By Alexis R. Milan
The Government of Belize made its position clear on the matter involving Venezuela’s claim over a portion of Guyana’s maritime territory, declaring its whole-hearted and unwavering support for Guyana over Venezuela.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow made the declaration of Belize’s foreign policy on the issue at Wednesday’s press conference, where he addressed concerns over the nature of the encounter at Sarstoon Island between the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) and the Guatemalan navy.
Before this public declaration no government official had offered a position on the issue.
“How could we not support Guyana?”, Barrow asked, paralleling Belize’s own struggle in asserting its territorial integrity in the face of claims by a larger, more aggressive neighbor.
He added that officials from Belize were also a part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) meeting several weeks ago, where it was resolved that all member nations would support fellow-member Guyana, notwithstanding the fact that many Caribbean nations rely heavily on aid from Venezuela through its PetroCaribe program.
Belize’s position, though based on the stance of fellowship with Guyana, is still a bit of a surprise to some, considering the Barrow administration’s reliance on PetroCaribe to finance countless infrastructural and social development programs, which it claims is the hallmark of their tenure in government.
Questions remain on how Venezuela’s ambassador to Belize will receive Belize’s position and what, if any, impact it could have in terms of Venezuela’s support for Belize.
Venezuela has long-claimed about two-thirds of Guyana, dating back to the early 19th century and has become more insistent about a large marine area where the oil company Exxon Mobil Corporation, says it made a significant oil discovery, which could be valued up to US $40 billion.
David Granger, Guyana’s newly elected president, has praised CARICOM for ensuring that the region remains peaceful.
“We already have some commercial and cultural relations with Venezuela, and we expect those relations to continue,” he said. However Venezuela has already began cutting ties with the country.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has recalled his nation’s ambassador to neighboring Guyana after statements by Granger that Venezuela was excessively intruding into Guyanese maritime territory. Maduro has also urged the international community to support a Venezuelan takeover of Guyanese Caribbean waters.
Maduro has also ordered a full review of Venezuelan relations with Guyana. Granger, he claimed, was participating in a “grave campaign to promote hatred, distrust, and negative elements regarding the character of the Venezuelan being and his history and the libertarian tradition of the people of Bolívar.”
The Venezuelan government even accused Guyana of working with international agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to penetrate and undermine their government.
Under the PetroCaribe agreement between those two nations Guyana sends 200,000 tons of rice every year, about 40 percent of its total rice production, in exchange for petroleum at preferential rates under the program.
But, according to Guyanese Finance Minister Winston Jordan, the Venezuelan government threatened to stop buying rice from Granger’s government by 2016, which would mean that Guyana might have to buy oil from Venezuela at market prices using hard currency.
The United Nations (UN) has since appointed a mission, which will travel to Venezuela and Guyana to promote dialogue between both nations over the border dispute.
Some political and diplomatic pundits have said that Guyana and other CARICOM nations have had to tread carefully on the issue since almost all member countries, including Belize, benefit from Venezuela’s energy alliance, PetroCaribe, while around half a dozen of them are members of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).
Venezuela, Guyana and other CARICOM countries are also members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Additionally, Guyana is an original signatory to the Treaty of Chaguaramas that established CARICOM.