Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves is expected to issue a statement regarding a picture in which he and his minister of foreign affairs, Keisal Peters is standing next to a map of Venezuela that includes the disputed Essequibo region, which is part of the official territory of Guyana.
This is according to Demerara Waves Online News, a newspaper based on Guyana, which cited the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Georgetown, Hugh Todd.
The development could put Gonsalves in an uncomfortable position, in light of his role as an interlocutor between Guyana’s president Irfaan Ali and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro amidst mounting tension over the border dispute, which dates back more than a century.
Venezuela’s Ambassador to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Francisco Manuel Perez Santana as well as another man appears in the photograph, which was published to X, formerly Twitter on Jan. 2.
The development comes less than a month after Gonsalves, who is also pro-tempore president of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) brought Maduro and Ali together for talks in St. Vincent and the Grenadines under the auspices of CELAC and CARICOM.
the Dec. 14, 2023 talks led to the Argyle Declaration, in which both countries agreed not to use force or the threat of force to settle the border dispute.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is expected to begin hearing on the matter during the first quarter of this year.
Guyana says it will abide by the ruling of the court but Venezuela has said that the ICJ has no jurisdiction in the border dispute.
The two leaders also agreed that Gonsalves will continue as an interlocutor even after demitting office as the pro tempore president of CELAC later this month.
Caracas and Georgetown also agreed to meet again on the matter in three months’ time.
Demerara Waves Online News quoted Todd as saying that Georgetown has been informed that the picture was taken in December 2022 at a celebratory event.
“The photo is dated and we expect clarity on the event itself,” Todd told Demerara Waves Online News.
However, even if the photo was taken in December 2022, Gonsalves has been taking part in CARICOM heads of government summits since 2001, when he became prime minister.
The declaration issued after each of those summits have reaffirmed CARICOM recognition of the territory of Guyana amidst the ongoing dispute.
Demerara Waves Online News said Todd indicated that he had spoken to Peters regarding the photograph.
The news website cited well-placed sources as saying that the Guyana government had been informed that Gonsalves and Peters were unaware that the Venezuelan map had reflected that Guyana’s Essequibo County was annexed by Venezuela.
The development has already captured the attention of one of the region’s top diplomats, Sir Ronald Sanders.
Sanders, who was born in Guyana and is Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he did not believe that Gonsalves was aware of the image in the photograph.
“I have known and highly regarded Dr Ralph Gonsalves for over 40 years. I cannot be convinced that, when he held up this map, showing the Essequibo incorporated into Venezuela, he was made aware of the image,” Sanders said.
“The Ralph Gonsalves, I know and respect, would not consciously do such a one-sided thing while the world awaits a decision on the Guyana-Venezuela controversy from the International Court of Justice, and while he, himself, is playing the role of CELAC’s honest broker.”