Even as the members of his government continue efforts to address the health crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, President Irfaan Ali has expressed that he remains consumed by the commitment to safeguarding the nation’s territorial integrity. His assurance comes in wake of renewed aggression from Venezuela over the Essequibo region.
The most recent act of aggression from Venezuela pertains to the interception of two Guyanese registered fishing vessels – the Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf – which were operating off the coast of Waini Point within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone. They were intercepted by Venezuelan naval vessel Commandante Hugo Chavez GC 24 on Thursday, January 21, 2021. The Captains were instructed to chart a course to Port Guiria where the boats and crew were detained. They are yet to be released.
Reminding of this during his address to the nation, the Head of State said this incursion constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of Guyana over its maritime spaces. He also bemoaned the fact that the crew and the fishing vessels are still being detained despite Guyana’s formal protest to the Venezuelan authorities through diplomatic channels.
Since this incident, Ali reminded that his government immediately informed the international community of this latest violation and even registered to the Government of Venezuela, its protest, in the strongest possible terms, at this unlawful and aggressive action. In response to this, Ali reminded that on January 27, last, CARICOM Heads of Government publicly called on Venezuela to “desist from aggressive acts that will seriously undermine the peace and security not only of Guyana and Venezuela but the entire Caribbean region”.
Further, the CARICOM leaders called “for the immediate release of the crew members and vessels”. On the same day, Ali reminded that the Organization of American States (OAS) condemned “the illegal detention” of the two Guyanese registered fishing vessels and their crew.
With this in mind, Ali said, “We have friends. We are not alone. We have the international community behind us…”
On this premise, Ali reminded that Guyana remains fully committed to resolving the matter via the International Court of Justice which has ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the matter regarding the controversy.
At the same time, Ali was keen to note that Guyana is not averse to engaging Venezuela on bilateral matters in which both have a common interest. He said that this would include dealing with the increasing number of Venezuelans now seeking refuge in Guyana, as well as how both nations might collaborate in contending with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ali was keen to note however that such discussions while welcomed, especially if the United Nations wishes to play a good offices role, will have to be preceded by a clear demonstration by Venezuela that it will desist from any further acts of aggression against Guyana, starting with the release of the Guyanese fishermen and their vessels.
During the period allowed for questions and answers, Ali did not say if those international partners which have since condemned Venezuela’s heightened aggression have committed to going beyond this.
But his Chief of Staff, Brigadier Godfrey Bess who was present along with Prime Minister, Mark Phillips; Foreign Affairs Minister, Hugh Todd and Advisor on Borders, Carl Greenidge; was keen to note that the Guyana Defense Force is committed to protecting Guyana using defense diplomacy. He too provided no details on what this strategy would entail. “While our military is small, our men and women have big hearts in the defense of our country…,” Bess concluded.