Guyana gets renewed Commonwealth backing
Stabroek News
March 3, 2002

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Commonwealth leaders meeting in Coolum, Australia have again strongly come out in support of Guyana's quest to pursue its development objectives in the face of Venezuelan attempts to thwart investments in Essequibo.

President Bharrat Jagdeo briefed heads on the border controversy with Venezuela during yesterday's first executive session at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and they expressed solidarity with Guyana, according to Foreign Minister, Rudy Insanally. As has been the case at recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, the affirmation of this position will be contained in the final communiqué to be issued on Tuesday at the end of the conference.

Asked what this meant in practice, Insanally told Stabroek News in Coolum that it was hoped that Commonwealth countries would intervene positively wherever they can in enabling Guyana to fulfil its development objectives. He noted the recent visit to Guyana by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Luis Davila and described it as positive.

The Commonwealth has co-opted a committee to monitor developments in the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy and it includes South Africa, the UK, Canada and Antigua. The decision to set up the committee followed sabre-rattling by Venezuela and aggressive attempts by the Hugo Chavez administration to scare off investment in the Essequibo region which Venezuela claims in defiance of the 1899 arbitral award.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon at a pre-conference briefing on March 1 had said that the border dispute between Guyana and Suriname was also expected to surface. Insanally said that the issue came up "tangentially" since the committee had been mandated to monitor only the Venezuelan situation.

Guyana's eastern neighbour and fellow CARICOM state, Suriname evicted an oil rig from this country's waters using military force. It claimed the rig was operating in its waters and has since used this as a lever to press wider border claims. Meanwhile, oil exploration by the rig - contracted by the Canadian company CGX - has been on hold since June 2000.

Venezuela on the western front has also persuaded at least two oil drillers not to prospect in Guyana's waters because of the border controversy. It had also tried to dissuade the US company Beal from setting up a satellite launching project here. The Beal plans eventually fell through.