Venezuela and Guyana turn to negotiations in bid to avert war

The last thing the world needs is another war causing misery to more innocent people, destroying property and creating more refugees

Map showing locations of both Guyana and Venezuela. The disputed Essequibo region is in light green, with the rest of Guyana in dark green. Venezuela is shown in orange - WIKIPEDIA

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Wars and conflicts have erupted in many parts of the world, like in Ukraine, Gaza and Sudan.

We are so used to being constantly bombarded with such dismaying news that it was heartening to hear some positive news involving two South American countries.

Venezuela and Guyana have agreed not to resort to force and violence to settle a territorial dispute over the oil-rich Essequibo region. They recently engaged in negotiations in a bid to defuse tensions.

Both countries are claiming the disputed region – Essequibo region by Venezuela or Guyana Esequiba by Guyana, a 160,00 sq km area west of the Essequibo River.

The boundary dispute is a legacy of the colonial powers (Spain in the case of Venezuela, and the Netherlands and the UK in the case of Guyana). This row has continued since the independence of both nations.

At the northern end of South America, Venezuela, with a population of around 28 million, is a largely Catholic country (64%). The country is larger than France and Germany in terms of land area.

Venezuela is believed to have the largest oil reserves in the world, although the wealth has not filtered down to many ordinary people. The country is famed for its Angel Falls (Krupp Vená), the world’s highest waterfall, a major tourist attraction.

Neighbouring Guyana lies on South America’s North Atlantic coast. (Guyana is an indigenous word which means land of many waters.) Heavily forested, the country is home to 800,000 inhabitants.

About 64% of the people are Christians, 25% Hindus and 7% Muslims. Despite Muslims being a minority, Mohamed Irfaan Ali was elected President of Guyana in 2020. He is the country’s first Muslim head of state.  

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Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met recently to forestall a war.

Following the meeting, both leaders decided not to threaten or use force against each another – a positive development. Both nations agreed to not escalate the current tense situation into a conflict.

This agreement was contained in an 11-point declaration read out at a press conference after the meeting.

The Guyanese and Venezuelan presidents agreed to try to resolve their disputes. A commission with foreign ministers and officials from both nations was working on the issue and would have a report ready in three months.

Essequibo makes up over two-thirds of the territory of Guyana and is home to 125,000 people. Tensions had escalated following a recent referendum to create a Venezuelan state in the disputed region of Essequibo – a move Guyana regards as a land grab.

History was the reason Venezuela cited for Essequibo to be under its control. It claimed the region was within its borders during Spanish colonial rule.  

But, based on the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award, the territory is under Guyana, and its leaders claim the border was drawn by international arbitrators.

The hours-long meeting between both presidents was held at the main international airport in the eastern Caribbean Island of St Vincent.

The meeting was initiated by the regional groupings of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom).

Guyana argues the controversy should be resolved by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands.

But Venezuela believes the court does not have any jurisdiction on this matter.

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Guyana’s government was initially adamant that Essequibo was not up for discussion or negotiation. At a media conference during a break in his talks with Maduro, President Ali pointed to a thick leather bracelet on his right wrist featuring the outline of Guyana. “All of this belongs to Guyana,” he said, “No narrative propaganda decree can change this. This is Guyana.”

Ali noted that while both parties were committed to keeping peace in the region, Guyana “is not the aggressor”.

“Guyana is not seeking war, but it reserves the right to work with all of our partners to ensure the defence of our country.”

The leaders of these two nations have provided a rare ray of hope in their willingness to settle disputes peacefully.

But tensions remain.

If national leaders follow a path of peace and reconciliation, then many issues can be resolved.

Nobody wins in a war or conflict. Both sides stand to lose, with massive loss of life and destruction of property costing billions. Such conflicts drain away money and resources, which could be used to uplift people’s lives.

Negotiators must work for a win-win situation, where both sides feel they have won. Both sides must approach negotiations with an open heart and work towards satisfying each other’s needs. If issues can be resolved, then both sides are the winners, not one side.

So far, Venezuela and Guyana have set a fine example by not igniting a war. Hopefully, negotiations will continue and result in a successful outcome for both countries. Sure, compromises are sometimes necessary in the quest for tangible solutions – but a peaceful outcome would be worth any concessions made.

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Such negotiations are the only way to resolve disputes, with the ultimate victors being the peoples of both countries.

The last thing the world needs is another war causing misery to more innocent people, destroying property and creating more refugees.

The world has enough pressing issues to resolve, including climate change and food security. So, let’s tackle these existential crises instead of creating new conflicts and wars.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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