TT High Commissioner to Guyana on Venezuelan referendum: ‘We will see what happens’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

ESSEQUIBO VOTE: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro votes on Sunday in Caracas on the referendum regarding his government’s claim to the vast Essequibo, a region administered and controlled by Guyana. AP PHOTO –

GUYANA and the Caribbean were waiting on the results of a referendum held in Venezuela on Sunday, to determine whether the Essequibo region, which constitutes two-thirds of Guyana, would be claimed by Venezuela.

Conrad Enill High, TT’s High Commissioner to Guyana told Newsday on Sunday that he expected the result to be made public by no later than Monday, “…and we will see what happens (then).”

He said that for the time being, the Guyanese government was doing everything it needs to do in order to maintain its borders in the same position it had been in since 1899. There is serious concerns that, should the referendum result in favour of the position of the Venezuelan government, the Maduro regime in Caracas will seek to use military force to take control of the Essequibo region.

“Nobody can determine what will occur if that event happens, so to a very large extent, it is not a matter that should be considered at this point in time, except to say that the Government (of Guyana) is doing what it needs to in order to continue to maintain its borders in the manner in which it was before.

“The government of Guyana has continued to assure the public that it is doing everything it can to ensure the status quo is maintained while the matter goes for jurisdiction. There are, in some instances, some concern about where this issue can go, but the hope is both countries, Venezuela and Guyana, will operate in such a way that our jurisdiction remains a zone of peace and that we can continue as is accustomed, and that the matter will be dealt with. That is the hope, and that is what everyone is expecting,” Enill said.

As High Commissioner, Enill also said that TT’s position is the same as the rest of Caricom – the matter should be resolved in court.

“TT’s position is contained in the Caricom position as authorised by the leaders of Caricom. That position is clear in that it identifies that in the matter of the dispute of this nature, the International Court of Justice is the entity that will decide on this matter.

“Yesterday the court ruled on the matter and it basically said that both countries should maintain the current positions until such time that the matter is determined and that in both instances the country should seek to maintain the current position without escalating any of the issues.”

On Saturday, the ICJ delivered an order on the request by Guyana for provisional measures which included an appeal order that Venezuela not continue with a referendum in its present form, which asks opinions of the validity of the Venezuelan/Guyanese border as established in 1899, and not to take any actions that would aggravate or extend the dispute before the court.

The ICJ ruled in its order that it could not interfere with an internal election, but ordered that no actions be taken to change the current status quo.

ALI PREPARING FOR THE WORST

In an interview with the BBC, Guyanese President Irfaan Mohammed Ali said the country’s military remains on high alert in preparation for the result of Sunday’s referendum, but noted that its first line of defence would be diplomacy.

“I will say the rhetoric out of Venezuela and the behaviour and attitude of the (Venezuelan) President and Vice President necessitates serious concerns,” Ali told BBC. “We cannot be caught wanting. As president of Guyana, I have to take everything the military says very seriously. The rhetoric has not been one that is encouraging.”

He also raised concern over what he described as “reckless and adventurous behaviour,” which may be encouraged by the rhetoric coming from the Venezuelan government.

“This type of rhetoric can lead to many circumstances – people acting on their own, whipping up public sentiment around an issue which you are trying to create a conflict,” he said.

Ali said the 1899 arbitral award that settled the border was the full and final settlement of the border and Venezuela participated fully in that process. The 1966 agreement between Britain and Venezuela, Ali added, came out of Venezuela raising the issue as Guyana was about to gain its independence.

YESENIA: IT’S A SHAM

Venezuelan activist resident in TT, Yesenia Gonzales, when contacted for comment, rubbished the referendum as a sham, implying that the action may have more to do with internal Venezuelan politics rather than the border issue.

“Maduro always has to call for a referendum,” she said. “I don’t believe there is any Venezuelan in any part of the world really supporting that referendum.” She claimed that very few people had actually come out to vote on the referendum.

The social media platforms of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Minister of the People’s Power for Defence of Venezuela Vladimir Padrino Lopez all had posts which depicted leaders casting their votes on Sunday, with Maduro voting at 6 am.

However, other reports during the day indicated that voter turnout was low, much lower than the 12 million voter turnout expected by the Venezuelan government.

“All independent reports suggest a very low turnout for today’s Essequibo referendum in Venezuela,” said Venezuelan political analyst Phil Gunson in a tweet on Sunday. “Even with no voters in line, expect the government to keep polls open in a last-minute bid to bolster the numbers.”

While videos on social media depicted empty polling booths and polling agents asleep at their desks, government officials championed the referendum as a historic day for the country.

Images of indigenous people lined up in rural areas to vote, seen on Padrino’s twitter feed, contrasted the empty urban polling stations.

“Venezuela as a whole took to the streets today to democratically vote in defence of Essequibo,” a post on Padrino’s twitter account said. “We are united by the same cause. The fight continues. The sun of Venezuela is born in Essequibo.”