Gunboat diplomacy by Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been called upon to explain the accosting of Grenadian fishermen in international waters.

President of the Southern Fishermen Association and Interim President of the Grenada National Fishermen Organisation, James Nicholas, told The New Today that they received one official complaint from a member of the Association who reported that a Venezuelan Battleship approached the fishermen and ordered them to stop fishing with immediate effect as they were fishing in Venezuelan waters.

Two other incidents were also heard of but not reported to officially to the Association.

Nicholas said that the fishermen reported that using their co-ordinates they knew they were in Grenadian waters but decided to move closer to mainland.

This newspaper understands that the following morning, the Venezuelan Battleship again approached them and demanded that they stop fishing in Venezuelan waters.

The Southern Fishermen President said that the Association reported the incident to Chief Fisheries Officer, Justin Rennie, but was dissatisfied with his response and as such issued a letter to the Minister with responsibility for Fisheries and copied to other senior government ministers including Minister Steele as well as to CARICOM.

Nicholas told The New Today newspaper that the association is satisfied with the public statements made by Minister Steele and hopes that discussions with Caracas will culminate with a boundary delimitation agreement between both countries in the interest of local fishermen.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Business, Nicholas Steele, informed the media last week during the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing that government has written the Venezuelan Government and awaiting a response following complaints from local fishermen about being accosted by Venezuelan coast guard vessels in international waters, to the west of Grenada.

Steele told the media that a letter of inquiry was dispatched through the Venezuelan Embassy, based at Lance Aux Epines, St George, seeking an explanation of the reported complaints.

“We have sent a letter of inquiry to the Venezuelan Government inquiring as to the reason and rational for that interception and are awaiting a response. It’s a matter that we take very seriously,” the minister said.

The senior government minister said that the letter is requesting a report on the matter, which will be followed by discussions.

“When the report gets back from Venezuela we will have discussions as friendly neighbours as to how to proceed while ensuring that the rights of our citizens are not infringed upon and the relationship between Grenada and Venezuela is not degraded,” he remarked.

“We do share boundaries between Grenada and Venezuela and as such sometimes there are disputes or misunderstandings. How we handle it will depend on how our relations continue in the future,” he said.

The Tillman Thomas-led Congress government in 2010 announced plans to begin talks with Venezuela on a maritime boundary agreement more than a month after it signed a similar accord with Trinidad and Tobago.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Peter David, who also served as Tourism Minister before resigning from the former NDC government in April 2012, made the call for the opening of maritime talks with Venezuela while speaking in St George’s at the formal launch of the Grenada-Venezuela Friendship Association (GVFA) earlier this year in a CMC report.

David said that the two countries share a physical connection by the close proximity of coastlines adding that the difference between the coastlines is less than the 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone as stipulated in international law.

There has been no word from the Keith Mitchell-led Government about moves to begin direct discussions with Venezuela on boundary delimitation.


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