Guyana wades into Barbados/T&T maritime dispute
-will protect interests within UN mechanism
February 18, 2004
Guyana is taking steps to safeguard its interests given the implications of Barbados' challenge to a maritime agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
Foreign Affairs Minister Rudy Insanally said yesterday that, "as interested parties we will have to see how our interests are best preserved." This was after negotiations to settle the maritime boundary dispute between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago failed. Barbados, through the United Nations, has now initiated a compulsory international arbitration process to settle the dispute, although it remains committed to bilateral talks.
The maritime delimitation agreement between Venezuela and Trinidad infringes upon Guyana's maritime boundary and that of Barbados. It is also behind the failure of Barbados and Trinidad to enter into a new bilateral fishing agreement. There have been several altercations over the issue with the most recent being a little more than a week ago when two Barbadian boat captains were arrested. Although both captains were later released without prosecution Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur announced the introduction of a system of monitoring licences on a wide range of goods from Trinidad.
Barbados has now moved to the UN to challenge the legitimacy of the 1990 Delimitation Agreement. This has significant implications for Guyana, which is embroiled in a border controversy with Venezuela.
On Monday, Trinidad's Prime Minister Patrick Manning met with Arthur in Barbados, where they held closed door talks to resolve the issue.
But at a press conference after the meeting Arthur announced the decision by Barbados to take the matter to arbitration under the UN Law of the Sea Convention to reach a resolution.
"I believe Prime Minister Manning shares my assessment that there is no possibility of a negotiated settlement of the maritime boundary between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago that does not compromise the interests of Barbados and Guyana," Arthur said.
According to him, the delimitation treaty acknowledges Venezuela's claims to most of Guyana's maritime territory and apportions territory to both countries which they are not entitled to under International law. He said it was not binding or relevant to Barbados or any third party.
"It purports unilaterally to appropriate to Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago an enormous part of Barbados' and Guyana's maritime territory, as well as one-third of Guyana's land territory," he also noted.
Arthur pointed out that all members of the conference of Heads of Caricom, of which Trinidad is a part, annually reaffirm their commitment to support the territorial integrity of Guyana with respect to Venezuela's claims.
Yesterday, Insanally told Stabroek News that in 2002 Guyana had indicated to both countries that the agreement impinged on certain portions of the country's maritime space. He said too that these concerns were also registered with the United Nations Secretary General.
"Our position is on record and we hope in the spirit of the region... we hope to resolve these [issues]," he stated.
Insanally also said he hoped that the row between sister Caricom states Barbados and Trinidad could be amicably resolved in the spirit of the community.
Arthur said the UN Secretary General and the President of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea had been notified of the action taken by Barbados. The Barbados' Foreign Affairs Ministry was instructed to issue a formal communication to its Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, which was notified that a dispute settlement mechanism under the UNCLOS was activated.
Barbados Attorney General Mia Mottley will lead the arbitration delegation to the UN.
Vaughan Lowe, Professor of International Law at Oxford University has been appointed to serve as arbitrator for Barbados while Trinidad and Tobago has yet to make an appointment.
But while the announcement of the new sanctions against Trinidad's exports was made since last Saturday, it has yet to be implemented. This is because bilateral initiatives are still being explored.
Arthur proposed a meeting for today to facilitate any bilateral solutions, without any prejudice to the final delimitation relating to fishing in the north territorial sea of the island Tobago, which has been done historically by Barbados.
Yesterday, while unwilling to comment to the Trinidad media on the issue, Manning said a tentative visit by Arthur was planned for Friday instead.
Meanwhile, Guyana's border controversy with Venezuela is expected to be one of the issues on the agenda when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrives for a one-day visit tomorrow. The controversy has affected oil and natural gas exploration in Essequibo.
Arthur has defended his actions over import sanctions, noting that under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, countries have a right to introduce import restrictions where there was clear evidence that their domestic production suffered, or faced such a threat, from participating in the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
He pointed out that Barbados' trade balance with Trinidad and Tobago has grown in disproportionate terms. He said in 2003 imports exceeded exports by some $330 million. (Andre Haynes)