Venezuela – Guyana Maritime Crisis. International Law & the CARICOM Doctrine

The Law of the Sea Treaty, formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS III, was adopted in 1982.  Its purpose is to establish a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and to replace previous U.N. Conventions on the Law of the Sea, one in 1958 (UNCLOS I) and another in 1960 (UNCLOS II), that were believed to be inadequate. Negotiated in the 1970s, the treaty was heavily influenced by the “New International Economic Order,” a set of economic principles first formally advanced at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  That agenda called for “fairer” terms of trade and development financing for the so-called under-developed and developing nations. In additional to the economic provisions, the treaty also establishes specific jurisdictional limits on the ocean area that countries may claim, including a 12-mile territorial sea limit and a 200-mile exclusive economic zone limit.

However, Venezuela have neither signed nor acceded, but, Guyana have signed on December 1982, deposited in 1993 and ratification done in 2008. Article 76 and 82 (of the UNCOS) is important if one is to discuss state and non-state parties to the law of the sea convention conundrum. For instance, article 76 of the convention was linked to article 82 on payments and contributions with respect to the exploitation of the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. It may be unacceptable for parties to the convention that this linkage is not present for non-parties. So in other words parties are bound to the outlines in the convention and non-parties are not bound. Albeit, they may share a common interest in defining the terms, but, things such as payments (article 82) – in this case Venezuela. Thus, Venezuela albeit a non-state party must come to terms with a state in the exploration and exploitation of natural resources beyond the 200 nautical miles, but, issuing a decree to claim territorial sea within the 200 nautical is a clear “annexation” of Guyana’s sovereign waters.

In 1968, then Venezuelan President Raul Leoni had purported to issue a similar decree annexing part of Guyana’s sea space and in May (2015) Nicolas Maduro issued a similar decree annexing maritime zones belonging to Guyana. Venezuela’s action collides with international law, international maritime law and a complete breach of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, I had previously thought that CARICOM diplomatic efforts to this “maritime crisis” would be to either hush on the matter amidst Venezuela economic support to the region. Because we’ve notice 12 of its nations under PetroCaribe and about 7 under ALBA) Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas). However, being cognizant of CARICOM being no stranger to standing for what is right against “bullying” or acts of aggression even if they are standing up against their biggest donor; I knew they would do the right thing. For instance, we’ve noticed there stand against America’s so called “imperialism” in solidarity with Venezuela while receiving many aid from the United States (CBI, CBSI, CBTPA etc.). Recently, the Caribbean region also received some $1.8 Billion in aid assistance to the Caribbean and Latin America with the Caribbean alone receiving a whopping $370 Million USD. Also, Humanitarian Aid from the U.S. to Latin America and the Caribbean were some $1.2 Billion.

I agree, the Caribbean region suffers from one of the highest energy costs and Venezuela economic assistance is of great importance to CARICOM, but, also a lesson to the region that it is time fix our dependency issue and come up with pragmatic solutions to solving the said. Ironically enough, the Caribbean still struggles with high electricity prices amidst the PretroCaribe Agreement. For instance, Conventional electricity prices in the Caribbean are more than four times that of the U.S., due in part to high shipping costs for the Venezuelan crude that fuels our region’s power plants (Schiffman, R, 2014).

Trinidad and Tobago is doing quite well and not because they have Oil because “Nigeria” has oil. But, is currently experiencing a case of “Dutch Disease” and so is Venezuela (dubious). Yes I know what about those who don’t have that very important natural resource (OIL). Barbados a country with not a vast amount of “oil” (in the exploration process) is doing quite well and did not take the PetroCaribe deal. For example, in Barbados there are solar panels and water heaters sprouting from government buildings, hospitals, police stations, even bus shelters as well as thousands of private homes throughout the Island. Thus, a Lack of political will is the problem with CARICOM.

Some may argue that the strategic approach to take would be to stand with Venezuela amidst being a huge recipient of Venezuela charitable contributions. Meanwhile, negating international law and maritime laws and principles. However, in doing so would have been at a much greater cost in the long term. For instance, it is feasible that the United States and commonwealth (UK) enormous support to CARICOM may have started to “dwindle” or even perhaps be ostracize in one way or the other (amidst both entities are enmesh in the Venezuela – Guyana dispute). Thus, CARICOM stance with Guyana while being cautious not to excoriate Venezuela’s actions to much was the right approach. This shows that CARICOM  can be pragmatic in their international affairs By respecting international Laws and Maritime Laws, but, at the same time not lambasting Venezuela (an important ally), but, instead try to pacify the issues envisage finding some sort of common ground.

Emmanuel Quashie


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