Commonwealth says Venezuela referendum a ‘threat to peace and stability’ in Caribbean region

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The Commonwealth has issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the Venezuelan National Assembly’s decision to undertake a referendum on the status of the Essequibo region. The referendum is scheduled for December 3 and concerns the sovereign territory of Guyana.

Commonwealth secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, emphasized that, “The Commonwealth stands with the Government and people of Guyana and with our partners in CARICOM in expressing our concern over the questions in the planned referendum.” The secretary-general further noted that the Commonwealth “reaffirms its firm and steadfast support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereign and territorial integrity of Guyana, and the unobstructed exercise of its rights to develop the entirety of its territory for the benefit of its people.”

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The five questions approved by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council for inclusion in the referendum have been cited as undermining Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Specifically, “Question 5 proposes the creation of Venezuelan state of Guyana Essequibo and an accelerated plan for giving Venezuelan citizenship and identity cards to the Guyanese population.” According to the Commonwealth, this intent “is contrary to international law” and the language in these questions “contributes to heightened tension and is a threat to peace and stability in a member state of our Commonwealth Family and indeed in the wider Caribbean region.”

In its statement, the Commonwealth also referred to its last meeting concerning Guyana, held on September 17, 2023, where the Ministerial Group “reaffirmed its unwavering support for the judicial process underway before the International Court of Justice, chosen by the Secretary General of the United Nations under the 1966 Geneva Agreement and the Group continues to encourage Venezuela to participate in the said process.” The International Court of Justice determined in April this year that it had legal jurisdiction over this longstanding territorial issue between Guyana and Venezuela.

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The upcoming referendum comes at a crucial time, just one month before the presidential elections in Venezuela. According to the Commonwealth, the timing of the referendum “goes against the spirit of peaceful dispute resolution” 

The Commonwealth said it supports the use of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to adjudicate on the matter.

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