Guyana and Venezuela agree not to use force in Essequibo dispute

The leaders of Guyana and Venezuela promised at a meeting on Thursday last in St. Vincent that neither side would use threats or force against the other in the dispute over the oil-rich Essequibo region.

Irfaan Ali and Nicolas Maduro

A joint commission composed of the foreign ministers of both countries and other officials will address the problem, with a report expected within three months.

Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have agreed to meet again in Brazil within three months or at another agreed-upon time, according to an 11-point declaration read at a press briefing after the meeting on Thursday.

They also agreed to “refrain, whether by words or deeds, from escalating any conflict,” the declaration said.

Tension over the border region of Essequibo has raised concerns about a military conflict. Venezuela insists Essequibo was part of its territory during the Spanish colonial period and argues that a 1966 Geneva agreement among Venezuela, Britain and then-British Guiana, now Guyana, nullified a border drawn in 1899 by international arbitrators.

The dispute was recently reignited with the discovery of oil in Guyana. The dispute escalated when Venezuela reported that its citizens had voted in a Dec. 3 referendum to claim two-thirds of Guyana.

The declaration noted that Guyana believes the border controversy should be resolved by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands, and that Venezuela did not consent to that and does not recognize the court or its jurisdiction in the dispute.

President Ali noted that while both parties are committed to keeping peace in the region, Guyana “is not the aggressor.”

“Guyana is not seeking war, but Guyana reserves the right to work with all of our partners to ensure the defense of our country,” he said.

Maduro had said ahead of the meeting that “we will make the most of it so that our Latin America and the Caribbean remains a zone of peace.”

Attending the meeting were several Caribbean prime ministers.

Maduro has ordered state-owned companies to explore and exploit the oil, gas and mines in Essequibo and both sides have put their military forces on alert.

The U.S. Southern Command has recently conducted flight operations within Guyana