Guyana appeals to Ban to settle dispute with Venezuela

United Nations, Feb 21 (IANS) President David Granger of Guyana has appealed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to resolve his country’s dispute with Venezuela, which claims two-thirds of its land and a large area of oil-rich territorial waters.

Granger told reporters here on Friday that the process of settling the dispute on the basis of a treaty signed in Geneva in 1966 did not make headway because Venezuela has “not been behaving properly” and was using dilatory tactics.

Therefore, under the terms of the treaty, it was now up to the UN secretary-general to resolve it, he said. But Venezuela has refused to accept the secretary-general’s intervention, he added.

Earlier in the day, Granger met Ban to update him about the border problem and request the secretary-general to take action under the terms of the treaty. After the meeting, Ban’s office said in a terse statement only that they discussed the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy and political developments in Guyana.

Guyana, a small 214,970 sq km Caribbean nation located towards the north-eastern end of South America, has a population of less than 750,000 — of whom 43 percent are of Indian origin. Granger, a former brigadier who commanded the country’s defence forces and a journalist, was elected president last May succeeding Donald Ramotar, who lost the election.

Venezuela claimed vast areas of Guyana while it was a British colony in the 19th century. The dispute went to an international tribunal made up arbitrators from the United States, Britain and Russia. The tribunal gave most of the disputed land to Britain in 1899.

Caracas continued to lay claim to all of the Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River and, in 1966, Venezuela, the British government and the government of Guyana, which was on the verge of independence, signed a treaty in Geneva on resolving their disputes.

If the various steps outlined in the treaty for resolving the dispute failed or did not take off, it gave the UN secretary-general final say in setting up a mechanism to resolve it.

The disputed area is rich in minerals and tensions escalated last year after Exxon Mobil said it had discovered a huge oil deposit in the territorial waters off the coast of the territory that Venezuela claims.

Last summer Venezuela, which is in the throes of a dire economic crisis, increased tensions by holding military exercises across the border from Guyana.

Last September, the UN facilitated talks between Granger and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro which failed to thaw relations between the two neighbours.

The dispute has not come any closer to a resolution because of the refusal of Venezuela, currently an elected member of the Security Council, to cooperate. On the other hand, Granger pointed out that in the 50 years since the Geneva Treaty was signed, Guyana has “cooperated in every instance”.

Regional efforts to bring about a solution have failed. “There is no more juice to be squeezed out of the orange of regional efforts,” Granger said.

“We will work with the United Nations to resolve the dispute in a manner agreeable to the peoples of both Venezuela and Guyana,” he said.

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