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Possible Troubles in the Guyana Basin

Possible Troubles in the Guyana Basin

Guyana Basin

Old Wounds never Die

@eyesonsuriname

Amsterdam, 18 March 2022–Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó disagree on much. But last month, the two opponents agreed on at least one thing — where Venezuela’s border begins — and neighboring Guyana is not happy. 

During talks in Mexico brokered by Norway, Maduro and Guaidó agreed that the oil-rich Essequibo region that Guyana claims belongs to Venezuela.

Juan Guaidó

Maduro and Guaidó rejected the role of the International Court of Justice in settling a border dispute over the region. The two went so far as to publicize their position in the long-running territorial dispute by signing it in an accord on Sept. 6. 

Nicolas Maduro

You know it is very unfortunate that you would have an agreement between the government of Venezuela and the opposition that includes this dispute that Venezuela has with Guyana,” Guyanese Prime Minister Mark Phillips told the Miami Herald on Friday. “I say Venezuela has that with Guyana, because as far as we’re concerned, the Washington Treaty of 1899 settled the border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela.”

The treaty refers to the moment when an arbitration court, under pressure from the United States, decided where British Guiana ended and Venezuela began. Philips led a government delegation that included Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Administration Gail Teixeira; Minister of Housing and Water Collin Croal, Minister of Tourism, Industry and Trade Oneidge Walrond and Head of the Guyana Office for Investment, Peter Ramsaroop.

They spent the week in South Florida at the invitation of the South Florida-based Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) under the theme of “Doing Business with Guyana.” Their focus was on meeting members of the Guyanese diaspora to discuss investment opportunities and the transformation of South America’s only English-speaking nation through recent oil and gas discoveries.

On Thursday, ExxonMobil announced another major discovery of oil deposits off the coast of Guyana. It increased the estimate of the discovered recoverable resource to about 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent. The find adds to previous estimates of recoverable resources that have added millions of dollars to Guyanese economy and jobs since 2015. Guyana currently has the third highest oil reserves in Latin America and the Caribbean. And the petroleum sector continues to fuel the country’s economic growth.

But the oil discovery also breathed new life into the border dispute believed to have been resolved in 1899. Located west of the Essequibo River, the disputed area consists of 61,600 square miles. After the matter could not be settled at the United Nations level, it was handed over to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), much to Venezuela’s dismay. Venezuela wanted to continue with the U.N. arbitration.

In 2015, Venezuela issued an order claiming not only the disputed region, but also Colombia’s exclusive economic zones and nine Caribbean territories. The decree affirmed Venezuela’s sovereignty over Essequibo and its hundreds of millions of barrels of oil reserves.

In January, Maduro issued another presidential decree, establishing a new so-called “Atlantic facade,” reaffirming his country’s claim to parts of Guyana’s maritime waters. Phillips said Guyana is confident the ICJ will decide in its favor.

Guyana has maintained its respect for that process and we have continued to support that process,” he said. “We believe that international law will finally be the way to settle the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.”


Phillips said there is no telling when the ICJ will rule on the matter. But it has submitted all its arguments and reports to the court and it is now up to the court to go through its process and determine when they will issue a ruling. Phillips said that once the decision is made, Venezuela “will have to accept it.” He refuses to entertain the idea that the court could rule in Venezuela’s favor.

“I’m confident that the court is unlikely to contradict us, so I won’t even think about it,” Phillips said. For now, however, the turf war and the latest statement by the Venezuelan government and the political opposition are having an impact.

The Hon. Mark Philips

“The practical impact of not having a fixed border is that it will affect development, it will affect business in Guyana because many investors may not want to come and invest in an area they believe is in dispute,” Phillips said. “The entire Essequibo area is an area rich in oil, mined minerals, diamonds, you name it… It is in our interest that this controversy is finally settled so that oil investors feel comfortable coming to invest in a country and this country has jurisdiction over all of its geographic space.”

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