NEW YORK –– The presidents of Guyana and Venezuela met face-to-face over the weekend and have agreed to restore diplomatic relations, returning their ambassadors to their posts. A special technical committee has also been established by the United Nations (UN) to try to find a solution to the South American neighbours’ long-standing border dispute.
President David Granger of Guyana and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro met for the first time and talks were chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly yesterday evening.
It was clear that, despite the show of good faith, tensions remain. The UN chief had to make a request for the two to shake hands as they appeared before the media, and the two smiled briefly as the cameras flashed.
The Venezuelan leader acknowledged the discussions were “tense and difficult”.
Granger, meanwhile, speaking with Guyanese media after the meeting, maintained Venezuela was to blame for the current state of affairs.
The meeting was requested by Maduro to discuss the way forward with respect to the border controversy. Venezuela has been laying claim to the vast mineral-rich area of jungle west of the Essequibo River, which accounts for about 40 per cent of Guyana’s territory since the 19th century. Guyana says that after agreeing to relinquish the Essequibo, following a ruling by an international tribunal in 1899, Venezuela backtracked on the decision. Caracas insists the 1899 ruling was unfair.
Earlier this year, Maduro also extended Venezuela’s maritime claims after Exxon Mobil announced it had made a significant oil discovery in Guyana’s territorial waters.
“The two presidents expressed willingness to continue to engage in dialogue, and announced during the meeting that they would receive their respective ambassadors in order to ensure a return to fully fledged diplomatic representation in both capitals in the nearest future,” a statement from the UN Secretary General’s office said, praising “the willingness of presidents Granger and Maduro to uphold their countries’ tradition of dialogue while a path towards resolution of the controversy is crafted that will be beneficial to both countries and their peoples”.
The UN technical committee will visit Venezuela to investigate that country’s claim on the Essequibo. It will undertake a comprehensive assessment on the circumstances of the Essequibo and then set a deadline for resolving the conflict through regular channels.
The dispute between the two countries has seen the leaders engaging in a war of words, suspending diplomatic relations and making several accusations and counter-accusations.
Last week, Guyana expressed concern about the increased Venezuelan military presence at the border between the two countries and said it would be monitoring the situation and putting its own troops on standby. Venezuela, however, said it was conducting military exercises.