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.

February 1, 2008

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

Venezuela’s claim to Bird Island seems about to become an election issue in Grenada with opposition parties protesting the length of time it is taking to settle the matter.

Now Dr. Alexis’ assertion is usually true, however the arbitrator for these issue is usually the UN Law Of The Sea Treaty, however Venezuela is not a signatory to that treaty. (unsurprisingly as Bird Island does not meet the criteria under that treaty for it’s massive claim of sea space). It is unlikely that Venezuela will  recant it’s claim, and this does appear to be a somewhat intractable problem.
Of course, Grenada like almost everyone else in the Caribbean signed up to the Petro Caribe agreement. It sounds like they are about to find out exacly how the strings are attached.
We will continue to follow this story.
Further reading:

Details on Aves Island – How Venezuela Controls the Caribbean Sea

Venezuela and Bird Island

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.


October 16, 2007

Maybe We Should Look Up The Meaning of “Binding Arbitration”

Filed under: Capitalism,Caribbean,Caricom,Guyana,Law Of The Sea,Petroleum,Suriname,United Nations — notesfromthemargin @ 9:52 pm

Having read the judgement handed down by the United Nations Law of The Sea Council in the Suriname Guyana border dispute it now appears that some parties in Suriname are seeking to find flaws in the ruling.



According to Naarendorp, the award is not fair and equitable, since Guyana has been awarded 65 percent of the 31,600 square kilometers wide former area of dispute while Suriname received the remaining 35 percent….

…The Surinamese experts, in recalculating the equidistance line, more then doubled that number using 45 points for their computations. As a result a new line emerged situated west of the boundary determined by the UN Arbitration panel.


If this line is accepted said Naarendorp, the award will be more equitable and fair, since the area will be partitioned 49 percent for Guyana and 51 percent for Suriname.

Granted the comment comes from a former cabinet minister with a political axe to grind, but one would think that the function of the UNLOS council as a FINAL court of appeal would be self explanatory.



September 22, 2007

UN Law Of The Sea Announces Decision on Guyana Suriname Dispute

Given our general level of interests in Maritime boundaries on this blog, We thought we would let our readers know that the UNLOS council has handed down a decision on the Maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname.

 The dispute has been the source of considerable friction between the two countries with a Suriname gunboat chasing off an oil exploration bid authorised by the Guyana Government. It would seem that the tribunal sided with Guyana over Suriname’s claims.

In a unanimous vote, the five-judge panel from the Arbitral Tribunal under the Law of the Sea Convention decided to split thousands of square kilometres of offshore blocs largely on the principle of “equidistance”, but in doing so, it took away a large tract of water that Suriname had claimed as its own for decades from neighbouring Guyana…..


…..In June 2000, Suriname’s Ronald Venetiaan administration sent gunboats to expel a rig that was drilling in the disputed area. The rig was leased by Toronto-based CGX Energy Inc, one of the world’s tiniest oil companies, on a concession award granted by Guyana.

The incident brought the two finance-starved former European colonies very close to war, with both massing troops on their borders and allowing military aircraft to over-fly each other’s airspace in a near farcical show of force by two armies with a combined total of no more than 5,000 troops and with less than a dozen planes and vessels under their command.

 We’ve downloaded the judgement (If you are interested its available here)

and we are taking our time going through it.  This border dispute has been the focus of bi-lateral and multilateral efforts under Caricom to resolve it.  Due to the UN it has now been settled once and for all. This clears the way for Oil exploration on both sides of the line. Hopefully this will lead to significant oil finds as few would disagree with me that both Guyana and Suriname are in desperate need of cash.


The news story did have one rather thought provoking point to close on….


Critics, Caricom experts especially, had noted that the intransigence displayed by Suriname and the failure of the two to reach a bilateral deal have cost them billions in revenues as oil prices continue to soar.

Food for thought there….



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.



August 4, 2007

Slow Movement Towards a Fishing Agreement

After much song and dance, an involvement of UN Law of the Sea tribunals. Barbados and Trinidad are finally showing movement towards a fishing agreement.


Barbados and Tobago have agreed that a fish stock assessment in the waters between the islands be undertaken by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

This after ten hours of intense first round discussions between high-powered teams from both islands on how to go about the fish stock assessment. The meeting was held at the Mt Irvine Bay Hotel on Tuesday. Tobago was represented by a nine-member team led by Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment Secretary Hilton Sandy while the Barbados eight-member team was led by Sir Henry Forde, former Attorney General and Foreign Affairs Minister. Both teams included executive members of their island’s respective fisherfolk associations.

While fish were what kicked the whole boundary dispute off, as you can see from previous articles (

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

the whole mess had it’s genesis elsewhere.

While most Barbadians seem to be aware that the dispute was never just about fish, if you talk to most Trinis, they still seem to think that this was all about the fish and nothing else. Further there is a firm belief in certain quarters of Trinidad that they “won” the dispute and that Barbados was soundly “beaten”.

Having read the judgment I’d beg to differ with that position. However let’s hope that we do end up with a fishing agreement out of this.

At least then the little guy would have gotten something out of this whole mess.


July 27, 2007

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


The UNLOS dispute tribunal has come and gone and it’s decision has been made, however one of the root causes of the dispute stems from a treaty between Venezuela and Trinidad agreeing a maritime border.  This treaty (if you are interested in the details) is available on line Here:

Now the reasons for a treaty between Venezuela and Trinidad are perfectly logical.  The treaty would allow the exploitation of the oil expected to be found in the area. And the successful exploitation of these resources is what underpins much of today’s Trinidadian economy. The boundary agreed by the treaty is shown in the graphic.

However have a look at where the Guyana Venezuela border is…..

The only way that Venezuela could lay any claim to the eastermost part of the line set out in the treaty would be to operate on the basis of it’s claim of all of Guyana west of the Essiquibo River. Now the Venezuelans were consistent in their claim on this, but what is surprising here is that Trinidad would have known full well that in signing this treaty they were validating the Venezuelan’s claim, but they agreed anyway.

Now this treaty opened the door for offshore exploration of the offshore oil fields, and the Trinidadians pushed their claim further to the north to what is indicated as a purple line on the chart. This apparently went unchallenged by both Barbados and Guyana at the time. However the chain of events that started the whole UNLOS dispute, has it’s genesis in the Venezuelan/Guyanese border dispute.

And I bet that you always thought it was about fish….


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