Divided societies like Guyana suffer from a phenomenon whereby historic events which, when they occurred, gave rise to allegations of ethnic bias, never seem to go away. The West Indies Federation, which lasted from 1958 to 1962, is one such. It is an historic event which is hardly relevant to contemporary Guyana today. Yet the debate on Jagan’a attitude to the Federation rages, as if the event occurred yesterday, and not more than 50 years ago. It is contextualized to the current ethnic controversies, one of which is to seek to continually paint Jagan as a racist, or at least to allege that he was motivated by ethnic considerations. His role in the establishment of the University of Guyana has become another. But that is for another time.
An editorial in the Stabroek News of December 19, 1986, on ‘Regional Integration’ stated that ‘…others, notably Eusi Kwayana (then Sydney King) attributed Jagan’s opposition [to the Federation] to his unwillingness to be swamped in a predominantly African grouping. C.L.R. James is also reported to have made a similar assertion. In response to the Stabroek News editorial, Jagan replied as follows:
The power of the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) to refer the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ, also known as the World Court) and the jurisdiction of the ICJ to entertain and determine the matter, both provided for by the Geneva Agreement, have been shockingly distorted by Analyst in a February 6 article in Kaieteur News entitled “Recourse to the ICJ is on the basis of a consent regime.’ He argues that the ICJ needs Venezuela’s consent before it can exercise jurisdiction.
On November 7 the same analyst, under the moniker of Peeping Tom, said in Kaieteur News that Guyana has “bungled its handling of the territorial controversy” and “will not achieve its objective of having the matter placed before the ICJ.” This prediction ignominiously failed when the UNSG on January 30 chose the ICJ as a means of settlement. No doubt this failure prompted a change of identification from Peeping Tom to Analyst for his February 6 article so as to disguise his authorship of the November 7 failed prediction. His opinions in the February 6 article are as shallow as the prediction made in his November 7 article.
By Article IV(1) of the Geneva Agreement of 1966, the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela committed to choosing one of the means of peaceful settlement provided for by article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), if the Mixed Commission did not arrive at a full agreement for the settlement of the controversy within four years. Judicial settlement was one of those means under article 33. But the part of the article providing for the parties to choose the means of settlement is qualified by Article V. It provides that they are to refer the decision of the means of settlement to an “appropriate international organ on which they both agree,” but failing agreement “to the Secretary General of the United Nations.”
After the conclusion of the mandate of the Mixed Commission, the Governments of Guyana, Venezuela and the United Kingdom entered into an agreement known as the Port of Spain Protocol in June, 1970, which suspended the operation of Article IV of the Geneva Agreement for twelve years. This meant effectively that the formal search under Article IV for a resolution of the controversy was suspended for the period. Guyana and Venezuela undertook to “explore all possibilities of better understanding between them.”
Venezuela’s proclamation of its “Atlantic Coast” on May 27, which includes all of Guyana’s maritime space, having already maintained since 1962 its fictional claim to two-thirds of Guyana’s land territory, is breathtaking in its audacity. Venezuela’s claim violates the Geneva Agreement and international law and threatens the peace, security and stability of the Region. Oblivious to this fact, the heirs to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s late, transformative leader, have damaged the credibility of his legacy. They are attempting to take by force, and at Guyana’s expense, the Atlantic outlet they have always craved and with it Guyana’s newly discovered petroleum resources.
It was Chavez who in 2004 in Guyana declared that the border controversy was a legacy of colonialism and was the subject of imperialist intrigue to create enmity between Guyana and Venezuela. In a resoundingly successful and popular visit, he announced to the Guyanese people that Venezuela would no longer object to the economic development of the Essequibo. This policy towards Guyana and the border controversy, based on a wider perspective promoted by Chavez of solidarity among countries of this region, resulted in mutually beneficial economic relations which continue. Chavez’s policy has now been abandoned by the Venezuelan Government and military.