Guyana Chronicle:- AMIDST the political fallout in Venezuela; its un-relinquished claim to Guyana’s territory and the influx of more than 3,000 migrants, President David Granger has called on the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) to remain vigilant to protect the country from present and future dangers.
He made the call at the GDF’s Annual Officers’ Conference on Thursday, January 24, 2019, at the Baridi Benab at State House, where he reminded those present that Guyana subscribes to peaceful settlement of disputes and will never do anything to endanger international peace.
In the last few days, Venezuela plunged further into political crisis as its President, Nicolas Maduro, broke off diplomatic ties with the United States while several countries are now divided on their support of the socialist leader. Guyana, although concerned with Venezuela’s persistent territorial claim, continues to assist Spanish-speaking migrants who have been fleeing the economic hardship (in Venezuela).
“Guyana has been victim, always, to claims on its territory despite international recognition of its land mass, its territorial borders, its territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone. Our territory is populated by Guyanese citizens and its resources are for them; they form part of our national patrimony. The Defence Force has been, and must always remain, ready to deter aggression, defend national sovereignty and ensure the development of our country as a safe, secure and strong state,” the President affirmed.
In December 2018, Guyana’s territorial integrity was violated when a Venezuelan Navy corvette – the Karina PC-14 – made a hostile incursion into Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The incursion took place at approximately 144 kilometers (km) from the boundary which separates Guyana from Venezuela and saw attempts by the Navy corvette to land a helicopter on the unarmed oil survey ship.
In a firm statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Venezuela’s aggression as a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and general international law. President Granger noted, too, that, in 2013, a petroleum exploration vessel – RV Teknik Perdana –conducting a survey in the Roraima block offshore, was intercepted by a Venezuelan Navy frigate and ordered to cease its activities.
Meanwhile, in 2000, the Navy of Guyana’s Dutch-speaking neighbour, Suriname, expelled a petroleum CGX- licensed exploration vessel and drill ship, the C. E. Thornton, from Guyana’s waters.
“Incursions have occurred not only in our maritime space but also on land. Illegal mining, illegal logging, illegal arms, narcotics, people and wildlife trafficking and the smuggling of precious minerals have continued. They have to stop,” the President insisted. “Citizens have been killed. Communities, particularly those in our frontier villages, must be made safe from transnational crime…the force therefore is obligated to secure the state and safeguard the entire territory from invasion, incursion and insurrection. Incursions must be deterred. Insurrections must be suppressed. The State must remain secure,” Granger, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, said.
To the attending officers, the President urged that ground forces continue to conduct “long-range jungle patrols” to the farthest corners of the country. “The GDF was never intended to be a ‘coastal’ force; it is, and will remain, a comprehensive national force. It must reach every corner of the country and must be competent in conducting long-range patrols, in any weather or terrain, by day and night and for long periods. Officers and soldiers who cannot go on long-range patrols, in any weather or terrain by day or by night, for long periods, have no place in the defence force,” he said firmly.
As the GDF faces challenges such as a small-sized economy; porous borders and limited physical infrastructure, the President said that the government will continue to lend its assistance. Budgetary allocations to the GDF have increased by over 75 per cent from $8.0B in 2014 to G$14.02B in 2019. These funds will result in improvements to the force’s physical infrastructure; the acquisition of drones for border surveillance and additional in-shore patrol vessels, engineering and transport equipment.
Meanwhile, the President highlighted that in 2018, the Air Corps’ fleet was improved with the acquisition of light reconnaissance aircraft, while light transport aircraft are to be procured this year. In addition, the force’s technical corps is being improved; the Intelligence Corps and the Signal Corps have been reformed and the Engineer Corps has received equipment to enhance the Force’s agility.
For his part, Army Chief-of-Staff, Brigadier Patrick West, announced that 2019 will see an increase in the number of patrols on land and at sea and better management of budgetary allocations and resources. “As we grow this year, the force will continue on its journey of transformation and it will do so cognisant of the threats that will seek to impede this process such as climate change, transnational crime, domestic terrorism, crime and other innovative security challenges and our traditional threats,” West said.
As the unrest in Venezuela continues, the Government of Guyana, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on January 23, 2019, called on Venezuelan political leaders and citizens to maintain national peace until a return to normalcy. “The Government of Guyana is gravely concerned at the deepening of the political crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and supports calls made at both the regional and international levels for immediate dialogue involving all political and social actors, with a view to the preservation of the democratic process and a return to normalcy.”
“Guyana calls on all parties to desist from actions that might lead to further violence and loss of lives. The Government of Guyana remains firmly supportive of efforts to resolve the crisis through peaceful means and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law,” a release said. The government now awaits the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Venezuela border controversy and is confident that the ruling will bring an end to the decades-old obstruction to Guyana’s economic development.