President Maduro to Guyana’s President Ali: You Are Opening the Door to the Devil

Orinoco Tribune, December 18, 2023 —

President Maduro reproached his Guyanese counterpart for having agreed to carry out a series of military exercises with the United States in Guyana.

From 2:00 pm until 4:08 pm on Thursday afternoon, a meeting was held between the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana, Nicolás Maduro and Mohamed Irfaan Ali, respectively. The two presidents were joined by a high-level delegation from each of their administrations.

They spoke of the Essequibo territory, but Irfaan asked that the word “Essequibo” not be included in the Joint Declaration of Argyle, a document that sealed the commitment of both nations to rely on the Geneva Agreement (1966) and not on the Paris Arbitration Award (1899) to resolve “any dispute” between the two states.

The name of the document comes from the town of Argyle, where the international airport is located, the site chosen for the summit on the Essequibo region. Argyle is about 15 kilometers from Kingstown, the capital of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

When President Maduro entered the room with a table covered with a white tablecloth, Irfaan Ali was already sitting there. Maduro approached him and said, “you are not going to shake my hand, ahhh.” Ali seemed taken aback, but then he shook the hand of the Venezuelan head of state.

The first to speak was Ali, seated in front of Maduro. He spoke for approximately 35 minutes. He affirmed that the Paris Arbitration Award had already settled the border between Venezuela and Guyana.

“Pass me the papers,” said Maduro before starting his 30-minute presentation in response. One of the president’s team handed him a bundle of folders with blue covers that Maduro began to open while presenting the title and theme of his opening presentation: “independence was not given to us as a gift.”

During that half hour, Maduro took the opportunity to show Ali maps of Venezuela before the Arbitration Award, namely, the one of the Captaincy General (1777) and the map of today’s Venezuela after December 3, when the majority of Venezuelans voted in favor of creating the state of Guayana Esequiba, located in the large region of eastern Venezuela that, on previous maps, was usually designated as the “Reclamation Zone” [Zona en Reclamación] and covered with diagonal lines.

The Caribbean prime ministers present in the room were very interested in the subject of the referendum, so much so that, in a private meeting with President Maduro, they asked him to explain details about its legal basis, organization, and execution.

Maduro’s half hour also included questions and warnings issued towards his Guyanese peer. “What would happen if Venezuela were carrying out military exercises with the US Southern Command? The world would fall on us,” President Maduro said in the bilateral meeting. “You are opening the door to the devil,” he warned Ali, whose administration agreed with the United States to carry out a series of military exercises along Guyana’s borders with Venezuela.

The other question left on the table by Maduro was related to the licenses granted by Guyana to oil companies (ExxonMobil among them) to extract crude oil and gas from a maritime area in the Caribbean Sea yet to be demarcated and which even includes part of the Plataforma Deltana in Venezuelan waters.

To Maduro’s last statement, Irfaan Ali responded with this phrase: “but you have Chevron.” He said little about the military exercises agreed between Guyana and the United States, according to witnesses of the meeting. It was reported that President Ali said “they are for our defense.”

ICJ roll call
Again, Maduro took the floor to encourage his questioner to agree that the sea in which Guyana granted oil licenses is not demarcated. “To demarcate it, international protocols are required,” said the Venezuelan president, to which his questioner remained silent.

The Venezuelan president then touched on the International Court of Justice (ICJ). He explained to Ali that going to this court of the United Nations to resolve the dispute over the Essequibo must arise from the will of both states, Guyana and Venezuela, as indicated in the 1966 Geneva Agreement, and Venezuela does not recognize this court’s right to rule on the Essequibo claim.

At that moment, Maduro brought out the list of the 119 countries that do not recognize the ICJ. As he unfolded the paper, Maduro looked at the faces of some representatives of those nations present in the room. “You, Bahamas, here you are on the list; you do not recognize that International Court,” Maduro said looking at the face of Philip Davis, prime minister of that Caribbean island. “You, Mr. Keith (Rowley), you don’t recognize the ICJ either,” he said the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. The president closed the roll call with Irfaan Ali, whose nation likewise does not recognize the ICJ, although they went to it, in 2018, to ask it to rule on the “legal validity” of the 1899 Paris Arbitral Award, a document that placed Essequibo in the possession of Guyana which, at that time, was a British colony. Essequibo has been part of Venezuela since 1777, when the Captaincy General was founded, according to certified texts.

Once the bilateral meeting was concluded, Maduro stood up from his chair and went to President Ali to shake his hand again. Again, after a moment of hesitation on the part of President Ali, the two world leaders shook hands.

A bracelet presented as evidence
At the end of the meeting, Ali left for another room of the Granada air terminal to issue statements to the media of his country. Marcos Salgado, an Argentinian journalist based in Venezuela, where he is a correspondent for HispanTV, slipped into the press conference. “Look, he is Venezuelan,” said Irfaan Ali’s security personnel stationed in the hall. Salgado took out his international press card, reassuring the military personnel surrounding the Guyanese president.

In this press conference, one of the journalists asked Ali’s opinion about the inscription “The Essequibo belongs to Venezuela” painted on one of the military airplanes escorting President Maduro’s flight.

The reporters indicated that Ali unfastened the bracelet he was wearing on his right hand with an outline of Guyana and, showing it to the press, said that this was the map of his country.

As he left the press conference, Venezuelan journalists asked him questions on the air, but he hurried his pace. It was 4:47 pm. Four and a half hours later, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, entered the room set up for the statements and began to read the four pages of the “Argyle Joint Declaration.”

Minutes before, airport security personnel, dressed as military personnel and armed with batons, reached several impasses with the delegation of Venezuelan journalists covering the event. Guyanese security personnel even stood in front of the Telesur camera while Madeleine García, Telesur’s correspondent, was delivering a report.

At 9:06 pm, President Maduro left the Argyle International Airport to take a flight back to Venezuela. Holding hands with his wife Cilia Flores, the head of state greeted the journalists who were also about to board the plane. “Victory,” he said, raising his right hand in the midst of that strong wind typical of air terminals.

Details of the summit:

  • At 9:41 am on Thursday, President Maduro arrived at Argyle International Airport to attend the first meeting with his Guyanese counterpart Mohamed Ali Ali Irfaan Ali. There, he was received by the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, who is also president pro-tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
  • In the morning, CELAC and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held separate meetings with Presidents Maduro and Ali. They evaluated the final document.
  • Present for the day were: Celso Amorin (special advisor to Brazilian President Lula Da Silva) and Prime Ministers Roosevelt Skerrit (Dominica), Philip Davis (Bahamas), Mia Mottley (Barbados), Dickon Mitchell (Grenada), Philip Pierre (St. Lucia), Terrence Drew (St. Kitts and Nevis), and Keith Rowley (Trinidad and Tobago).
  • Earle Courtenay Rattay (chief of staff of the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations) and Miroslav Jenca (assistant secretary of the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) also attended the meeting as observers.
  • Also present were Colombian Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva and Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Gerardo Torres Zelaya, whose country will soon assume the CELAC presidency.

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