The agenda for the first official visit by Nicolás Maduro to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana at the end of August, 2013, does not include the topic of most interest to Venezuelans. That is the dispute over the Essequibo region and the concessions that the Guyanese government has reportedly granted in areas along Venezuela’s Atlantic coast. In contrast with all Venezuelan governments during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for the Chavez-Madurista government the concept of its national sovereignty does not exist.
An exception was during Chavez’s 1998 election campaign and once he became president of the Republic in 1999. It was only then that the commander Hugo Chávez became keen on activating the historic Venezuelan claim over the territory. Chávez firmly rejected the activities of multinational oil companies — particularly those of the United States, Exxon Mobil and Shell — in the Stabroek block, which is not only a portion of the disputed maritime area, but also part of Venezuela’s Atlantic shoreline, off the coast of Delta Amacuro. In fact, it was under widespread Venezuelan discontent that the activities of these companies were supposedly, although confidential sources say otherwise, stalled in 2000.
However, since then, Chávez’s government and now Maduro’s have opted to remain silent and have set out to achieve preferential bilateral relations with neighboring Guyana. Trade, among other issues such as the war on drugs, is all these neighbors discuss, while they try to shake political grounds in the Caribbean and the United States.
In 2011, when Guyana formally asked the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (the Commission or CLCS) to extend its continental shelf up to 350 miles, the Chávez government, under notable pressure from the opposition and majority of Venezuelans, responded, but late, weak, and inadequately. The request did not take into account Venezuelan rights over the maritime zone and the existence of the Essequibo territory claim.
In March 2012, the Venezuelan government rejected the Guyanese request and, with a press release to the United Nations, noted the existence of territorial claims governed by the Geneva Agreement of 1966. But the government of then President Chávez did not stop themselves from sending a diplomatic note to Guyana, with a copy to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and to all neighboring countries, in which the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela made a formal claim to its rights regarding the exclusive maritime zone and the continental shelf, corresponding to the known “reclamation zone” and the coast of Delta del Orinoco.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry did not take the opportunity to finally negotiate with Guyana towards a mutually satisfactory solution of the Essequibo dispute. As the Geneva Accord lays out, it is a way that both countries can expand and define, without predicament, their respective continental shelves.
Actually, it seems that for the post-Chávez government there will never be favorable conditions to resume negotiations with Guyana. Above all, they do not want conflict with Guyana and prefer to maintain diplomatic understanding and good bilateral relations. This is not just for economic reasons given that trade, although it has increased in recent years, does not have a significant impact on our country. It actually favors Guyana, which receives Venezuelan oil at preferential prices through Petrocaribe in exchange for rice shipments to our country.
Venezuela’s main interests are those that may serve politically under the “new” Bolivarian foreign policy, socialism of the XXI century, and, in particular, the strategic plans of Venezuela and Cuba (ALBA) in the Caribbean. Guyana is the headquarters of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and historically has had great influence in the region. Caribbean countries have always been on Guyana’s side on several issues, among them the Essequibo territory controversy. At CARICOM meetings, there is always an automatic unanimous support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Guyana. At the meeting of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations of the organization, held in May, 2012, Guyana announced that there is no territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, thus ignoring the Geneva Agreement of 1966, which is the legal framework that regulates the Venezuelan-Guyana dispute.
From Hugo Chávez’s rise to power in Venezuela to the present, with his pupil Nicolás Maduro now in power, the Castro-Chavismo leadership has set a penetration plan and alliances in the Caribbean. Among other benefits, it serves as a platform to win votes in multilateral organizations, including the UN and the OAS, and to destabilize democratic governments in Latin America and undermine US power in the region.
Translated by Susel Perez.