Guyana must check out this controversial treaty RICKEY SINGH COLUMN
By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
February 15, 2004

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WHILE the hierarchy of the governing People's Progressive Party is caught up in exposing what it said is a falsehood by one of its Central Committee members against President Bharrat Jagdeo, the Guyana Head of State, as well as his Foreign Minister, may need to interest themselves in a particular aspect of the current raging fishing rights row between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

But before returning to the fishing row issue, let there be no doubt that there is more to the current open verbal tango involving Khemraj Ramjattan and the PPP.

Readers may know something of the animosity that the parliamentarian Ramjattan has been revealing in his writings and public comments - long before the disclosure of having been accused, wrongly he said, by Jagdeo at a PPP Central Committee meeting of taking party business to, of all places, the United States Embassy in Georgetown.

There followed last week's vehement collective denial of "falsehood" of such an allegation by Ramjattan from the entire Central Committee - except, of course, former cabinet minister Moses Nagamootoo who agrees with Ramjattan - his party colleague and law chamber partner.

With Ramjattan's announced decision to resign from the party's Central Committee - but presumably not from the party or the National Assembly where he is one of the PPP's representatives - focus will be on Nagamootoo's own position.

Both are known to be at serious variance with Jagdeo, to put it mildly - with Nagamootoo on record as being prepared to challenge him for the presidency - although the PPP have already reaffirmed its endorsement of the incumbent President.

For its part, the US embassy - quick to join the Canadian High Commission in Georgetown in also revoking a visa issued to Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj, but very tardy in renewal of the visa for International Trade Minister Clement Rohee - must now be wondering when again it would be cited for involvement in local party politics.

So far as the latest Barbados - Trinidad and Tobago fishing rights dispute is concerned, one that goes back some 14 years, the aspect that must be of immediate concern to Guyana - its government, opposition and civil society - is the charge made public last week by the Barbadian Prime Minister, Owen Arthur.

Locating Dispute
In an angry response to Trinidad and Tobago, provoked by the arrest of two Barbadian fishermen for illegally fishing in Tobago waters - they have since been released - Arthur said that the failure to resolve the fishing rights dispute is located in a 1990 treaty signed between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.

Therein lies, differently, the problem for Guyana: As Arthur has made public, the Trinidad and Tobago/Venezuela Maritime Delimitation Treaty, "acknowledges Venezuela's claim to most of Guyana's territory and apportions maritime territory to Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to which they are not entitled under international law..."

Incidentally, that treaty would have been entered into under the government in Port-of-Spain then headed by former President ANR Robinson.

It was criticised by then Opposition Leader Patrick Manning who, as Prime Minister, has made no attempt to review it, much to the expressed disappointment of the Bridgetown administration of Arthur.

Negotiations on maritime delimitation boundaries involve not only Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela but also Barbados and Grenada. They have to do as much with fishing rights as potential oil and other resources in the Caribbean Sea they share.

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada, with whom I spoke on Friday, said it would not be "helpful at this time to engage in any public comment" on the fishing rights dispute between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

But he acknowledged the need for a resolution to the outstanding issue of delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) boundaries as they impact on Grenada, Venezuela, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

The question of immediate relevance for Guyana is: How can any member state of CARICOM - in this case Trinidad and Tobago - which is on record as repeatedly supporting this nation's rejection of Venezuela's claim to some two thirds of its territory, at the same time enter into a treaty with Venezuela that in effect acknowledges the claim to Guyanese territory, knowing it would be a violation of international law?

The Guyana Foreign Minister as well as the Attorney General would be expected to give some urgent attention to this dimension of the current fishing row between two CARICOM member states, without prejudice to this country's good relations with either amid the ongoing efforts with Caracas to resolve the age-old 19th century territorial dispute.

More of Same
While the government is so involved, perhaps the Guyanese public should be informed about the status of fishing arrangements, as they may exist, between Guyana and Barbados, or with Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Both President Jagdeo and Prime Minister Arthur were singing from the same hymn sheet a year ago in Port-of-Spain in urging the creation of a regional fisheries policy, with a single executive authority to administer the development, exploitation and preservation of the marine resources of CARICOM states.

Why no progress on this score by CARICOM? It could resolve more than the current acrimonious relations between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago over fishing rights.

In its absence, it is 'deja vu' or, as the Oxford dictionary explains, there is something tediously familiar about the row that flared up last week between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

And it appears that, as was the case in December 2001, good people on both sides, separated by some 214 miles of the blue Caribbean Sea, are left as perplexed spectators to the public behaviour of government leaders who seem to prefer shooting from the mouth, rather than controlling their anger, and engage in quiet, effective diplomacy.

What further complicates the problem, is the alacrity with which leading, experienced officials of the business communities in both Bridgetown and Port-of-Spain, move to take sides with THEIR Prime Minister - as if out of compulsion.

Instead, of course, demonstrating that level of restraint and reflecting attitudes that may inspire sober negotiations; and not the tit-for-tat politics that could destroy what the region, collectively, have invested with so much time and resources to build - the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

At the time of writing, the feared reprisal from Barbados to affect Trinidad and Tobago's trade and investment relations with that Eastern Caribbean state did not take place.

And the signals for matured, level-headed approach were flickering both in Port-of-Spain and Bridgetown, even as the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown stood ready to help play a mediating role, if necessary.