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Centuries-old border dispute opens before UN’s high court

Guyana and Venezuela have been fighting since the 1800s over some 61,600 square miles of land. 

THE HAGUE (CN) — Venezuela focused on inadmissibility Thursday in a bid to have the World Court turn away its latest border flare-up with neighboring Guyana, this time over the discovery of oil in coastal waters four years ago. 

“This matter affects the right of the Venezuelan people and the territorial integrity of the country,”  Delcy Rodríguez, Venezuela’s vice president, told The Hague-based court. 

The International Court of Justice already ruled in December 2020 that it had jurisdiction to hear the case. Before the court could move on to the merits phase, however, Venezuela raised preliminary objections over admissibility in June 2022.

Authorities in Georgetown called the move a stalling tactic. “By submitting an objection at this advanced stage of the proceedings before the ICJ, the Venezuelan government is patently engaging in an effort to delay the Court’s final judgment,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Guyana said in a statement at the time. 

Caracas had initially declined to participate in the ICJ proceedings, saying it doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the court. Ahead of the 2020 ruling on jurisdiction, though, it did submit more than 200 pages of written evidence in its own defense.

It was Venezuela that first claimed the gold- and oil-rich region in 1811 when it declared independence from Spain. Three years later, the United Kingdom claimed the region as part of its newly acquired colony, Guyana, which it received from the Dutch as part of the 1814 Anglo-Dutch Treaty. 

After gold was discovered in the area, which covers 61,600 square miles, the U.K. and Venezuela agreed to take the conflict to a tribunal. But when that body elected in 1899 to award the land to what was then known as British Guiana, Venezuela claimed there was collusion among the tribunal judges and refused to accept the result. There were efforts to reach another agreement in 1966, but Guyana declared its independence from the United Kingdom a few months later and the controversy reignited.

With the discovery of oil in 2018, Guyana asked the court to settle the matter once and for all. At the ICJ’s first virtual hearings, held remotely because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Guyana argued Venezeula’s objections have been sour grapes after the country has lost the land repeatedly in legal proceedings. 

Guyana will present its response as proceedings resume Friday.

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