Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley hosts his first virtual meeting as Chairman of CARICOM during the 13th Special Emergency Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has returned to work and has immediately addressed regional issues, including defending Guyana against Venezuela on a land issue, as chairman of Caricom.

Yesterday was his first day of duties following cardiac problems and angioplasty over the weekend.

Caricom under his chairmanship took issue with Venezuela’s position against Guyana on a maritime border issue.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration has set alarm bells ringing by rejecting a recent jurisdictional ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning his country’s territorial claims over oil-rich neighbour Guyana.

Maduro issued a new decree last week claiming sovereignty over areas claimed by Guyana, while Venezuela’s national assembly established a special committee for the defence of disputed territory.

The claim covers more than half of Guyana’s land mass and much of Guyana’s Atlantic maritime territory, including most of the prolific ExxonMobil-operated Stabroek block, where a raft of huge oil discoveries have been unearthed in recent years.

Guyana’s modern argument for ICJ jurisdiction was based on the 1966 Geneva Agreement — signed by the UK, Venezuela and colonial British Guiana — which stipulates that the parties will agree to find a practical, peaceful and satisfactory solution to the dispute.

Guyana has argued, successfully, that the Geneva Agreement also establishes jurisdiction for an ICJ ruling, and diplomats now expect that ruling to come within a timeframe of two to four years.

Anxious to stave off unrest in a country where living standards have plummeted, Maduro has seized on the jurisdictional ruling in an attempt to galvanise popular support.

“It is ours! It belongs to the Venezuelans and we are going to retake it in peace and with national unity,” Maduro said of the Essequibo territories.

Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali called Maduro’s actions and words “deeply disturbing” and argued that any attempt to “unilaterally” fix boundaries between the two countries would be a legal nullity in the eyes of international law.

The Caricom statement said the community was deeply disappointed and concerned “at the decree and subsequent statements by Venezuela with respect to that country’s border controversy with Guyana, including intimations of the creation of a strategic area of national development called ‘Territory for the Development of the Atlantic Façade’”.

It said Caricom was “in full support of the judicial process underway at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is intended to bring a peaceful and definitive end to the long-standing controversy between the two countries.

“CARICOM reiterates in the strongest possible terms, its firm and unswerving support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignity and territorial integrity of Guyana. CARICOM firmly repudiates any acts of aggression by Venezuela against Guyana.”

Browne said it was a “strong, very timely statement of solidarity which is fully consistent with the established Caricom position on how the border dispute should be properly treated and resolved at the ICJ.”

“As chair of this special emergency meeting, the Prime Minister led the drafting and finalisation of the statement as one of his first official functions as current Caricom chairman,” Browne added.

Canada has also expressed concern over Venezuela’s claim.

In a statement, Ottawa said “Venezuela’s recent claim that it has sovereignty over the area adjacent to Guyana’s Essequibo coast is concerning. The decision is in the hands of the International Court of Justice and this judicial process must be respected.”

The United States on Sunday also weighed in on the matter. It declared support for the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling that it has jurisdiction to hear Guyana’s case for a juridical settlement of the long-running border controversy with Venezuela.

Dealing with Venezuela is among several issues that remain on Caricom’s agenda.

Trinidad and Tobago did not vote at a recent meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) which condemned the recent Venezuelan elections.

Recently Jamaica’s Opposition took its government to task for participating in the OAS vote. That Opposition called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to explain the breaking of respected traditions at the OAS Council.

It was deemed a reversal of Jamaica’s longstanding foreign policy commitments which broke Jamaica’s image regionally and internationally.

Jamaica’s Opposition stated handling of the circumstances between T&T and Venezuela was disturbing and Jamaica, which chaired the OAS Council, could have handled the situation more responsibly.

Their Opposition said Jamaica and two other states, “irresponsibly and in an unprecedented” way allowed Venezuelan Opposition supporters to attack T&T’s Government and other Caricom states.

Jamaica’s Opposition said their Government had forfeited Jamaica’s role as a fair honest broker and seemed intent on isolating regional sister nations which sought alternatives to US President Donald Trump’s agenda and Venezuela’s crisis.