By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Guyana’s minister for foreign affairs, Carl Greenidge, while speaking in parliament on the recent interdiction by the Venezuelan Navy of ExxonMobil vessels doing seismic surveys in Guyanese waters during the Christmas holidays, also disclosed that, during the incident, the Venezuelan Navy attempted to land a helicopter on one of the ships, the Ramform Tethys, in an attempt to seize the vessel entirely.
The Ramform Tethys, owned by Norwegian company Petroleum Geo-Services Group, flagged in The Bahamas, is a Titan-class, seismic-research platform, designed specifically for conducting seismic research and underwater imaging for oil companies.
ExxonMobil has ceased operations on behalf of the Guyanese government until further notice.
The Ramform Tethys is not a military grade ship; neither is it a surveillance and reconnaissance vessel and was given permission to conduct seismic studies in the Guyana Esequiba river region by the Guyanese government. However, Venezuelan authorities claim that the Ramform was in the Venezuelan claimed Orinoco River Basin — a claim flatly denied by the Guyanese government in Greenidge’s address to the parliament, as the coordinates of the vessels stated clearly where they were at the time of the Venezuelan military’s interception.
Greenidge invited the Venezuelan government, via a diplomatic note to Caracas over this recent incident, to take the border dispute settlement process in the International Court of Justice seriously, and come back to the table in earnest even at this late hour and despite having withdrawn from the process in June 2018, shortly after the Venezuelan presidential elections.
This is not the first time Venezuelan military have made incursions into Guyanese territory in the recent past. On December 3, 2015, and just two days prior to Venezuelan parliamentary elections, a Venezuelan military helicopter landed in the Esequiba region on the Guyanese side, prompting Guyana to complain to Venezuelan authorities and other persons in the international community about this apparent act of aggression.
Military build-up by the Venezuelan government has been growing in the face of American sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and in spite of international sanctions and censure by other countries, particularly the Netherlands and their territories in the Caribbean.
The recent landing of Russian bombers with nuclear payload capabilities in Venezuela, equipment Venezuelan authorities said was meant for their self-defence against aggression against Venezuelan sovereignty, was met with dismay and concern by military and security analysts in the region, as the Maduro regime continues to dissolve into uncontrollable chaos.
With the massive number of refugees still fleeing the humanitarian, economic and political crisis in Venezuela to other countries, particularly into Guyana, Trinidad and Colombia, Maduro has increasingly called on Venezuelan citizens remaining in the country to arm themselves and prepare to defend their homeland.
In November 2018, at an event at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Maduro called on university students to defend the “Revolution” with arms at all cost against the oligarchy and imperialist aggression.
Armed militias are roaming the streets and are also creating havoc and violence on the border between Venezuela and Guyana in another resource fight, this time over the rich gold mines of the Esequiba area.
Much like the blood diamonds of Sierra Leon, the “dirty gold” being mined on the border is being monopolized and controlled for ransom by Venezuelan mobsters and heavily armed criminal gangs that are not under any control of the Venezuelan military or sanctioned by the government; with some suggesting however that members of the Venezuelan military are complicit in the lawlessness and violence at the border against Guyanese nationals and are urged to look the other way.
As people fleeing Venezuela pour into Guyana, the lack of resources by the Guyanese government to manage and maintain proper accounting of persons legitimately fleeing due to hardships and those that are set on exacerbating further conflict between the two countries has not been an easy task.
A report by Colin Freeman of the London Telegraph over the weekend, spoke directly to challenges being faced by another Caribbean country, Trinidad and Tobago, which is finding the influx of Venezuelan migrants as well as the increase in drugs and guns into the country from Venezuela to be challenging, particularly with the resulting increase in violence and criminal activity.
Additionally in the Telegraph report, Freeman stated that piracy has returned to the Caribbean and has the potential to reach Somali-type crisis levels.
The report also stated, with accounts given by Trinidadian seamen, Venezuelan fishermen and other sea-faring individuals have taken to the seas to make a living other than fishing and are said to be hijacking pleasure vessels of any flag and then escaping back into Venezuelan waters without a trace.
In January 2017, the Dutch have alleged that the smuggling of dirty gold amounts to several thousand kilos per month from Venezuela into Curacao via criminal cartels that run through Venezuela.
In Guyana, as a vote of no-confidence against the government at the end of 2018 triggered the constitutional mechanisms for a national, general election to be held within three months, problems with Venezuelan aggression and the uncontrolled migrants and gangs seem to be a problem with no relief in the short to medium term.