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Guyana bishop urges gov’t, citizens to ‘stay awake’ on Essequibo tensions

Bishop Francis Alleyne

By Kaelanne Jordan

Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB delivered a poignant Advent message echoing the gospel’s call to “Stay awake” both in the external and internal aspects of one’s lives.

Coinciding with the commencement of Advent, the Bishop of Georgetown addressed a significant political event taking place—a referendum in neighbouring Venezuela regarding a claim over the county Essequibo.

Referring to the popular “Essequibo ah we own” bumper stickers and the collective affirmation of all, Bishop Alleyne encouraged a spirit akin to a “referendum” marked by a clear and strong disposition of heart and resolve about who they are as a people of this nation and as a people of God.

The issues pertaining to the border are “worthy” of citizens’ concern and attention and Bishop Alleyne encouraged active involvement in the ongoing nationwide activities, including joining hands, waving flags, and singing patriotic songs and the national anthem. However, the Bishop also called for a simultaneous focus on what he terms “internal border issues” during this Advent period.

He pinpointed these days of Advent coincide with the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. It is a key international moment to call for an end to violence against women and girls. The 16 days run from November 25  (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until December 10, Human Rights Day.

According to Bishop Alleyne, the data/statistics reveal that evidence of gender-based violence in Guyana places the country among those with the highest number of cases.

“This is eye-opening and needs from all quarters of the nation a ‘referendum’, a concerted focus on what this is and why it is so prevalent among us and what is our ‘vote’; the changes we are ready to make, in order to bring protection, healing, peace and deep respect to the ‘frontiers’ of gender,” Bishop Alleyne said.

He commented it was “very good” to see the Government and Opposition sitting at a table together and holding a united position on the Venezuela-Essequibo matter.

He hoped those in leadership “stay awake”, and bring collaboration, unity, and shared governance to what seems to be a political divide.

A BBC report said Venezuelans who turned out to vote in the Sunday, December 3 referendum on the status of a disputed oil-rich territory long controlled by Guyana have “overwhelmingly” backed Venezuela’s territorial claim.

More than 95 per cent approved establishing a new Venezuelan State in the territory known as Essequibo, officials said.

Guyana, British Guiana before, has administered Essequibo for over a century.

“The referendum has ratcheted up tensions between the two neighbours,” said the BBC report.

The matter is currently before the International Court of Justice, although Venezuela has disputed the international court’s authority to rule on the Essequibo dispute.

According to BBC, the referendum came at a time of heightened tension between Guyana and Venezuela after the 2015 discovery of oil in the waters off Essequibo’s coast by US oil giant ExxonMobil.

“Tensions increased further in September this year when Guyana held an auction at which oil companies bid for exploration licences in Essequibo waters,” the article said.

Guyanese citizens formed human chains on Sunday to show their support for Essequibo remaining under the control of their government.

Guyana’s president Irfaan Ali reassured them in an address broadcast on Facebook, saying that “there is nothing to fear” and that his government would defend the country’s borders.