Dear Editor: Has anyone examined Exxon’s role in Essequibo conflict?

The once-dormant border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela can potentially destabilise the entire region if not hemisphere—most definitely this country—and yet I don’t think our media is analysing this with nearly the depth it deserves

Listening to the more mature radio talk shows and going through certain articles and news reports, one gets the idea that Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro just ketch a vaps and decide to mobilise to invade Guyana because he could.

Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro.

I’m being simplistic, yes, but so are many of the callers and media people; dangerously simplistic in fact.

For those who follow other conflicts around the world, much of this David/ Goliath narrative sounds familiar, because it’s the same narrative used routinely to manufacture consent for secretly (and explicitly) proposed intentions by northern powers to militarily enter into mineral-rich countries to take possession of their resources. All that was needed was a suitable excuse.

It’s the same narrative used to explain Vladimir Putin’s intervention in what is a US-proxy war in the Ukraine, which my aluminium foil hat, conspiracy theory-mind links to this situation in our region.

Venezuela president Nicholas Maduro has threatened to annex the Essequibo, which Venezuela refers to as the Guayana Esequiba.

Much of what I have heard or read regarding this dispute refer, as the legal foundation, to the 1899 “agreement” between Venezuela and Britain, who colonised what was then called British Guiana.

Indeed, many commentators (and Caricom) consider that “agreement” with an unquestioning reverence—the same way they defer to local and international laws.

But history shows that like many of our laws, that “agreement” was made corruptly to protect British interests. In fact, it is what in some legal circles refer to as “the fruit of the poisonous tree”.

Space doesn’t permit a detailed account although I attempted it elsewhere. But readers should be made aware of the 1948 memorandum by Severo Mallet-Prevost published in 1949 in the American Journal of International Law (AJIL, 43 [1949], pg 523-530).

He was the US American lawyer representing Venezuela in 1899 and showed where Britain, although party to the dispute, nonetheless managed to get two of their jurists appointed to the tribunal.

They were instrumental in levering the possession of the region east of the Essequibo to Britain—which violated earlier agreements not to occupy or exploit that region—while Venezuela did not have a single member on the tribunal.

Guyana’s Essequibo River.
Photo: Pete Oxford

The Cipriani College of Labour hosted two panel discussions presenting the Guyanese and Venezuelan perspectives. During the course of these discussions the issue was raised about exploring the role of the multinational corporations, particularly Exxon, in instigating renewed tensions.

Has any media house or journalist looked into this independently?

Exxon, which journalist Steve Coll shows has its own autonomous foreign policy almost independent of the US Government, has a very long and overly-documented track record of being complicit in destabilising regions it wished to exploit.

Rex Tillerson (left) and Mike Pompeo were both secretaries of state under US president Donald Trump.
Both are also former Exxon CEOs.

The company also has a revolving door in the US corridors of political power, such as former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and CIA director Mike Pompeo—both former Exon CEOs.

Pompeo, who succeeded Tillerson as US secretary of state, was at the CIA when the current Guyanese administration came into office.

It may very well have been that the current government of Guyana may have won the elections anyway, but regional observers in Guyana could testify to the unusually increased presence of North Americans there at the time, who inserted themselves in many aspects of the election process.

Former Guyana president David Granger.
(via St Lucia News Online)

It is also known that Pompeo placed undue pressure on the David Granger-led administration.

Returning to Exxon, this company was expelled from Venezuela by former president Hugo Chavez, who argued for resource sovereignty that many senior members of multinational corporations stoutly opposed and placed systems to hinder.

And this opposition goes back roughly 100 years to a group of liberal figures who formed the Mont Pelerin Society from which emerged economists like Milton Friedman.

Venezuela president Nicolás Maduro stands in front of a giant portrait of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

History also shows that both the Chavez and Maduro administrations maintained cordial relationships and sought to find an amicable arrangement over the Essequibo region, through the 1966 Geneva Agreement and the Port of Spain Protocol of 1970.

This was dispensed with in 2015 when the Guyanese government unilaterally approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare the region as part of Guyana.

They also set about putting up an oil installation in the waters off that disputed region, again in breach of earlier agreements not to exploit that region until a resolution. Note that 2015 was the same year that Exxon announced a huge oil find off the Guyanese coast.

Photo: An oil rig.

It could very well be that Maduro is playing a dangerous game for his own political survival, but so too are the people in Georgetown.

Kaieutur News has already reported the swindle masquerading as an oil deal—75% of revenue goes straight to Exxon for compensation for exploring and 50% of the remaining profits go to Guyana. They are not even allowed access to Exxon’s records or sites to determine independently how much oil and gas there actually is.

In short, much of the profits will be siphoned out of Guyana, due to lopsided deals that the Guyanese government was warned about even by some of their own people, such as environmental lawyer Melinda Janki.

Guyana president Dr Irfaan Ali.

If the media doesn’t wish to be dismissed as sycophantic stenographers of whatever story comes out of Wall Street or the people they place in Washington and the Pentagon, very serious, pointed questions need to be asked and independently investigated.

The Essequibo dispute should have been an ongoing anti-imperialist struggle both Guyana and Venezuela (and the indigenous peoples who seem to be marginalised by all parties) wage against an ongoing neo-colonial project to extract resources from this entire hemisphere for an elite few—not one that pits them against each other.

There will likely be a perverse domino effect. So if we think we aren’t in the sights of northern predators, wait…

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  1. What a thought-provoking analysis. Thank you for this column, Mr Gilkes.

  2. “If the media doesn’t wish to be dismissed as sycophantic stenographers of whatever story comes out of Wall Street or the people they place in Washington and the Pentagon,…”
    Which media? The local mainstream media? Yuh jokin, right?
    What is the alternative, do all that work themselves?

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