Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday that the Caricom region must remain a zone of peace, even as he acknowledged the possibility that T&T's negotiations to access Venezuela's natural gas in the Dragon field could be jeopardised by that country's territorial claim on the Essequibo region in Guyana.
Responding to a question on the Dragon field issue at a news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, Rowley said: "Yes, there are always risks. It is like a nuclear reaction, once it gets started you could lose control of it.
"The last thing we want is for us not to be in a period of peace and in a zone of peace."
The T&T prime minister said he does not have a crystal ball to predict the outcome of matters, especially diplomatic issue.
"I have no forecast as to how it would go. But I would not like to see the relationship between Venezuela and Guyana deteriorate to a point where consequent actions would negatively damage all of us, because all of us would be damaged.
"The Dragon gas that we are after, Venezuela has an interest there....We trust that all governments see it as beneficial to all of us and we create that economy based on the God-given resources that we all have. To do that, we need peace, security, respect and good wishes for each other."
T&T is in advanced talks with the Venezuelan administration headed by President Nicolas Maduro to get a licence for the exploitation of the Dragon natural field, which is located to the north east of the Chaguaramas peninsula.
Venezuelans are due to vote in a December 3 referendum on the country's claim on the Essequibo, a 160,000 square kilometre territory that was awarded to Britain by an 1899 ruling by a Paris Arbitration Tribunal. Britain ruled Guyana until the country gained its independence in May 1966.
In February 1966, the Geneva Agreement, which was signed by the Britain, Venezuela and British Guiana, stipulated that the parties would agree to find a practical, peaceful and satisfactory solution to the dispute, according to a Wikipedia entry.
The Geneva Agreement also stipulated that in the event of a stalemate, the decision as to the means of settlement is to be referred to an "appropriate international organ" or, failing agreement on that point, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The Secretary-General referred the matter to the International Court of Justice. On December 18, 2020, the ICJ accepted the case submitted by Guyana to settle the dispute.
On October 20, 2023, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the date and the questions comprising the non-binding referendum, according to the website venezuelanalysis.com.
In the referendum, Venezuelans will be asked:
* Do you reject the 1899 arbitration;
* Do you approve of the 1966 agreement as the only binding mechanism to resolve the issue;
* Do you agree with not recognizing the ICJ’s jurisdiction;
* Do you oppose Guyana’s unilateral appropriation of the Essequibo’s territorial waters;
* Do you agree with establishing a new state, called Guayana Esequiba, in the disputed strip, while granting Venezuelan citizenship to its inhabitants and implementing “accelerated” social programmes.
Earlier in the news conference, the Prime Minister said the current relationship in Caricom is the best it has ever been. He also told journalists at the event that T&T's access to Venezuelan natural gas is "a lifeblood issue" for this country.
Asked how does the December 3 referendum, and what may come after it, impact on T&T in Caricom and this country's Dragon negotiations, Rowley said: "If there is any country that understands the principled position of Trinidad and Tobago, it is Venezuela. Because it was a Venezuelan issue where Venezuelan lifeblood was at stake that Trinidad and Tobago took its most public and principled position."
He then referred to the 1970 Port-of-Spain Protocol, in which T&T's first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, contributed to negotiating a 12-year moratorium on Venezuela's reclamation of the Essequibo.
"We are confident that the governments of Venezuela and Guyana would know that Caricom's position must be, and remain, a zone of peace is the best position for all of us.
"And secondly, we all know that even in the darkest hour, Trinidad and Tobago's position was that if difficulties arise, the response ought to be dialogue, dialogue and dialogue."