LONDON, CMC – Guyana on Tuesday presented what it said is the evidence that Venezuela intends to gain ownership of the mineral and forest-rich county of Essequibo through a referendum on December 3.
Attorney Paul Reichler outlined Georgetown’s position in his presentation to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that is conducting public hearings devoted to the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by Guyana on October 30, 2023.
Guyana, in its request, had said that the Venezuela government, through its National Electoral Council had published a list of five questions that it intends to put before the people of Venezuela in a “Consultative Referendum” next month.
“According to the applicant, the purpose of this referendum is to “obtain responses that would support Venezuela’s decision to abandon [the current proceedings before the Court], and to resort instead to unilateral measures to ‘resolve’ the controversy with Guyana by formally annexing and integrating into Venezuela all of the territory at issue in these proceedings, which comprises more than two-thirds of Guyana,” the ICJ said.
Reichler presented a number of social media text and video posts by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Defence Minister Vladímir Padrino López and military personnel that they were preparing to ignore the ICJ, preparing a landing strip and would engage in combat.
Reichler justified Guyana’s decision to take the issue before the ICJ urgently because of the implications for the country’s continued control of Essequibo even if the ICJ reaffirms the 1899 Arbitral Tribunal Award that settled the land boundary between the two countries.
“Urgency is shown by the impending referendum to be held less than three weeks from now, which would be the trigger for the execution of Venezuela’s annexation plans and by the preparations of the national Bolivarian Armed Forces to secure Venezuela’s claim to the territory,” Reichler said.
He told the ICJ panel that Guyana’s right to Essequibo would be “irreparably prejudiced” and would suffer “irrecoverable loss of the territorial rights” if the ICJ finds that Guyana has no rights to that county.
Reichler said that Venezuela has made it clear that the purpose of that referendum would not merely be to assess public opinion, but to obtain popular support for decisions that the government has already made, and a licence to act on those decisions.
Also appearing for Guyana before the ICJ was Professor Alain Pellet who said that on October 3, the Venezuelan National Guard was seen patrolling the Cuyuni River in the Essequibo region, heavily armed and claiming that “we are patrolling in our Essequibo” as part of “our Territorial Defence System”.
He said the Venezuelans said “our military troops are patrolling as a single unit exercising our sovereignty because the sun of Venezuela was born in the Essequibo.”
Pellet said that there was no application or expectation on the referendum questions related to maritime issues as the court had already ruled that it had no such jurisdiction to deal with maritime issues.
Those, he acknowledged, would have to be dealt with through peaceful negotiations by the two countries or settlement through impartial international adjudication or arbitration or a new case to the ICJ.
“Even more ominously, Venezuela’s Minister of Defence had posted a series of tweets threatening armed intervention against Guyana and its licensees in these maritime areas.”
The 15-member CARICOM grouping, the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat and the Organization of American States (OAS) have also rejected the referendum stating that international law strictly prohibits the Government of one State from unilaterally seizing, annexing or incorporating the territory of another state and noted that the referendum will open the door to the possible violation of this fundamental tenet of international law.