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T&T, widely regarded as one of Venezuela’s strongest allies in the region, now finds itself on the opposite side of an issue involving that country.

The Keith Rowley administration has drawn considerable criticism from the United States and other countries in the region for staunchly maintaining a non-intervention and non-interference stance on Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro regime.

But yesterday, in one of his first major functions as chairman of Caricom, Dr Rowley presided over a Special Emergency Meeting of the regional grouping at which Venezuela’s recent acts of aggression against Guyana were strongly condemned.

Joining with his Caribbean counterparts, Dr Rowley repudiated Venezuela’s announcement of a plan to establish a new territory in an area over which it is embroiled in a decades-old dispute with Guyana. In a statement, Caricom expressed “firm and unswerving support for the maintenance and preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana”.

Significantly, this matter puts T&T on the same side with the United States on an issue involving Venezuela. After all, this country has been resisting not-so-subtle pressure from the United States to recognise Juan Guaidó as President of Venezuela.

But while this country has, for the most part, maintained cordial diplomatic relations with its closest Latin American neighbour, President Maduro’s brazen attempts—which escalated in just the past week—to establish a new Territory for the development of the Atlantic Facade in the Essequibo Region, effectively laying claim to a huge swathe of Guyana’s land space, is a completely different matter.

The move completely disregards an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that it had jurisdiction to hear the long-running dispute. The Maduro regime is adamant that the ICJ is incapable of reaching a satisfactory settlement of the dispute and is laying full claim to the 159,542 kilometres of territory with rich reserves of oil, gas, mining and forestry resources—an attractive prize for Venezuela which is in the throes of economic and political turmoil.

The matter is due to come up before the ICJ on Friday.

Tensions over the territory have been raging off and on between Caracas and Georgetown for centuries. There was a major flare-up between Venezuela and Britain, then the colonial government of Guyana, when gold was discovered in the region in 1876.

The latest dispute follows the discovery of oil in the Stabroek Block offshore the Essequibo territory. There have been some incursions by Venezuela’s navy attempting to halt exploration and drilling activities by Guyana.

T&T has had its share of territorial tensions with Venezuela about maritime areas. However, disputes over fishing rights in the Gulf of Paria, the narrow strait between the two countries, were resolved some years ago.

Now there is a new source of tension, close enough to have major repercussions for this country if the situation escalates further. This time around, Venezuela is more persistent with its claim to Essequibo.

The hope now is that the intervention of the ICJ will bring about a definitive settlement of this centuries-old land boundary dispute, defusing the situation before it gets further out of hand.