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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in a Dec. 7, 2023 photo.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking in a Dec. 7, 2023 photo.
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By Kenton X. Chance

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says several CARICOM leaders are due here later today (Wednesday) ahead of the talks between Presidents Irfaan Ali and Nicolas Maduro regarding the long-standing border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.

Gonsalves, who is hosting the meeting said that apart from the CARICOM chairman and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Kingstown is expecting the leaders of St. Lucia, Grenada, and the Bahamas to be present.

“I think I owe it to the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the region to see where we are with the arrangements,” Gonsalves said, adding that the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley and his Barbados counterpart, Mia Mottley will be arriving on Thursday morning.

“Presidents Ali and Maduro are coming in tomorrow morning. And this evening, I expect the personal envoy of President Lula of the Federal Republic of Brazil, a very experienced diplomat,” Gonsalves said, noting that the Brazilian official, Celso Amorim, had served 10 years as a foreign minister and five years as minister of defence.

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Gonsalves said that two diplomats from the United Nations Secretary General’s office will be arriving here on Wednesday night as “my friend (UN Secretary General) Antonio Gutierrez couldn’t make it”

He said that a contingent of Venezuelans has already arrived here “as you would expect that the security arrangements” and that an advanced party from Guyana is due here later on Wednesday.

Gonsalves said that the preparations for the meeting on Thursday, are also serving as a dress rehearsal for early next year, when St, Vincent and the Grenadines will host the summit of the Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) “when St. Vincent and Grenadines passes over the pro tempore presidency when to the President of Honduras”.

The meeting here is being held under the auspices of CELAC and CARICOM and Gonsalves insisted that St Vincent and Grenadines is “facilitating” and not going to act as a “mediator” during the talks.

But he said that “of course as an interlocutor, what I want to assist is a resolution of matters consequential to the border dispute. And you notice the formulation: matters consequential to the border dispute. It is carefully phrased. And you’ve been hearing me talking about that.

“And Irfaan Ali has staked out the position of Guyana publicly, Nicolas Maduro has staked out the position of Venezuela publicly. And to some people, the divide is so wide that they may not be able to be any resolution.

“Well, there is value in talking without prejudice, towards Guyanese doing before the International Court of Justice, and what Venezuela wants to pursue through the 1966 agreement further talks. But we see what they have staked out as their various positions, I don’t have to go over those here. They’re fairly well canvassed.”

On Dec. 3, Venezuela staged a referendum in which it said 95% of the votes cast were in support of the annexation of the Essequibo region and Maduro announced soon afterwards that foreign companies working in Essequibo would have to withdraw within three months.

He said he was also proposing a special law to prohibit all companies that work under Guyana concessions from any transaction and that Caracas would be creating a military unit for the disputed territory but that it would be based in a neighbouring Venezuelan state.

Prior to the referendum, the ICJ had ruled that Venezuela must not take any action to seize Essequibo, which has been administered by Guyana for more than a century.

The Essequibo makes up about two-thirds of Guyanese territory and is home to 125,000 of the country’s 800,000 citizens.

In its ruling, the court said “both parties shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve.

“The court emphasises that the question of the validity of the 1899 Award and the related question of the definitive settlement of the land boundary dispute between Guyana and Venezuela are matters for the court to decide at the merits stage,” it added.

Gonsalves said that despite critical divide between the two countries “there are lots of things for them to talk about consequential to the border controversy.

“Remember this is a controversy over 100 years. There was an arbitral award in 1899. And before that, there was controversy. And then there was a 1966 Geneva agreement and now before the ICJ, where Guyana is pursuing its — for a reaffirmation of the 1899 award and Venezuela as you know, they’re not recognising the jurisdiction of the ICJ on this matter and different approaches; and there’s a divide.

“But once people are talking, you’re going to have a lessening of tensions, a lessening of virulent language, a de-escalation,” Gonsalves said, adding that he has had to remain “tight-lipped” about the possible outcome of the meeting so as to ensure nothing is done that could aid a settlement, a resolution, reduce the possibilities of threats or the use of force.