative, as mentioned in the Joint Statement for the way forward in settling the maritime boundary between the two countries. During the discussions, the Venezuelans requested that the matter be brought to the Good Offices Process but Guyana pointed out that this was not within the mandate of the Good Offices Process and unless a new mandate was given this was not possible at this time. As Honourable Members are aware, Guyana and Venezuela had agreed in the year 1987 to the Good Offices of the United Nations (UN) Secretary General under the 1966 Geneva Agreement, in finding a solution to the controversy that had arisen out of Venezuela's contention that the 1899 Arbitral Award that laid down the boundary between British Guiana at the time, and Venezuela, was null and void. Let me reiterate that for Guyana our land border with Venezuela is settled by the 1899 Arbitral Award which was agreed by Venezuela and Great Britain (on behalf of Guyana) as “full, perfect and final.”
A few have sought to find fault with the Joint Statement that was signed at the conclusion of this historic 17th October meeting. It must be noted, however, that Venezuela was unshakable in its position that according to its line of delineation, the RV Teknik Perdana was in Venezuelan waters. On behalf of my Government and my country, I maintained that the vessel was in Guyana's waters. Given our inflexible positions, the only possible other outcomes were either separate Statements or a Joint Statement reflecting the positions of both sides. That Mr. Speaker would have been a ludicrous, pointless and very unfortunate outcome. The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government would not advocate such a result. Instead, at Guyana's insistence a paragraph was agreed on which has served to establish a process for the eventual delimitation of the maritime boundary between Guyana and Venezuela. The Meeting of 17th October therefore was fruitful, in that it resulted in all of Guyana's principal objectives being met:
1. The immediate release of the RV Teknik Perdana and the safe return of its crew
2. The establishment of a process for the maritime delineation of the boundary between Guyana and Venezuela.
I believe in all honesty that these were satisfactory outcomes given the circumstances and the inevitable and indeed quite understandable pressures to act otherwise.
I have sent letters to the Secretaries General of the Caribbean Community, the Organisation of American States, the Commonwealth and the United Nations as well as to the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Suriname in that country's capacity as Pro Tempore Chair of Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), apprising them of the situation and the outcome of my meeting with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, Mr. Elias Jaua.
Some of our people have asked the question, how is it that both Guyana and Venezuela claim that the vessel was in their jurisdiction? They have also asked: ‘Is this because of the illegal claim that Venezuela has on Essequibo?’ Mr. Speaker, the short answer is the land border, which involves Essequibo, has been settled in 1899 as previously mentioned but the maritime boundary has not yet been resolved. The next question then was: ‘How then do we know that the RV Teknik Perdana was in our jurisdiction?’ As representatives of our people, it is important that we grasp the considerations of inter law that affect the delimitation of maritime boundary of adjacent states. Of course the example with which we are all familiar with is the settlement of Guyana’s maritime boundary with Suriname under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Tribunal in the case between Guyana and Suriname, as many other Tribunals with the same mandate did, stated that, and I quote, “The process of delimitation is divided into two stages. First the court or tribunal posits a provisional equidistance line which may then be adjusted to reflect special or relevant circumstances”.
It is using the method of equidistance that Guyana has declared its provisional maritime boundaries ever since 1977. This is how we know that the vessel at the time of its interception was in Guyana's waters. If Venezuela were to follow the same internationally recognized principles, its provisional boundary line would be west of Guyana's line.
To be clear, let me indicate that under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and customary international law, states are permitted to delineate their maritime boundaries and this is what Guyana did. If the entitlement overlaps with another state, then the two states have to agree or enter into dispute settlement.
It is tempting to succumb to the view that Guyana should have denounced Venezuela before the international community and publicly placed in question Venezuela's sincerity regarding the construction of a regime of durable good neighbourliness. I would like to put that thought in some perspective. As everyone knows the relations between Guyana and Venezuela, ever since Guyana's independence in 1966, have been bedevilled by intermittent threats, acts of intimidation, seizure and attempted seizure of territory and various forms of economic aggression, all committed by Venezuela in a vain attempt to break Guyana's will and to force concessions in relation to its illegal claim to the Essequibo region. The information, in this regard, is well documented.
Over the past decade, and particularly after His Excellency Hugo Chavez became President of Venezuela, there has been a marked improvement in Venezuela's attitude towards Guyana. The Government of Guyana seized this opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship and cooperation with Venezuela.
The various agreements signed between the two countries during this period as well as the developments in the Essequibo, which proceeded apace without the customary negative reaction from Venezuela, provide clear evidence of the success of such a strategy and its positive impact on Guyana's programmes for development. When His Excellency President Nicolas Maduro Moros paid his state visit to Guyana on 31st August 2013 his public remarks confirmed that the ties between the two countries were firm and that our boundary disagreements should be seen for what they are — legacies of the past to be dealt with now in a mature and responsible manner.
Are the various agreements signed and related programmes to be deemed worthless now? Do we, in light of the 10th of October incident, return to those 'darkest days' of which I spoke earlier or to those days of development uncertainties? I should hope not. But in saying so, let me make this quite clear:The Government of Guyana will do what it can to establish a regime of peace, security and beneficial cooperation with Venezuela and has, therefore, opted, in this instance, to pursue a course of reasoned dialogue as the preferred course of action to safeguard Guyana's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Guyana will not - I repeat, “Guyana will not” - compromise its principles nor sacrifice any of its national patrimony for ephemeral gains displayed on the altar of cooperation.
I ask that this honorable House reaffirms its support and remains united as we move forward towards the resolution of this national issue.
I thank you. [Applause]
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