Jagdeo: Guyana preparing for the worst after Venezuela’s referendum

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Bharrat Jagdeo –

GUYANA vice-president Bharrat Jagdeo says his country will prepare for the worst as it moves to defend itself “by all means necessary,” after reports that Venezuelans had overwhelmingly voted to support their government’s claim to the resource-rich Essequibo region on Sunday. The Essequibo constitutes two-thirds of Guyana.

The Venezuelan government, led by president Nicholas Maduro, has been seeking to establish ownership over the Essequibo. Guyana is opposing that claim and the matter is now before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On Monday, Venezuela government officials said ten million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s referendum and the support given for each of five questions claiming that country’s rights over the Essequibo and rejecting the remit of the ICJ ranged from 95.4-98.11 per cent. It said 20 million were eligible to vote.

In an interview with News Room Guyana while at a United Nations Summit in Dubai, Jagdeo opined it was unlikely Venezuela would resort to a military seizure of the territory, however, his government was working with international partners to build capacity among other things to strengthen Guyana’s position.

“We don’t believe they have a mandate for anything and, secondly, that they will invade Guyana.

He said assessments done by international media and other bodies suggested that Venezuela would not invade but Guyana’s leadership could not accept such assurances from Maduro’s government.

“Even if that is so, we have to be prepared for any eventuality and we must not let our guard down or let ourselves be less vigilant.

“We have to be very vigilant in this upcoming period because the Venezuelan leadership has shown itself to be very unpredictable and, therefore, that is why we have been working with our partners to ensure that we enhance defence co-operation, so that should the worse outcome happen, that we can defend our country by all means necessary.”

Describing Guyana as not being a belligerent country, Jagdeo said it was acting out of precaution.

“We are not one that will threaten Venezuela so we are acting purely in a precautionary manner and in a defence capability, but that does not mean that, should they defy the international code of justice, or defy the consensus in the world, we would just sit down and accept it.”

Just five months after Guyana gained independence from Britain in October 1966, Venezuelan troops moved across the border of Ankoko Island, occupying Guyana’s half of the island and building an airstrip. This is after the island was divided to give Venezuela half of it.

Asked if Venezuela were to employ a similar tactic with the Essequibo, Jagdeo said: “I don’t want to deal with hypotheticals.

“We don’t to seem as belligerent as Venezuela has been because that’s language for them.

“We have made it clear, we are before the ICJ (International Court of Justice).

Jagdeo said Guyana would not remove its case from the ICJ.

“The ICJ has made it clear that they intend to hear the case to its finality. We believe we have a strong case.

“Venezuela will have a very hard time proving the 1899 award was flawed, and we believe we’d have an entirely positive ruling in our favour once the substantive matter is concluded definitively by the court.”

Last week, the ICJ ordered Venezuela to refrain from any action that would alter Guyana’s control over the Essequibo.

However, Venezuela does not recognise the ICJ and has rejected it numerous times.

Instead, it relies on the 1966 Geneva Agreement which provided for a negotiated settlement of the borders that never materialised.

Jagdeo believes Maduro “rigged” the outcome of Sunday’s referendum and with a reported half of eligible voters turning up, Jagdeo called it a defeat for the Venezuela government.

“People just rejected that. They saw it as a distraction from the electoral problems that Maduro faces at home.”