KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves Thursday described as “unfortunate” a photograph showing him and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Keisal Melissa Peters, with the map of Venezuela that includes Guyana’s Essequibo County.
“It has been drawn to my attention that a photograph, taken in December 2022, in which I appeared with other persons ostensibly showing a “papier-mâché” depiction of a map of Venezuela which, controversially, includes the Essequibo or part of it, has surfaced/resurfaced on social media,” Gonsalves said in a Jan. 4 letter to Presidents Dr. Irfaan Ali of Guyana and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.
Gonsalves is also the pro tempore president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that played a major role in getting Maduro and Ali to meet in Kingstown on Dec. 14 last year.
The discussions were facilitated by Gonsalves and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who was the chairman of 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.
The meeting led to the Argyle Declaration easing the tension between the two countries over the ownership of the Essequibo region that makes up about two-thirds of Guyana and is home to 125,000 of the country’s 800,000 citizens.
On Wednesday, Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to the United States and the Organisation of American States (OAS), Sir Ronald Sanders posted a copy of the photograph on his Facebook page.
The Guyanese-born diplomat said he believes that Gonsalves was unaware that the Venezuelan map indicates the annexisation of Essequibo region.
“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.
“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,” Sir Ronald wrote.
In his letter to the two presidents, Gonsalves said he had been “advised that the event at which this photograph was taken was one commemorating the life and work of the great Liberator, Simon Bolivar”.
He said the event took place on the grounds of the residence/ office of the Charge d’Affaires of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I do not recall ever seeing this photograph before its current circulation. I am informed that photographs were being taken in front of flags of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela and a bust of Bolivar.
“While the photographs were being taken, I am advised that someone attached to the Venezuelan Embassy placed the “papier-mâché” depiction of the said map in front of us. | did not look at what the depiction was. I assumed that it was about Simon Bolivar,” he wrote.
Gonsalves, the longest serving head of government in CARICOM, said that “it is unfortunate that this innocent inadvertence on my part has been used by some to drum up, unnecessarily, antipathy of one kind or another.
“I understand all the emotions attendant on this controversial issue; and from time-to-time there will be flare-ups. As always, though, we as leaders must maintain a patience and a calm knowing that sun brightens stone, even as the river burns.”
He reminded the leaders of the “Joint Declaration at Argyle for Dialogue and Peace Between Guyana and Venezuela for all of us, especially both of you, to apply and build upon.”
Gonsalves said he has “spoken to my friends” Irfaan and his Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo “about this matter of the ‘papier-mâché’ depiction,” adding “hopefully it has been laid to rest, where it ought properly to reside among the assorted ghosts from the past, which ought never to rule us from the grave”.
Gonsalves said he is also “profoundly encouraged” by the letter dated Jan. 2, 2024 from the President of Guyana to the President of Venezuela in respect of arranging the first meeting of “’The Joint Commission’ in Brasilia to advance further the Argyle Declaration and its purposes”.
According to the Argyle Declaration “both States 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 above-mentioned update of the joint commission”.
The declaration had also indicated that both countries had agreed that “directly or indirectly, will not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstances, including those consequential to any existing controversies between the two States”.
They also “agreed that any controversies between the two States will be resolved in accordance with international law, including the Geneva Agreement dated Feb. 17, 1966” and are “committed to the pursuance of good neighbourliness, peaceful coexistence, and the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean”.