By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says the leaders of Venezuela and Guyana returned to their respective countries last Thursday feeling that they had won “important victories” following their one day talks here addressing issues related to the border dispute between their two countries.
Gonsalves, who was an “interlocutor” in the talks held at Argyle International Airport, said that Guyana, with its smaller population and military, should “sleep better” now that both sides have agreed not to use force or threaten to use force to settle the border dispute.
The Joint Declaration of Argyle for Dialogue and Peace between Guyana and Venezuela, issued following talks between President Irfaan Ali and President Nicolas Maduro said that the two countries agreed that “any controversies” between them will be resolved in accordance with international law, including the Geneva Agreement dated Feb. 17, 1966.
Last week’s discussions were facilitated by Gonsalves, who is also pro-tempore president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who is also the 15-member CARICOM.
Gonsalves and Skerrit, together with Celso Amorim, special adviser and personal envoy of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, acted as principal Interlocutors.
“If you are Guyana, 800,000 persons with a tiny army, not very well equipped, and you’re facing a better-equipped army in a dispute, that is to say from Venezuela, a country with 30 million people more than 30 times your population, and you get the first point that both countries agreed that neither of them would directly or indirectly threaten or use force against one another in any circumstance, including those consequential to any existing controversies between the two states, that should make you sleep better if you are the weaker of the two, wouldn’t it?”
Gonsalves, speaking on a radio programme here on Sunday, said that the preparations for the meeting were very thorough, adding that ahead of the talks, Kingstown had prepared a document entitled “Possible ideas towards a Pact of Argyle”.
“And that document was the basis upon which discussion took place to find the language to fashion, the declaration, the communique.”
Gonsalves said he decided not to circulate that document to any of the principals, adding that it was not circulated to CARICOM until the start of the talks “for security reasons, because we didn’t want that document to go into the public domain”.
He said the document was discussed first by the CARICOM leaders who attended the talks, “and then when we met with President Ali, heard him out and then at the conclusion of that presentation, this document was given to him and his team so that they could reflect on it, and to see how they can begin to think about the requisite language to be used”.
Gonsalves said a similar thing happened with Maduro when he made his presentation to CARICOM.
“And we had copies in Spanish for President Maduro and his team of that particular document. So that when the face-to-face discussion began with President Maduro and President Ali, that they had some ideas as to what we, the interlocutors, thought were possible to be fashioned in all the circumstances.”
The prime minister said there was a lengthy discussion in terms of the drafting of this final communique “because each side wanted the words to be carefully crafted to reflect their respective positions”.
Gonsalves said the proposed document was as a consequence of discussion that he had with Maduro on more than one occasion as well as the Foreign Minister and other senior officials from Venezuela.
He also held discussions with President Ali alone and “I discussed with some of the heads of CARICOM some possible ideas.
“So, you didn’t want to leave it in a very lose manner. You had to have something to help to concentrate the minds of the principals as to where possibly we may be able to go. And this is what finally had this document fashioned. I want to give an indication about the serious manner in which we were preparing from the very beginning,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves noted that the joint document issued after the talks said that both Venezuela and Guyana agree that under no circumstances would there be any violence used, no force used directly or indirectly.
“Now, that’s an amazing proclamation. That’s an amazing agreement,” he said, noting that the joint declaration further states that the controversies between the two states will be resolved in accordance with international law.
“… there are a number of people who talk about this matter and they haven’t read the Geneva Agreement. If you want to reflect seriously on this thing, you have to read the basic documents,” he said, adding that article 4 of the Geneva Agreement is cross-referenced with article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.
“They are important for persons to read to see the significance of that particular provision. And if I may just say this, the Geneva agreement of 1966 lays out, sets out the framework as to how this controversy can be settled.”
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines leader said the agreement contains “a recourse in it through an entity because it says here if the means chosen — that is to say by the Secretary General … do not lead to a solution of the controversy, the said organ which is selected by the Secretary General or as the case may be, the Secretary General of the United Nations shall choose another of the means stipulated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, and so on until the controversy has been resolved or until all means of peaceful settlement there contemplated have been exhausted.
“It’s a very interesting article. And, of course, this particular provision is subject to different interpretations by lawyers, and I have no doubt on different sides. But it’s important to read that carefully,” said Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer.
Maduro and Ali met for the talks even as Guyana maintains that the dispute will be settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Venezuela insists that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over the matter, even as the Hague-based court has disagreed with the position taken by Caracas.
The ICJ is scheduled to begin hearings in the matter in the first quarter of next year “and we will see what happens with the ICJ ruling. And then what transpires after the ICJ ruling,” Gonsalves said.
“I heard you say, well, what will happen there while we wait and see what transpires, and people are continuing to talk. And we’ll see where we end up.”
Georgetown and Caracas have agreed to establish immediately a joint commission of the foreign ministers and technical persons from the two states to address matters as mutually agreed.
An update from this joint commission will be submitted to the Presidents of Guyana and Venezuela within three months and both governments agreed to meet again in Brazil, within the next three months, or at another agreed time, to consider any matter with implications for the territory in dispute, including the update of the joint commission.
Gonsalves said the joint commission will discuss whatever matters are referred to it by both sides.
“And then there will be an update from the joint commission by the foreign ministers and technical people to the two presidents and then they will meet in Brazil within a specified time or if they want to extend the time.
“And the dialogue therefore continues. … We are on the way to having life, living and production continue in peace, in a legal framework and without any destabilisation and we do it,” Gonsalves said, adding that neither Guyana or Venezuela can be transplanted from their physical locations.
He said it is important that the discussion continued in the interest of peaceful coexistence and within the context of the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean, “that we don’t have external actors intervening outside of our institutional arrangements in CELAC and CARICOM.
“It is very important, and it may sound like a simple point that I’m making but if there are any actors anywhere who may like to create mischief, those actors external, or any other agent provocateurs, we have a framework in which we are dealing with that for de-escalation.”
He noted that a resolution that had initially been scheduled for debate at the Organization of American States last week Monday had been postponed to this week, but would now no longer be debated in light of the outcome of the talks in St. Vincent.
“Both sides went back to their respective capitals feeling quite pleased and that they had won important victories at the declaration for dialogue and peace, the declaration of Argyle,” Gonsalves told radio listeners.