Venezuela’s referendum: Why Guyana is asking the World Court for urgent intervention

November 14 on Guyana’s application. Already though, Guyana’s lawmakers have strongly denounced the referendum set for December 3, 2023, through a series of declarations at an Extraordinary sitting of the National Assembly on Monday.

So why is Guyana against this referendum?

“… in normal circumstances, one wouldn’t give a hoot what another country decides to do by way of a referendum,” says Carl Greenidge, Advisor on Borders and Guyana’s Co-agent in the border case against Venezuela.

“A referendum is a little bit like the exercise of freedom (wherein) your right to do and say things ends very close to me if the exercise of those rights affect me.”

But in this case, Mr Greenidge says, Venezuela’s referendum calls on the “Venezuelan electorate to pronounce on matters dealing with treaties, matters of the Court and with the well-being of Guyanese.”

Guyana’s Agent Carl Greenidge speaking before the ICJ in Hague, Netherlands

Venezuela’s referendum will, essentially, ask the country’s citizens to vote on five questions.

The first two questions are of a legal nature and ask citizens how they define the Essequibo region that Venezuela claims from Guyana; the third is about Venezuela’s position before the ICJ; the fourth question asks whether citizens oppose Guyana’s move to search for and produce in the associated area offshore; and fifth, is about the creation of a Venezuelan state made up of Guyana’s Essequibo region and granting Venezuelan citizenship to the people living in the region.

Guyana rejects these questions, particularly questions one, three and five. It was noted that the last question in particular insinuates an annexation of Guyana’s territory- a move in blatant violation of various regional and international agreements.

Further, Guyana’s Attorney General Anil Nandlall SC on Monday pointed out that the country’s referendum could compromise the ongoing Court proceedings involving the two states.

Guyana is currently before the ICJ, seeking a final, binding judgement reaffirming the 1899 Arbitral Award that established the boundary between Guyana and Venezuela. Should Guyana get the ruling it hopes for, it will prove once and for all time that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana and not Venezuela.

Because of all the concerns surrounding the referendum, Guyana is asking the ICJ for its help. Mr. Greenidge explained why this is necessary.

“The Court is being asked, not so much to stop them from having a referendum, but to ensure that they know and to ensure that the referendum doesn’t have provisions which give the Venezuelan public the mistaken view that they have the right to decide on other citizens’ faith to decide on other citizens’ faith, citizens outside of the borders of Venezuela in defiance of world opinion, in defiance of world practice and in defiance of the obligations that Venezuela has as a signatory of agreements that exist.”

But what if Venezuela still goes ahead with that referendum?

At that point, Mr. Greenidge said it is up to the World Court to decide “how best it can uphold the rule of law” in face of any further actions from Venezuela.

Guyana has issued repeated statements denouncing the aggressive new measures taken by Venezuela in furtherance of its groundless and unlawful territorial claim to Guyana’s Essequibo Region.

Guyana insists, as does CARICOM, the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and Organization of American States, and the entire international community, that the controversy over the validity of the Arbitral Award and the land boundary must be resolved by the International Court of Justice, which will assure a just, peaceful, binding and permanent solution to this matter, in accordance with international law.