The return of CGX Editorial
Stabroek News
January 27, 2002

Tomorrow President Jagdeo heads for Suriname while we all hold our breath waiting to see whether he will return with good news about oil. Certainly the atmosphere for negotiating is immeasurably better than it was in 2000, after gunboats from the neighbouring state chased off the CGX rig from its moorings in an off-shore zone belonging to Guyana, but to which Suriname lays claim. Some of President Venetiaan's recent statements on the boundary - while they may have disturbing implications - at least do not reflect the militant tone of his pronouncements from his first term in office. Last November, for example, he was reported by De Ware Tijd (DWT) as saying that instead of trying to solve the boundary dispute with Guyana, Suriname should work towards the disappearance of the border altogether.

Whether he still holds rigidly to that somewhat eccentric view is not clear, since according to a DWT report of a few days ago he gave frontiers official status again by telling a party meeting that his government wanted to solve the border problem with Guyana through dialogue. This country can surely have no quarrel with the dialogue approach, but we will have to wait and see if that means that the Suriname Government is now ready to accept Guyana's eminently rational proposal from 2000, namely that there should be joint exploitation of CGX's Eagle drilling site without prejudice to any future border settlement. What does seem to be the case, according to reports emanating from Suriname, is that public opinion in the neighbouring republic might well be prepared now to entertain the return of the CGX rig on such a basis.

Guyana's Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally appeared cautiously optimistic on the matter when he spoke to Stabroek News on January 18 after returning from Suriname with the Border Commission. He said that Guyana and Suriname had agreed to "confer on arrangements of a practical nature" for co-operating without prejudice to the outcome of talks on their border dispute. This, he said, opened the way for consultations on the sharing of benefits from the exploitation of the marine resources of the disputed maritime area.

While this appears to be good news since ostensibly it delinks the question of the exploitation of oil located offshore from the boundary, there is a reservation. The issue of co-operation on petroleum exploration had been referred to the two Border Commissions, said the Foreign Minister, a seemingly contradictory decision if that issue is to be pursued independently of a resolution of the frontier dispute. The possible effect of this apparent contradiction could conceivably be neutralized, however, if the two Presidents were to agree in principle this week on the return of the CGX rig without frontier strings attached, and the commissions were then left to do the legal drafting.

While the indications are that the public on both sides of the border would likely endorse any arrangement involving joint exploitation of marine resources, and while both Government and Opposition in this country support it, there are minor parties in Suriname which are attempting to stir up nationalist feeling against the proposal. Whether non-parliamentary parties could generate enough hostility to derail it completely, however, is another matter. More disturbing, perhaps, is the report in yesterday's DWT that the Moederbond - the large trade union in the neighbouring state - is holding consultations on the border because it is concerned about developments relating to possible joint drilling in what it terms "Suriname coastal waters," and because it says President Venetiaan's administration has not consulted on the matter. In our edition yesterday we reported President Jagdeo as saying that the immediate resumption of oil exploration was unlikely, but perhaps during his visit a date for talks could be set. If that is all that is indeed achieved, then CGX might have a long wait.