‘We will not bow to threats to our national security’

– said the President; GDF is currently monitoring Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone

By Navendra Seoraj
A PEACE conclusion to his debate on the border with Venezuela remains Guyana’s goal, but with the opposing state demanding aggressive behavior, the Chief of the armed forces and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali, has confirmed that his nation will not cower in the face of threats against national security.
“As President of our beloved country, my most important responsibility is to keep the Guyanese people safe. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up [up] in the morning. It’s the last thing on my mind at night. And my working day is consumed by it.

“But, I want to make no mistake about it: my government is doing all it can to vigorously protect the health of our people and the territorial integrity of our country. Just as we are not angry at the fight against COVID-19, so are we not succumbing to threats to our national security… we may be a small country, but we are proud people. We have no military capability, but we have a moral and legal right. We choose to fight without anyone, but we will resist threats from anyone, ”said President Ali during a passionate speech to the nation on Saturday at State House.
In countering threats, Guyana, the President said, will seek to protect international law and the support of the international community. The ongoing debate of the Guyana-Venezuela border concerns a more than century-old disagreement, which arose as a result of Venezuela’s assertion that the 1899 Arbitration Award, which outlines and settles the border between the two countries, is void.

Border Adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge

In March 2018, Guyana filed its application in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeking confirmation of the validity of the 1899 Arbitration Award and the international border it established. The ICJ ruled on December 18, 2020, that it had jurisdiction to hear the cause of the border controversy.

Guyana seeks final and binding judgment that the 1899 Arbitration Award, which established the location of the land border between British Guiana and Venezuela at that time, remains valid, and that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela. Venezuela has said that, for the longest time, it has no interest in resolving this issue by the court. And, by all means, Venezuela remains bent on an arbitrary claim to Guyana territory, with that country’s naval forces increasingly invading Guyana’s maritime space.
Increased activity by Venezuelan naval ships and other forces in the Unique Economic Zone of Guyana (EEZ) began after Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro issued a decree claiming Venezuela’s sovereignty and exclusive sovereign rights in the waters and seabed off the coast of Guyana, west of the Essequibo River.

Despite complete condemnation of Venezuela’s latest claims and worldwide recognition of Guyana’s sovereign rights over the contested area, a naval ship attached to the Bolivian Republic, just days after the decree was issued, entered Guyana territory and seized 12 fishermen, who remain detained in Venezuela.

Guyana has so far informed its sister states in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the international community, including the American Provinces Organization (OAS), the Commonwealth and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States Organization, of recent actions by Venezuela.
Since then a majority of those stakeholders have announced their support for Guyana, called for the release of the detained fishermen and for a peaceful end to the debate through the ICJ.

Guyana’s immediate concern, however, is the safe recovery of citizens who, along with their ship – Lady Nayera and Sea World – are detained by Venezuela’s army at Port Guiria in Venezuela.

This remains the case despite Guyana’s formal protest to Venezuelan authorities through diplomatic channels. Guyana has registered to the Venezuela Government its protest in the strongest possible terms, in this illegal and aggressive act against the state and people of Guyana and has demanded the release and return of the two Guyanese ships and their crews on once.

President Ali and Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd, have confirmed that everything is being done to ensure the early release of the men and their ships. In the meantime, the government, according to the President, has been engaging with the families to ensure assertive and psychosocial support is provided. The Minister for Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, meeting soon with the families to outline a more formal approach.
“We told the family that the executive is concerned and that we will do everything to ensure that their loved ones and ships are returned to Guyana,” said President Ali.
The President also extended a branch of comfort to the entire nation when he said that the government remains committed to protecting Guyana amid the growing presence of Venezuelan forces in local waters.

“The GDF [Guyana Defence Force] have been monitoring and keeping me informed of the various developments in relation to the EEZ, ”said President Ali, noting that monitoring had increased.

GDF Chief of Staff, Brigadier Godfrey Bess, who also attended the briefing with President Ali, said that Venezuelan ships were first seen at EEZ Guyana on January 14, 2021.

The specific coordinates of this intervention, as outlined by Brigadier Bess, are 60 nautical miles east of the median line and 25 nautical miles off the coast of Guyana. This intervention last reported by the GDF continued on January 27, 2021.
“We continue to record their operations and inform the Foreign Ministry of their operations … we patrol the EEZ to ensure our presence is felt,” said the Chief of Staff.
Based on what a Frontier Adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Carl Greenidge, said, this army approach seems ideal because, in his view, Guyana must maintain its presence in the EEZ.
Giving an explanation, Greenidge, who is also the former Foreign Minister, said: “Venezuela would be happy if all Guyanese got up and left … you must avoid this and be aware of the risks … what Venezuela wants see is abandoning our marine resources. ”

Although they did not respond directly to Greenidge’s advice, Brigadier Bess said Guyana’s troops were strategically placed to ensure that Guyana’s marriage was confirmed and that the defense objectives remained the primary objective.

He confirmed that the GDF is committed to protecting Guyana from any threat. But, as it stands, the use of defense diplomacy to settle the matter peacefully remains the day’s routine.
“We continue to work with regional partners and we continue to monitor the ocean space … we are there by air and we will also continue to ensure that we have information shared with anglers and other stakeholders,” said Chief of Staff .

President Ali also said the government had informed its territorial neighbors of the growing presence of Venezuelan ships in Guyana waters.
“What the Venezuelans are pursuing also has implications for close neighbors … we have been engaging with them. The engagement has been responsible and active, ”said the President.
Ideally, in international relations, the first response of allies and the international community is to use diplomatic methods. As explained by Greenidge, the first response to aggression, as in the case of Venezuela, is not to meet the breaking of forces, but to bring the pressure diplomatically and then increase when deemed necessary.

The most recent international stakeholder to add his voice to this issue has been the United Nations (UN) through the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. According to President Ali, Guterres referred in a letter to January 30, 2018, when he chose the ICJ as the means to use to resolve the dispute.

The secretary-general acknowledged that the court was proceeding to determine the merits of the case.
“Guyana is fully committed to the ICJ process. We believe that world-class international law and independent international lawyers offer the most credible and definitive way to end Venezuelan strife. So, we will continue to follow that course, ”said President Ali.

At the same time, however, Guyana, he said, is not opposed to engaging with Venezuela on bilateral issues in which we have a common interest.
However, while such discussions are welcome, especially if the UN Secretary-General wishes to play the role of good offices, a clear demonstration by Venezuela will have to precede any further acts of aggression against Guyana. , starting with the release. of the Guyanese fishermen and their ships.