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On September 6th, against the backdrop of the remnants of the glorious Aztec empire, powerful interests of the Bolivarian Republic, Mexico, The Russian Federation, Norway and the Netherlands converged to continue the work of a historic peace deal. This event marked the second round of dialogues which commenced on August 13, 2021. The first round placed electoral timetables, lifting of sanctions, economic and human security on the table. When it was time for the second, they could not resist their favorite issue which galvanizes and evokes national passions: the unjust territorial claim against little Guyana.
All present at these proceedings gleamed and beamed with unbridled joy. The gathering represented the possible amicable end to years of gridlock between the Government of Venezuela and the Opposition parties (Unitary Platform). The second meeting of these Norway brokered talks produced a statement. On the face of it, the contents appeared to encapsulate rapprochement and détente which one would have found difficult to envision a few years ago. The region and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief because the implications suggest that this was possibly the beginning of the end of the Venezuelan migration crisis and its concomitant political, social and economic fallouts. However, like all things diplomatic, the devil is always in the details. Here, in Georgetown, genuine smiles turned wry, gloom quickly metamorphosed into doom, delight transformed into disappointment. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the statement were detected. This part of the agreement reiterated and ratified Venezuela’s incessant claim over the Essequibo and resolved to end the controversy based on the Geneva Agreement. Signed by Jorge Rodriguez Gomez, Nicolas Ernesto Maduro Guerra, Gerardo Blyde and Roberto Enriquez, the historic agreement poured scorn on the legal process currently engaging the International Court of Justice where Guyana is assured of a favorable ruling on the side of international law.
CLEVER DIPLOMATIC MANEUVERING
Given this development, what conclusions and observations can be drawn from these seeming chess moves? In my estimation, attention must be placed on the fact that Palacio de Miraflores appears to have spotted an opportunity to advance its Essequibo policy. Perhaps having recognized that the world’s attention is heavily focused on the flurry of activities surrounding the talks, a diplomatic masterclass has been attempted. It was never going to be any significant effort to get all parties on board with this part of the statement. Despite national disagreements, the return of Essequibo under the aegis of Venezuela remains the eternal unifying force among all and sundry under the sun of the Bolivarian Republic. Evidently, the Maduro regime has seized the opportunity to get the imprimatur of major nations attached to a diplomatic activity which seeks internal peace but inadvertently lends credence to calls for the border controversy to be settled according to the Geneva Agreement of 1966. As a consequence, South America’s version of the Oslo Peace Accord has become a forum to diminish the legal proceedings on the border controversy and by extension, rendering the final judgment less impactful. This is clever diplomatic maneuvering.
THE ROLE OF DAG NYLANDER
Another important aspect of this development is the fact that the chief architect of these talks is the Norwegian diplomat par excellence, Dag Nylander. Those familiar with all things Guyana/Venezuela border controversy would immediately recognize this name. Ambassador Dag Nylander was appointed by Secretary-General of the United Nations HE Antonio Guterres in the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela in 2017. The skilled negotiator made several visits to Guyana and Venezuela in this role. Today, Mr. Nylander is the Director at NOREF (Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution) and is Norway’s man who serves as the chief facilitator of these talks. He is considered a Latin American specialist and was integral to the negotiations between 2012 and 2016 which were designed to end Colombia’s never-ending armed conflict. Not only is he extremely familiar with the border controversy, but he also enjoys special access to the Maduro regime, the United Nations and Cuba. Consequently, having an emissary with this considerable global clout watching over peace negotiations with a border issue at its center will have some significant impact. Perhaps that impact could come in the form of reassurances that once the International Criminal Court rules in favor of Guyana, the global pressure to enforce international law could be cushioned. Importantly, it would be extremely difficult to know if this is the case. These affairs are extremely clandestine and byzantine, altogether made more acute by the presence of Dag Nylander who some describe as the ideal interlocutor who subscribes to the doctrine of discrete mediation. Whether this evidence-based conjecture is on the mark or off the mark, nothing can take away from the fact that from Guyana’s standpoint, this development has to be considered troubling.
DIMINISHING THE COURT’S RULING
Anyone who thinks that a ruling by the ICJ will bring down the curtains on this controversy has to be someone who also believes in unicorns. The Venezuelans have long expressed their cynicism of the court and have stuck steadfastly to their position-the issue should be resolved according to the Geneva Agreement. What occurred in Mexico has further crystallized these sentiments. As outlined in Article IV (2) of the Geneva Agreement, if all avenues for resolution of the controversy have been exhausted with no agreement, the two countries shall refer the matter to an appropriate organ upon which they both agree. Since the ICJ is the choice of settlement selected by Guyana, the Venezuelans have used this development as an opportunity to diminish the legal proceedings and have called for direct negotiations. The developments in Mexico are in furtherance of this cause. In my estimation, this joint statement has set a firm global stage to diminish the ruling of the court once it rules in favor of Guyana. So the question is begged: what is the point of going through this legal avenue? Authorities on the matter such as former Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge have argued that once the court rules in favor of Guyana, we are fully clothed, once again, in international law and any attempts to disregard the court’s ruling will be seen as bullyism and the flouting of the rules of the international system. This sounds well and good but if we are to make calculations based on proceedings in Mexico, one would have little choice but to conclude that Guyana should prepare to think beyond the legal strategy. After all, we live in a world where might is right. I am with Assistant Professor of Law Andrew T. Guzman, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley who argued: compliance with international law comes about in a model of rational, self-interested states.
Specifically, states are concerned about both reputational and direct sanctions for their conduct.
Based on the posturing surrounding this joint statement, it is reasonable to ask: is there an international enterprise afoot that aims to diminish the ruling of the court, if it rules in favor of Guyana?