Guyana tells international court of Venezuela military build-up along disputed border

Guyana President Dr Mohammed Irfaan Ali
Guyana President Dr Mohammed Irfaan Ali

IN asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an order to halt the December 3 referendum on Venezuela's claim to the oil-rich Essequibo region of Guyana, the Guyanese Government on Tuesday alleged a notable Venezuelan military build-up on the disputed border including the clearing of jungle to create an airstrip.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro wants bilateral talks but Guyana President Dr Irfaan Mohammed has said the matter is already before the ICJ for resolution. Amid an oil-boom in Guyana, sanctions-hit Venezuela has urged a halt to drilling until a resolution of the border dispute where Caracas claims two-thirds of Guyana, further rejecting the 1899 arbitration that had set the current boundaries. Venezuela proposes to absorb the Essequibo and give its residents Venezuelan nationality.

For Guyana, attorney Paul Reichler told the ICJ the referendum was an affront to the court's authority.

He lamented that one referendum question asked Venezuelans if they rejected the ICJ and then showed a video clip of Maduro saying Guyana never accepted the ICJ.

"How can the President of Venezuela declare, a month before the referendum is held, that the outcome will be a rejection of the court as a means for resolution of the territorial controversy with Guyana? Have they already counted the votes?"

Reichler alternatively asked if the referendum was simply to get popular backing "for a decision that has already been made at the highest level of Government."

He read out the referendum questions, saying they extinguished Guyana's right to rely on the 1899 arbitration and the ICJ's remit.

Wishing annexation was merely historical, Reichler said it was today an infectious disease like polio as he related the modern histories of Kuwait, Ukraine and Palestine.

"What is different here is that the court has jurisdiction and still has enough time to stop it occurring because the intended annexation has not yet taken place. It awaits the holding of the December 3 referendum." He said unless the ICJ steps in to halt the referendum, Guyana's rights would be irreparably prejudiced if not lost forever.

"Venezuela has made clear that after the referendum it will count on its armed forces to defend its annexation of the new state of Guyana Esequiba.

"Military preparations have already begun." He displayed a photo of works under way at a Venezuelan border town called La Camora in preparation for annexation.

Reichler cited a Venezuelan news article quoting a Venezuelan colonel (Juan Guitierrez Ortiz) saying an airstrip was being built for the development of the Essequibo.

He showed a video-clip supposedly of about two dozen Venezuelan soldiers doing clearing bush to construct an airstrip at La Camora, one soldier saying it was to serve in the development of the Essequibo.

Reichler showed a video of Venezuelan interior minister at a ceremony leading soldiers in a chant, "The sun of Venezuela rises in the Esequiba! The Esequiba is ours! We shall prevail." He quoted Venezuela's Minister of Defence Padrino Lopez in a tweet saying, "We are absolutely determined to recover our Guyana Esequiba!"

Saying Venezuela had issued increasingly harsh remarks over oil companies drilling in the Essequibo coast, Reichler quoted Lopez promising "a proportional response, timely and legitimate, to defend what is ours." Reichler said this was a direct threat to Guyana's rights in its maritime area. He said for legal reasons Guyana wished this to be resolved peacefully either by bilateral talks or otherwise as proposed on August 15, but Venezuela rejected this and instead threatened the use of force.

He said the referendum was not an internal matter but one that could lead Venezuela to breach its international obligations.

"The referendum may consist of words but they are words intended to lead directly to actions that have already been planned and announced and that Venezuela stands ready to carry out." Reichler described Venezuelan moves as "a textbook example of annexation.”

Carl Greenidge, the leader of Guyana’s legal team, told the court, “It is not an exaggeration to describe the current threat to Guyana as existential and the need for provisional measures as urgent.” Those present included Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez who will present Venezuela's arguments on Wednesday morning.


"Guyana tells international court of Venezuela military build-up along disputed border"

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