Tensions flare between Guyana and SVG as PM Gonsalves pictured with controversial map

PM Gonsalves approached by Guyana to clarify why he was pictured with a map of Venezuela in which Essequibo has been annexed.

Contested area between Guyana and Venezuela. (Image Credits: Google Images)
Contested area between Guyana and Venezuela. (Image Credits: Google Images)

The government of Guyana reached out to PM Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines on Wednesday regarding a controversial picture in which PM Gonsalves is seen posing next to a map of Venezuela with the disputed region of Essequibo having been annexed in it.

This is a matter of concern for the government of Guyana as it attempts to keep Venezuela’s advances towards the Essequibo region at bay. It is also out of character for PM Gonsalves to seem to lean towards Venezuela as he has been deeply involved in the mediation between the two sides, having hosted peace talks between Guyana and Venezuela recently.

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The peace talks which were attended by several CARICOM and South American leaders, resulted in the drafting of the Argyle Declaration which was meant to improve the situation between Guyana and Venezuela. On the contrary, the announcement that the Royal Navy’s HMS Trent planned on visiting the shore of Guyana as part of a routine exercise threw a spanner in the works.

The Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd, is seeking a clarification on the matter, having told reliable sources that the picture was taken at an event held in December of 2022. He added that, “The photo is dated and we expect clarity on the event itself.”

His counterpart in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Keisal Melissa Peters, also appears in the picture and has been conversing with Todd regarding the same.

The issue gained prominence after Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to the United States and the Organisation of American States (OAS), posted the picture via his official Facebook handle.

He has stated categorically that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was unaware of the fact that the map represented the annexation of the Essequibo region, which is Guyanese territory and makes up two-thirds of the total landmass of Guyana.

Naturally, Guyana is concerned for the security of the region and its 125,000 citizens who are perceived to be at risk. It must also be noted that Essequibo is extremely rich in mineral deposits, making it an immensely important region for the nation.

Sir Ronald Sanders also stated the following, “I have known and highly regarded Dr Ralph Gonsalves for over 40 years. I cannot be convinced that, when he held up this map, showing the Essequibo incorporated into Venezuela, he was made aware of the image. The Ralph Gonsalves, I know and respect, would not consciously do such a one-sided thing while the world awaits a decision on the Guyana-Venezuela controversy from the International Court of Justice, and while he, himself, is playing the role of CELAC’s honest broker.”

The recent peace talks held in St Vincent and the Grenadines were mediated and influenced by PM Gonsalves and PM Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, who also happens to be the chairman of CARICOM, making them both quite significant to the efforts being made towards finding a lasting solution to the dispute.

Gonsalves also happens to be the Pro-Tempore Chairman of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which makes him an imminent figure in Caribbean and South American polity.

This is why, a controversial picture, such as the one which initiated this kerfuffle, can cause issues as PM Gonsalves is seen as an unbiased figure who can’t pick sides in a dispute between two of his nation’s regional partners.

The peace talks in St Vincent and the Grenadines were also influenced by the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, through his special adviser and envoy, Celso Amorim, who delineated Brazil’s perspective on the dispute as a major regional player.

PM Gonsalves also spoke about the two nations on a radio program in Kingston, stating that the leaders of both Guyana and Venezuela felt like they had achieved a degree of success during the peace talks by addressing some of the important issues surrounding the dispute over Essequibo.

According to Gonsalves, Guyana had achieved significant goals as both nations agreed to refrain from using force against each other. This was an important development for Guyana as it has a smaller population and standing army when compared to Venezuela.

Guyana and Venezuela also came to the agreement that any issues or controversies that come up between the two nations would be resolved in accordance with the Geneva Agreement of February 17, 1966 and the relevant international laws.

This had been included in the Joint Declaration of Argyle for Dialogue and Peace, which established this stipulation in writing between the two nations, giving it immense credence.

Prime Minister Gonsalves also highlighted the fact that through the agreement, both President Irfaan Ali and President Nicholas Maduro ensured that the use of force and violence, whether direct or indirect is absolutely unacceptable for either side.

He added that, “Now, that’s an amazing proclamation. That’s an amazing agreement.”

The tenuous balance between the two sides and their perception of regional partners who are acting as mediators have to be maintained to ensure that the dispute does not devolve into a conflict and that peace is maintained in the region.

Interestingly, Guyana and Venezuela enjoy functional partnerships with multiple nations in the Caribbean and the South American region. This is why these nations do not wish to pick sides in this dispute and would much rather see the problems between them resolved through peaceful means.

With international pressure growing and major players such as the United States and the United Kingdom backing Guyana, both sides need to tread carefully so as not to initiate a conflict over a misunderstanding that could be resolved through dialogue.