by Franco Vielma
translated by Mateo
The dispute between Venezuela and Guyana regarding the Esequibo has taken a significant turn with the beginning of transnationalization of contested land and territorial waters. What follows is an outline of the most profound issues involved.
In 2013 Venezuelan authorities detained the ship Teknik Perdana with five U.S. citizens on board. The ship, operated by the U.S. company Anadarko Petroleum Corp., was sailing near the island of Margarita carrying out petroleum exploration – seismic activities to determine quantities of hydrocarbon resources — in waters disputed by Venezuela and Guyana. The Venezuelan authorities justified their actions saying that the detained ship had entered our territorial waters without our permission.
The government of Guyana accused the Venezuelan navy of detaining the ship within its waters and called the incident a “threat to peace” in the region. The Guyanese ministry “energetically condemned” the event that occurred in the waters in dispute between the two South American countries. Caracas refuted the allegations of Guyana that one of its patrol boats had detained the ship in Guyanese waters and, on the contrary, demanded a “satisfactory explanation” from the neighboring government for its allowing ships to transit in what are considered territorial waters of Venezuela’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
This incident occurred against the background of what has been a shift in policy on the part of Guyana, which now focuses on the exploitation of land and territorial waters, which Venezuelans consider ours, that were stripped from us by the United Kingdom by way of the Paris Arbitration Award in 1899 (regarding the boundary between the colony of British Guiana and the United States of Venezuela).
Resources of the Guayana Esequiba
A publication on the U.S. State Department web site in February of this year describes the existence of a joint Guyana-Surinam petroleum basin which holds, according to figures provided by the United States Geological Survey, the potential to become “the second largest among unexplored petroleum basin reserves in the world,” with estimates (to date) of some “15 billion recoverable barrels of petroleum reserves and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas.” It is not specified, by this source, whether the reserves are concentrated in waters or solid ground.
The United States, through its “beachhead” Exxon Mobil, and with the intervention of the new government of Guyana, headed by David Arthur Granger (a retired military general trained in the United Kingdom and further educated in the United States) have taken up the concrete task of exploiting the contested waters, placing such activities within the framework of U.S. strategic energy policy.
As articulated by the U.S. State Department, an active collaboration exists between Guyana and the United States to achieve their goal. According to the working plan of the Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative – an administrative program for the implementation of U.S. transnational energy policy – Guyana and the United States have developed a working plan involving the U.S. offer of “a wide range of technical and capacity building assistance for Guyana, which seeks to develop financial and regulatory systems aimed at resolving problems of leadership capacity to maximize possibilities for the development of potential oil and gas resources at sea.”
In other words, this is a U.S. government policy of systematic exploitation and transnationalization of the Esequibo, utilizing all necessary financial and technical resources toward that end. However, this situation is rife with sweeping complexities. The global competition for natural resources is one of the most significant elements of the dynamics of modern day capitalism and its logic of accumulation. South America, due to the magnitude of strategic resource reserves that it possesses and its historical position of being a region of export of prime resources, plays an important role in this competition. Guyana cannot escape this reality.
Guyana enters the order of nations as a “hydrocarbon possessing” country, adapting itself in a concrete manner with the strategic policy of the United States’ treatment and control of raw materials as outlined in its “2012 National Security Strategy,” which projects the U.S. as the center of power over essential sources on a planetary level. Guyana has become an element of particular U.S. interest only in regard to hydrocarbons, notwithstanding the possibilities for exploitation by the United States of strategic mineral resources also found in the Esequibo, such as coltan, uranium and gold, quantities of which have not yet been publicly and clearly determined in the region.
Systematic exploitation and transnationalization of the Esequibo is U.S. policy
The transnationalization and occupation of the Esequibo
Guyana delegates the exploitation of resources in dispute with Venezuela to a foreign power and corporation, and this, given its legal inconsistencies, brings up an important contention. In 1966, Venezuela and Guyana signed the Geneva Agreement, the only valid agreement which governs the bi-national negotiations relating to the contested territories. The Geneva Agreement is a temporary agreement designed to arrive at a definitive solution — many define it as “an agreement to reach an agreement” – and although it invalidates the 1899 arbitration award, the status quo which stemmed from that arbitration remains in place. Therefore, the area contested by Venezuela falls under the authority of the government of Guyana until a different solution is reached according to the agreement. Guyana utilizes this interpretation to justify the legality of resource exploitation in the disputed lands and waters.
But on the other hand, the same Geneva Agreement calls for the creation of a bi-national Joint Commission, which is not active at the present time. Guyana has had a lot to do with the non-existence of said commission, given that it enforces a framework of decision making and responsibilities that contravene the interests of Guyana in the exploitation of natural resources of the reclamation zone.
One of the main responsibilities of the Joint Commission is to carry out the mandate of Article V (2) of the current agreement, which refers to the creation of “rights of sovereignty in said territories”. The exploitation of resources on a territory would be, by reasons of comparative international rights, an exercise of the “right of sovereignty”. Without a Joint Commission that authorizes such actions, resource exploitation in the Esequibo is illegitimate. The Joint Commission would legitimate decisions agreed upon with the signatures of the heads of state of both countries.
The United States, via Exxon Mobil, carries out the exploitation of the sea and contested resources. In regard to the infringement of Venezuelan sovereignty, Monica Bruckmann, sociologist and professor of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, explains the underlying issues in one of her publications on natural resources and geopolitics: “The global dispute over natural resources and their economic and scientific administration raises a broad range of conflicting interests in the region, demonstrating at the least two conflicting projects: the assertion of sovereignty as a basis for national development and regional integration and the reorganization of the hegemonic interests of the United States on the continent.”
The U.S. readjustment in South America now presents itself establishing its “Energy Security Zone, projecting itself toward the Venezuelan Atlantic, as the waters where Exxon is operating have been ruled as Venezuelan Comprehensive Atlantic Maritime Defense zones, according to a decree published May 27, issued by the Venezuelan government as an equivalent response to Guyana’s inclination to exploit contested resources.
But the complexity of this situation also includes distinctive features of Exxon Mobil’s financial, technological and operational approach and positioning in the transgressed Venezuelan waters. Exxon is a transnational corporation known worldwide for operating in territories that are occupied, contested or in the midst of civil war. While Saddam Hussein was being chased down for capture and execution in Iraq, Exxon directed its efforts to develop operations at the hands of Halliburton. In Libya they are accused of providing support and cooperation with mercenaries that today are in control of the country’s oil installations. The accusations are countless.
Exxon is accustomed to carrying out operations accompanied by a “security component” – a euphemism for injecting paramilitary mercenary forces on the ground. This points to the huge possibility for the placement of foreign paramilitary forces in occupied Venezuelan waters and ground support areas.
On the other hand, as usually happens in major petroleum deals that the United States cuts with crude oil possessing nations, almost all of the exploitation of virgin basins (as is the case of the waters of the Esequibo) involves the expansion and enlargement of the areas of exploitation. This infers the possibility for short term development of new areas of exploration and subsequent exploitation on solid ground, needless to say, on land within the reclamation zone. If Exxon broadens its logistic capacities on the ground, its security component will do likewise, which will constitute the de facto outright U.S. paramilitary occupation of the Esequibo.
Almost all oil agreements elaborated by the United States include the military component. That is, we are facing the probability of not only military occupation and transnationalization of the Esequibo but also its occupation by conventional forces of the United States.
The United States, via Exxon Mobil, carries out the exploitation of the sea and contested resources
The U.S. security strategic policy outlined in its “2012 National Security Strategy Plan” provides for the “protection” and “safeguarding” of U.S. assets on an intercontinental level. The plan consists of a manual to be employed worldwide which designates the responsibility of the United States to act in favor of the protection of public and private property and persons of the United States throughout the world against all threats, declared or unexpected. Under this legislation the United States intrudes in territorial waters around the world. It does so in the Horn of Africa against Somali piracy with the frequent use of force if any of its assets are compromised.
In other words: If Venezuela detains a U.S. ship attempting to extract resources in our Comprehensive Atlantic Maritime Defense zones, the U.S. Navy assumes the legal authority to act with the use of force. And therein lies the crux of the matter: a scenario of war is more likely with the United States itself than with Guyana, which lacks certain military assets to diligently occupy and safeguard the contested waters.
Another issue to consider is the likely expansion of the areas of illegal exploitation of resources of the Esequibo to the vicinity of the Esequibo River, the ultimate natural line of demarcation of the disputed territories. It is very likely that this could occur with the injection of the paramilitary component and elements of the regular U.S. forces – read this well — with military bases located a mere three minutes of flight time away from Ciudad Bolivar and 20 minutes from Caracas. We’re talking about a scenario in which Venezuela is flanked on its Atlantic coast and its eastern border, with our Esequibo put to use as an aircraft carrier and base of operations projecting into Venezuelan energy security zones such as the Orinoco Oil Belt.
In the warmongering run-up to occupation and usurpation of our territories, in Venezuela we have come to terms with the weapons of politics, reason and history. But the situation is changing; they want to provoke us into a war. Another thing is certain: These are not those times in which Andrés Eloy Blanco pointed out that we had lost of fifth of our territory “without firing a single shot”.