Venezuela’s latest move in its waiting game with Guyana, pt. 2

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By Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith – OilNOW

In Part 1, we discussed Guyana’s pursuits at the World Court, Venezuela’s legal manoeuvres that likely will lead to an extension of the waiting game, and the existential anxiety and geopolitical desperation being experienced as new oil is discovered in Guyana. In this concluding article, we identify some of the players in the waiting game and note Guyana’s continued execution of a diplomatic strategy to complement its judicial pursuits.

Professor Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith

Players and Payment 

Considering the high stakes involved, it is understandable that Guyana would marshal a formidable international team of experts in international law, geography, history, and allied subjects to press its case before the world court. The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) December 2020 decision affirming jurisdiction in the matter identified Guyana’s battery of experts, which includes Mr. Paul S. Reichler of the top United States law firm Foley Hoag LLP; Alain Pellet, Emeritus Professor at the University Paris Nanterre, former Chairman of the International Law Commission, and member of the Institut de droit international; and Queens Counsel Philippe Sands, who is a professor of International Law at University College London and a barrister with Matrix Chambers of London.

Guyana’s legal legion also boasts Harvard-trained Payam Akhavan,  professor of International Law at McGill University, a member of the Bar of the State of New York and the Law Society of Ontario and a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration; Philippa Webb, Professor of Public International Law at London’s King’s College, who is a member of the Bars of England and Wales and the State of New York and of London’s Twenty Essex Chambers, along with several local luminaries, including Ambassador and former history professor Cedric Joseph, and esteemed diplomat Rashleigh Jackson. Sadly, Jackson, who had distinguished himself as Permanent Representative to the United Nations before undertaking a marathon foreign ministerial stint from 1978 to 1991, died on September 1, 2022, at age 93. Moreover, as noted in Part 1, international lawyer and statesman Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former Guyana foreign minister and Commonwealth Secretary General, is one of Guyana’s Agents.

Needless to say, the pursuits before the ICJ are costly. At one stage Guyana had difficulty in settling obligations related to the case. In December 2017, for instance, Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge explained to the National Assembly that there were occasions in 2016 and 2017 when the government was unable to make timely payments to the legal team. This situation prompted him to recommend to President David Granger that US$15 million of the US$18 million that had been received from ExxonMobil in 2016 as a signing bonus for the oil exploration contract be assigned to cover the legal expenses. This decision caused a political firestorm, with questions raised by the political opposition and civil society groups, not so much about the use of the funds, but about how the entire episode was managed by the government.

Much has changed since 2017. Thanks to the oil revenues that began accumulating since March 2020, the government no longer is cash strapped. The country’s sovereign wealth fund, called the Natural Resource Fund, shows this clearly. The initial Natural Resource Fund law, passed by the National Assembly in January 2019, was replaced by updated legislation in December 2021. According to the Fund’s report for the second quarter of 2022, inflows for the reporting period amounted to US$232.16 million. Since its inception, the Fund has received US$849.63 million from 12 oil lifts and US$102.06 million from royalties. Also noteworthy is that Guyana likely will collect US$150 billion in oil and gas revenues over the ensuing three decades.

In a sense, then, money is no object, although how it is managed could be objectionable. Prudent management of the oil revenue—in relation to the ICJ case and all things—is not just desirable, but necessary. Foreign Minister Hugh Todd took pains this past February to signal prudence in the National Assembly, in defending his Ministry’s 2022 allocation, especially the GY$660 million (US$3,168,332) earmarked for the legal fees for the case. This allocation seems inadequate. Quite likely, Todd will need to secure a supplemental allocation from the Assembly later this year, especially in light of Venezuela’s delaying tactics with its preliminary objections, which will impact both the waiting game’s timeline and the costs incurred.

Defense Diplomacy

Guyana continues to be mindful of the dangers of putting all its waiting game eggs in one basket, so to speak. The judicial basket is necessary, but not sufficient. The country continues to practice a strategy called Defense Diplomacy that dates to the Burnham presidency. It places a premium on diplomacy as the nation’s first line of defense, with a view to mobilising support from CARICOM, the United States, Britain, the Commonwealth, and other stakeholders. It was no coincidence, for example, that the Commonwealth leaders at their Summit held in Rwanda this past June reaffirmed their “firm and unwavering support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana.”

Neither was it happenstance that the CARICOM summit a few weeks later also pledged continuing support of Guyana, although leaders were partial to Venezuela’s desire to resurrect PetroCaribe, the concessionary oil financing scheme that was a key plank of its foreign policy and alliance-building strategy. Also comporting with Defense Diplomacy is the visit to Washington, DC by President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali and a high-level team in late July, where they met virtually and in person with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Commerce Department and other officials. They also conferred with Congressional leaders and interacted with officials at the Atlantic Council, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Wilson Center, influential think tanks.

All things considered, much like Samuel Beckett’s characters in Waiting for Godot, Guyana is obliged to play the long game, a waiting game, holding relevant conversations, confident that, while the precise hour of Godot’s arrival is unknown, he surely will arrive. And, hopefully, this Godot—the ICJ—will deliver the final settlement of a controversy that dates to the 19th century and is creating existential anxiety in Guyana and geopolitical desperation in Venezuela. Yet, the million-dollar question is: will Venezuela accept the Court’s ruling if the 1899 Award is upheld? This question will be the subject of analysis later.

About the Author

Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, a Fellow of the Caribbean Policy Consortium and of Global Americans, is a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana. His next book, Challenged Sovereignty in the Caribbean, will be published by the University of Illinois Press.


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