The territorial dispute over the Essequibo region between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Cooperative Republic of Guyana is filled with multinational oil interests that underlie the course of the case.
Guyana has initiated legal proceedings against Venezuela at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), seeking a final resolution for the contested 159,000 square kilometers of territory. The objective is to formalize the Paris Arbitral Award of 1899, a move contested by Venezuela. According to Venezuela, the United Kingdom, and Guyana itself when it was still a British colony, the Paris Award was a legal fraud based on a political compromise between the UK and the US to deprive Venezuela of a territory that historically always belonged to it. This admission of fraud led to the signing of the Geneva Agreement of 1966 to resolve the Essequibo dispute.
In order to ensure the ICJ rules in its favor, Guyana has the financial support of multinational oil companies, especially ExxonMobil, interested in the oil reserves of the Essequibo region.
Oil, law firms, and money
Among the lawyers hired by Guyana, there is Edward Craven, who operates from London and works for the law firm Matrix Chambers based in London, Brussels, and Geneva. Two other lawyers contracted by Guyana are Juan Pablo Hugues Arthur and Isabella F. Uría, who are based in New York and work for the leading US law firm, Foley Hoag LLP.
The presence of the two influential law firms in the process has been ongoing since before the ICJ announced in 2020 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case.
In addition, Guyana hired a battery of experts including:
- Paul S. Reichler of Foley Hoag,
- Alain Pellet, professor emeritus of the University of Paris Nanterre, former president of the International Law Commission, and member of the Institut de Droit International;
- Queens barrister Philippe Sands, professor of International Law at University College London and barrister of Matrix Chambers.
Both the payment for legal services and the handling of the dispute have been subjects of controversy in Guyana. In December 2017, Carl Greenidge, then foreign minister of Guyana, explained to the Guyanese parliament that between 2016 and 2017 his government had difficulty paying the legal team on time. This caused him to recommend to then President Brigadier David Granger to cover the legal expenses through a disbursement of $15 million of the $18 million the government had received from ExxonMobil in 2016 as a signing bonus for oil exploration contract.
This revelation provoked a political crisis, with questions raised by the opposition and civil society groups about the use of the funds and the handling of the issue.
Foley Hoag: Big pharma and green capitalism’s million-dollar lobby
Foley Hoag and Guyana were equally happy with the judgment issued on April 6, 2023 by 14 of the 15 judges of the ICJ affirming jurisdiction over Guyana’s claim against Venezuela that the boundary between the two countries was fixed by the Arbitral Award of 1899.
The firm acknowledged in a press release the “assistance” of Craven, Hugues, and Uría, among other lawyers. It also noted the words of Guyanese President Irfaan Ali, who congratulated “the continued commitment and outstanding work” of the legal team.
Foley Hoag is a law firm that employs nearly 300 lawyers and earned almost $500 million in revenue in 2020, according to data from the ProPublica portal, more than double of what it collected in 2019. The firm also received payments in 2010 from pharmaceutical lobbying firms to contact lawmakers in the US House and Senate and prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from imposing tough new safety restrictions on acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol. High doses of the drug can cause liver damage and death.
The powerful law firm was also involved in the dispute between more than 1 million people in the United States who work in the fishing industry on the East Coast and Vineyard Wind, an offshore wind energy company. The key person in the case was Amanda Lefton, former director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), who in May 2021 gave the green light to a project based on turbines the height of 70-story skyscrapers that would generate 800 megawatts of electricity south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A report underwritten by her admitted that there would be “negative economic impacts to commercial fishing” and that, while fishers will be allowed to do their work within the wind farm boundaries, “the entire 30.6-acre area is likely to be cut off from commercial fishing.”
In January 2022, the agencies backed down amid multiple lawsuits and Lefton left BOEM to join Foley Hoag, the firm representing Vineyard Wind. A spokesperson for the firm said Lefton complied with all ethics rules as a government official and has “an unwavering commitment to continue to do so in the future.”
Matrix Chambers: Old hand at robbing Venezuela
Matrix Chambers played a pivotal role in the legal action initiated by ConocoPhillips against Venezuela at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank. The dispute stemmed from ConocoPhillips, in collaboration with ExxonMobil, steadfastly refusing negotiations with the Venezuelan government for the restructuring of its shareholding in five Association Agreements (Petrozuata, Hamaca, and Corocoro for ConocoPhillips, and Cerro Negro and La Ceiba for ExxonMobil.) ConocoPhillips lawsuit was an effort to avoid having to align these projects with the prevailing regulations governing oil exploration and production activities in Venezuela following the enactment of the Venezuelan Constitution and the Organic Law of Hydrocarbons in 2001.
The two companies going to court in 2007 prompted the Venezuelan government to reverse the inclusion of these companies in such Venezuelan State projects, which in turn assigned them to subsidiaries of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to ensure their operational continuity. The migration would only have required ConocoPhillips to reduce its weighted participation in the Petrozuata and Hamaca projects by 10.7% and ExxonMobil to reduce its participation in the Cerro Negro project by 13%.
In that case, the representative of ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil was James Crawford, founder of Matrix Chambers, who was later elected judge of the ICJ in November 2014, and died in 2021 while still in service. As is well known, Venezuela did not have the right to defense in US courts due to the Trump administration’s refusal to recognize the constitutional government of President Nicolás Maduro. The US government took the opportunity to take over CITGO Petroluem Corporation, US subsidiary of PDVSA and Venezuela’s most valuable state asset abroad.
ConocoPhillips has been a feverish hunter of Venezuelan assets since the work of Matrix Chambers to bleed Venezuela of its national wealth. At present, it is aiming to take over the shares of CITGO Petroleum Corporation, its three refineries, fuel distribution plants, and a franchise with 7,000 service stations in the US.
ConocoPhillips also claimed ownership over the PDVSA funds held in the Novo Banco of Portugal, and attempted to collect some USD 115 million owed to Venezuela by the Jamaican government, all in order to partially enforce another arbitration award of USD 2 billion, granted to ConocoPhillips by foreign courts favorable to the corporation.
Therefore, this is not a dispute between Venezuela and Guyana, but between Venezuela and a corporate network that attempts to strengthen its interests to the detriment of national sovereignty and the socioeconomic wealth of entire populations. Corporate interests that are synchronously aligned with the discourse of “failed State” with which the United States has been trying to brand Venezuela in international forums.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Misión Verdad is a Venezuelan investigative journalism website with a socialist perspective in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution
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