Published On: Mon, Feb 15th, 2016

Former diplomat promotes juridical resolution of Venezuela’s claims to Guyana

sir_shridath_ramphal2GEORGETOWN, Guyana - The signing of the Geneva Agreement was the only available option of resolving peacefully the conflict of Venezuela’s outrageous claims to Guyana, according to former Guyanese diplomat Sir Shridath Ramphal, who recently noted that, with the signing of the agreement, Guyana could move forward with its independence.

Speaking on a recent television programme, Ramphal, who was present at the signing of the agreement on February 17, 1966, said that the agreement was in a sense an essential part of the larger picture of Guyana’s independence.

He explained that Guyana was on the cusp of independence and “we were about to be free and Venezuela… basically tried to stall Guyana’s Independence by agitating its claim to the Essequibo.”

According to Ramphal, who today is probably the only person alive who witnessed the signing of the agreement, Britain, Guyana’s then colonial masters, strongly resisted the claims by Venezuela because “from their standpoint there was no question about Guyana’s move to become an independent state.”

He said that the British government arranged for a meeting of representatives of Britain, Venezuela and the then British Guyana, which took place in Geneva on the February 16 and 17, 1966. The agreement was then signed on the 17th between Britain and Venezuela.

"The new government, the Burnham government, had to be at the meeting because the independent Guyana would inherit whatever would be the conclusions of the meeting,” Ramphal recalled.

“It was a maddening occasion (the signing), because this (Venezuela’s claim on Guyana) was something so much of the past, that it should have been of the past and should not have been even in our thoughts as we looked ahead but Venezuela was adamant, was threatening and had to be dealt with and the Geneva agreement was the results,” the renowned Guyanese diplomat explained.

Fifty years later, on the anniversary of the signing of the agreement and following the recent renewal of claims of Venezuela’s historical claims to Guyana, Ramphal is of the view that the only way for Guyana to rid itself of this controversy is to have the matter settled by the highest international tribunal, the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“This matter has gone on for 50 years; we have tried all manner of means. They have tried all manner of deeds… they have not produced a shred of evidence, or even an argument that that award must be set aside… It is a legal issue, legal contention, and must be settled by the ICJ,” he said.

“It is a bold and courageous thing to do, but we are so confident that justice is on the side of Guyana that it is the proper thing to do,” he said.

He said that having closure to the controversy would mean a lot “for the world; for the rule of law; for the sanctity of treaties, which is of importance to the whole world. It would mean everything for relations between Guyana and Venezuela.”

Closure to the controversy would be “an opportunity for true friendship to develop between the peoples of Guyana and Venezuela,” he noted.

As part of 50th anniversary of the signing of the Geneva Agreement, President David Granger is slated to meet with United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, this week in New York, where he hopes to further press Guyana’s position for a juridical settlement of the decades-old border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.

Granger is also expected to advocate for Guyana at the 27th inter-sessional meeting of the Conference of the heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Belize on February 16-17.

According to the Geneva Agreement, which was made between Venezuela and the United Kingdom on February 17, 1966, just months before Guyana gained independence, a "mixed commission“ of Guyanese and Venezuelan representatives would be established to seek “satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy between Venezuela and the United Kingdom, which has arisen as the result of the Venezuelan contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 about the frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela is null and void”.

The agreement also states that, if following the report of the commission, Guyana and Venezuela do not reach an agreement then the countries must choose “one of the means of peaceful settlement provided in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations".

Guyana, on February 17, will observe the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Geneva Agreement. On May 26, Guyana will also celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence.

Nowhere in the Agreement does it even suggest that the 1899 Arbitral Award had been nullified.

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