Notes From The Margin

July 29, 2008

Venezuela Presses Its Claim – The Propaganda War Starts

We have tracked two stories on Venezuela’s claim of Barbados’ waters in the Venezuelan media today. The tone of one is actually quite strident.

The first article:

NGO reports Barbados is bidding oil blocks in Venezuelan waters

The government of Barbados has launched an oil and gas bid for 26 offshore blocks, two of which are allegedly located in part in Venezuelan waters, claimed on Monday Aníbal Martínez, head of non-governmental organization Frente Nacional Pro Defensa del Petróleo Venezolano (National Front for the Defense of Venezuelan Oil).

Martínez said that the government of Barbados put 26 oil and gas blocks for tender stretching more than 70,000 square kilometers. He added that there are two blocks in the bid, called Botton Bay and Crane Bay, 70 percent of whose area would be in Venezuelan waters.

“This amounts to an area of 5,200 square kilometers. It is a hostile act on the part of Barbados, and we have to be on alert. Even if it was one square centimeter, we cannot let this to happen,” said the Venezuelan oil expert.

The second article is a follow up

Claims of sale of oil licenses by Barbados

Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramírez reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in possession of the evidence attesting to the sale by Barbados of licenses for oil drilling in Venezuelan maritime areas.

“We took the official letter to the appropriate channels; the Foreign Ministry is working on it. This has been the case in the past, where countries, well, awarded licenses for areas that are beyond their jurisdiction and by talking, directly speaking, things are eventually placed where they should be,” said the official.

What will also be interesting to watch is the reaction of Caracas to Barbados claims to the outer continental shelf. What is legally Barbados’ southernmost waters Venezuela considers to be its exit to the Atlantic (hence the Trinidad/Venezuela treaty) However Venezuela never made a treaty with Barbados, and Barbados has no reason to negotiate one as it is a small slice of their territory. The Venezuela/Trinidad treaty has no impact on Barbados or Guyana, so it will be interesting to see where this goes.

It is unlikely that this will go away.  Further Barbados has little reason to take on Venezuela’s claims other than Venezuela has the means to agressively enforce its claims on the area by force of arms.

Hopefully this will not go that far.


How Trinidad Recognised Venezuela’s Claim to Most Of Guyana’s Land

Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land

Marginal Picks Up His Pen – Venezuela’s Claim of Barbados’ Waters

June 16, 2008

Marginal Picks Up His Pen – Venezuelas Claim of Barbados’ Waters

After much thought we’ve decided to come out of retirement to blog on the subject of Venezuela’s claim of Barbados’ waters. This is not a full re-opening of NFTM but we felt that given our history of blogging on Venezuela and it’s territorial claims that we might be able to provide some clarity on this issue. This article is freely reproducible (once the source is attributed). In fact we would ask that given the potential seriousness of the claim that members of the blogosphere and other media propogate this story.


Like Barbados Free Press we saw the story today in the Venezuelan publication PetroleumWorld entitled “Barbados’ Troubled Waters”

The new government of Barbados opened the bidding process for rights to offshore blocks for oil & gas exploration on Monday and will close it on September 30. The winner announcement will be made on Nov 20th. More than 20 companies were present this week in the bid kick off, including among others, Exxon, Gazprom, Lukoil Shell, BHP Billiton of Australia, Hess Oil Company, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Marathon Oil and Murphy Oil, all of the United States, StatoilHydro, Petro-Canada, and Petrobras from Brazil. However, there is an issue that the IOC’s perhaps have not taken in account, that is that two of the block are in venezuelan waters, the Bottom Bay blocks Ad I and Ad II. We expect that the venezuelan government will issue a diplomatic note to the government of Barbados asking for clarification and the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA will issue a warning to the OIC’s on the issue.

The two blocks in question are the two southernmost blocks that are up for bid (Highlighted in red in the illustration). Venezuela’s claim rests on two pillars

1. It’s claim to approximately half of Guyana’s land area.

Venezuela claims everything west of the Essequibo river, the historical reasons for this can be found in our post. Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land

2. Venezuela’s Maritime Treaty with Trinidad.

In 1990 Venezuela and Trinidad agreed a treaty delineating their maritime boundary. This treaty can be found on line HERE.  This treaty allowed the development of Trinidad and Tobago’s offshore oil resources. However this treaty had two unforeseen impacts. First it tacitly recognised Venezuela’s claims on half of Guyana, and secondly it pushed Trinidad’s territorial claims north which is what led to the Maritime border dispute between Barbados and Trinidad. The impact of this can be seen in our post How Much Gas Does Trinidad Have? Indeed the main sticking point in the negotiations was the Trinidadian position that Barbados should recognise the 1990 treaty. The UNLOS council held that two countries could not bind a third without it’s consent and hence the 1990 treaty had no impact on Barbados.

The maritime boundaries are currently as seen in the diagram below. The purple line indicates Trinidad’s initial boundary claim and the brown line indicates the claim they put forward to the UNLOS Council. The green line represents the final decision of the UNLOS Council.

The result of the UNLOS is that the 1990 boundary between Venezuela and Trinidad extends into what is (and always was) legally Barbados’ waters.

Venezuela is now seeking to exercise a claim in an area that it has no right to claim. The waters under discussion can ONLY be Venezuelas if you accept that

1. Half of Guyana is actually Venezuela.

2. That two countries (Venezuela and Trinidad) can commit a third and fourth countries (Barbados and Guyana)  to some form of agreement or treaty without consulting them and without their agreement.

In short, the Venezuelan claim is baseless.


Other interesting information on this topic.

International Law Environment by Professor Robert Volterra

Venezuela and Bird Island

Details on Aves Island – How Venezuela Controls the Caribbean Sea

Bird Island Again! – Grenada in Maritime Boundary Dispute With Venezuela.

January 10, 2008

Politicians, It’s One Week Before Elections, Do You Know Where Your Vote Is?

With one week left to go before elections, Barbados is in the grips of one of the most intense election campaigns in recent memory. The two parties’ campaigns appear to be evenly matched, and evenly funded, and to a certain extent evenly supported. We on the Margin have been watching the silly season unfold in all its glory, and we have to admit we are unable to predict a winner at this stage.

Yes, if you listen to Waiting In Vain and Royal Rumble and the other party hacks that inhabit the blogosphere, they all predict a resounding victory for their particular party. But having spent the last week talking to many people, we think that both parties are “Whistling past the graveyard”. For as much bluster as either side makes we’re not sure that either of them has captured the hearts of the electorate.  Barbadians are looking at both parties with a skeptical eye and the hard truth is that this election could go either way.

What we have noted that this campaign has been more about accusations and counter accusations rather than issues. We would like to see some serious discussion about both parties’ visions for the next five years. While we wish that we could say that we thought we would get such reasoned debate in the next next week, we really don’t think so. We think that this next week will get wilder and dirtier with each passing day.

We on the margin would urge Barbadians,  think long and hard about both parties before you go into the polling booth. Whoever you choose is entirely up to you, but be sure to participate, be sure to cast your x. Be sure to treat that decision with the seriousness it deserves.  Hopefully we will all be better off for your doing so.


August 11, 2007

How Much Gas Does Trinidad Have?

An interesting story has been making the rounds of the news recently, about a recent audit of Trinidad and Tobago’s natural gas reserves that showed a sharper than expected drop.

The Trinidad and Tobago Government is expected to release details of its latest natural gas audit by mid-month following newspaper reports that the Houston-based audit consultant, Ryder Scott, found an 11 per cent decline in the country’s natural gas reserves.

The article continues….

Energy Minister, Dr. Lenny Saith, does not appear worried by the natural gas audit report. He seems focused on increasing natural gas production to meet increasing demand over the next eight years.

Government is encouraging energy companies to pursue an aggressive exploratory programme in deep water, as well as land and near shore areas to ensure that new supplies of gas are found to meet the huge gas demand of a new model of downstream industries which will include petrochemicals, plastics and metals.

This is interesting  given that Trinidad’s claimed territorial area has been greatly reduced by the recent UNLOS decision. The graphic below show’s what Trinidad claimed as it’s border before Barbados took the matter to the UN.

Trinidad’s Border Before Going to Arbitration

The orange line in the gray area shows the border claimed by Trinidad during the arbitration. The graphic below shows the Maritime space that Trinidad has after the UN decision.

TnT maritime space after UNLOS

It’s fairly clear that the Maritime space has been significantly curtailed by the UNLOS decision. What this means is that the potential areas for exploration have been significantly reduced. This begs the question, precisely how much Gas does Trinidad have in reserve? At one point projections were for 20 years, some opposition figures have placed the figure as low as 9 years (however it should be stressed that this interpretation is open to debate).

 Small wonder that the IMF in it’s recent Article IV consultation urged the Port of Spain Government to diversify it’s economy away from petroleum.  It’s also not clear how this information affects the proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline between Barbados and Trinidad.

The billion dollar question is…. How much time does Trinidad have before it runs out of gas?



August 6, 2007

Sigh – here we go again…. TnT/Barbados Fishing Negotiations

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but the Trinidad Express posted an editorial today on the fishing agreement talks.

Not long ago Prime Minister Manning stated that there was some sort of draft fishing treaty between this country and Barbados and that it was subject to discussions at meetings between the technocrats of both countries. Now we learn that a mission from Barbados is holding discussions in Tobago with a Trinidad and Tobago team, led by the head of the fisheries department of the THA.


What we find extremely strange is that there does not appear to be any involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Food Production and Marine Resources. When the first treaty was being negotiated some years ago everything was conducted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Knowsley, with top career diplomats leading the team. There were however advisors and observers. The diplomats were all fully versed in the requirements of the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and were briefed on the technicalities of the dynamics of the flying fish industry

The question that we must therefore ask is-is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs involved in these meetings?


Of course, the simple answer is that the discussion is now REALLY about fish. In the discussions before what was at stake was the maritime boundary between TnT and Barbados. That has now been established beyond any quarrel. What the discussions now center on is the issue of fish and fish only. This has moved the Barbados/TnT agreement from something of strategic national importance to Trinidad to a local issue best dealt with by the THA.


No doubt the Trinidad government will have to answer more of these questions in the coming months, as most Trinidadians STILL seem to be under the impression that this was always just about fish.


Why the big difference in the negotiating teams? Now it’s about fisheries, before it wasn’t.



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