Caricom secretary general Irwin LaRocque
Caricom secretary general Irwin LaRocque

KINGSTON, March 20 (Xinhua) -- The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) released a statement on Friday to express its concerns on the territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, according to reports reaching here from Georgetown.

The Georgetown-based regional bloc, which consists of most Anglophone countries in and around the Caribbean, reiterated "firm, longstanding and continued support" to Guyana, who is on a heated verbal clash against its Spanish-speaking neighbor.

The territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela on the area of Essequibo in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America is a long-run problem inherited from colonial powers. An international arbitration gave Britain rights to the Essequibo in 1899, but Venezuela called the ruling into question in 1966, upon Guyana's independence from Britain.

After a few military confrontations during the 1960s and the 1970s, the conflict has remained stable. But a new round of debate resurfaced recently as ExxonMobil revealed its plan to start an offshore drilling near the area.

According to the Guyanese government, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez sent a letter to the U.S. company's Guyana office last month to oppose the move. ExxonMobil, however, insisted they are operating offshore "under license from the government of Guyana."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guyana then issued a statement insisting the country "has full and unfettered authority to unilaterally explore, with or without partners, and exploit the living and non-living resources within its jurisdiction."

But this assertion was called "unfair and false" by Venezuela. The country's foreign ministry asked the Guyanese to seek a "practical and satisfactory solution for both sides... without the interference of foreign factors."

CARICOM issued a statement on Friday in support of its member state Guyana and expressed the hope for an early resolution.

"The Caribbean Community reiterates its firm, long-standing and continued support for the maintenance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana and for the unhindered economic and social development of all of Guyana," CARICOM said.

"In this regard, the community, once again, expresses its hope for an early resolution of the controversy which has arisen as a result of Venezuela's contention that the arbitral award of 1899, which definitively settled the boundary between the two countries, is null and void," it added.