Revisiting the Protocol of Port-of-Spain
Stabroek News
November 29, 2001

Few visits of distinguished persons to Guyana this year could be of higher importance than the visit of Venezuela's new Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr Davila Garcia which begins today. It is understood that the visit is the outcome of talks initiated by our own distinguished new Foreign Minister, the Hon. Rudy Insanally.

Projects of co-operation, it is reported, will be central to the discussions including importantly Guyana's access to the oil facility.

However of overarching importance will be the continuing consideration of steps to resolve the controversy, which has arisen as a result of Venezuela's unwarranted revival of claims to five-eighths of Guyana's territory.

Guyana's position remains firm namely that the l899 Arbitral Award was entirely valid; and that the actual border lines were demarcated on the ground and agreed to in an official document signed by both parties in l905.

This controversy has had grave consequences for Guyana in the past and is currently a major impediment to Guyana's development.

It is deeply disturbing that the respect for Guyana's borders is being observed only in terms of the absence of cross border incursions and overflights. On reflection, such non-incursion compliance should be seen for what it is, an insufficient and negative basis for the development of genuine relationships of co-operation with Guyana. As such "technical" respect of the borders is accompanied by the strident expression of claims to Guyana's territory, investment in the Essequibo region is effectively deterred.

It is as if, while there is no trespassing, threats to one's ownership of a property discouraged anyone from renting it or a bank from lending money for its development.

Investment, and in particular foreign investment, is essential for the development of the Essequibo region. Utterances and other action which deter investment thus constitute in a real sense forms of aggression, even in the absence of incursions.

Rapid development of Guyana which at this stage must be mainly resource based development is the essential underpinning of Guyana's internal security. Constitutional adjustments alone cannot promote the cohesiveness of Guyana's society. The only sure cement is a high level of economic development in which all sectors of society can benefit significantly from the gains.

This is no time for fuzzing the issues. It must be plainly said that in addition to the question of territorial integrity what is at stake in the deterrence of investment in the Essequibo region by baseless territorial claims is nothing less than the security of Guyana as a viable, cohesive small state.

Nor is Guyana the only loser. The exercise of unacceptable pressure on a small neighbouring state is altogether out of keeping with the leadership role in the developing world which Venezuela seeks to play.

It is understood that there is now a proposal to seek agreement on maritime demarcation while leaving the territorial issue to one side. But this will not do as maritime demarcation derives from land borders and has implicit profound consequences for such borders.

Once before at a time of protracted but fruitless negotiations and bitter disputes and hostility between Guyana and Venezuela there was an act of major statesmanship on both sides namely the agreement reached on the Protocol of Port-of-Spain in June l970. The Protocol provided that so long as it remained in force "no claim whatever...." shall be asserted by Venezuela to territorial sovereignty in the territories of Guyana or by Guyana to territorial sovereignty in the territory of Venezuela".

The Protocol also provided that the two governments "shall explore all possibilities of better understanding between them and their peoples and in particular shall undertake periodic reviews through normal diplomatic channels of their relations with a view to promoting their improvement and with the aim of producing a constructive advancement of the same".

The Protocol of Port-of-Spain was in force for twelve years and was renewable thereafter for successive periods of twelve years each. Sadly, Venezuela did not agree to its renewal and so the Protocol lapsed.

But it is surely agreements which embody similar provisions to the Protocol quoted above which must provide the essential framework for co-operation between Guyana and Venezuela. That is why that Protocol should be revisited and its provisions revived in a new Protocol or Agreement .

What about a Bolivarian Protocol of Georgetown? Such a Protocol would not only be the keystone for building bilateral diplomacy but a major advance in intra-regional relations.