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T&T Blunders: Maritime Boundary Judgment
Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dear Sir

I read with interest the contribution by Stephen Kangal, the former senior Trinidad & Tobago diplomat, posted on this website on May 13, 2006. There are two main theses I wish to present in response:

I agree that T&T Attorney General Mr. John Jeremie has misled the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament and people when he claimed that T&T had secured the right to an outer continental shelf, and that Trinidad & Tobago has shot itself in the foot several times throughout this process.

It is beyond comprehension how Mr. Jeremie could conclude that Trinidad & Tobago had secured the right to an Atlantic exit and outer continental shelf rights. The Tribunal made it very clear in paragraph 384(i) that it was drawing a single maritime boundary line to define both the continental shelf (CS) and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) entitlements of the parties. This means quite simply that T&T's continental shelf and EEZ stop at the boundary line. Full Stop! It gets no Atlantic egress and no access to the possibly enormous resources of the outer continental shelf.

I would invite Mr. Jeremie to identify for the people of Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados the section(s) of the Tribunal's ruling he is relying on to support his claim of outer continental shelf rights and Atlantic access.

Now to the blunders made by Trinidad and Tobago:

(1) In negotiating the 1990 Treaty with Venezuela, T&T should have insisted on including its Caricom neighbours, namely Barbados and Guyana and to a lesser extent Suriname. Instead, it moved its boundary with Venezuela to the north to give Venezuela an Atlantic exit (Saluda al Atlantico) and expected Barbados in particular to give up territory, so that T&T could have what it had given away: namely an exit to the Atlantic and access to the outer continental shelf.

The Tribunal would have none of it. In paragraph 346 it declared "certainly Barbados cannot be required to compensate" Trinidad and Tobago for agreements it has made." As a result T&T is now shut in and can only get an easement if Barbados or Venezuela are favourably inclined to doing so.

So I do agree with Mr. Kangal's interpretation of the Tribunal's ruling, but I believe that T&T brought the situation on itself by not dealing fairly with its Caricom neighbours in relation to the 1990 Trinidad/Venezuela Agreement.

(2) In the Arbitration, Trinidad insisted that the Tribunal adjudicate the issue of outer continental shelf rights, whereas Barbados, afraid that it might cause EEZ territory to be ceded to T&T, argued that the outer continental shelf was outside the Tribunal's jurisdiction. Barbados would have been satisfied to negotiate these rights once an EEZ and inner continental shelf boundary had been established. However, the Tribunal agreed with T&T that it did have jurisdiction, but the decision it made was to limit Trinidad's continental shelf and EEZ by a single maritime boundary line, blocking forever its hope of an Atlantic exit and participation in the resources of the outer continental shelf. In this regard, Barbados got more than it ever expected. So really it is T&T's own mishandling of the Arbitration that led to its loss of an exit to the Atlantic and its outer continental shelf rights.

It is therefore quite unfair to blame Barbados for getting more than it sought or expected from the Tribunal.

(3) With regard to the area south of the median line, in the area of the Tobago Sea, I agree that from the larger perspective it was and is a non-issue. However, politically, it was a big issue in Barbados that the government had to show action on. The constant arrest of Barbadian fishermen, with no end in sight, put our government under tremendous pressure to do something. The only way that Barbados could legitimately get the fishing issue before the Tribunal was to make the claim it did. The claim therefore was simply a tactical manoeuvre and should not be taken as evidence of "Bajan imperialism". It appears the Tribunal recognized that it was a tactical move, as it ruled heavily in T&T's favour. It denied Barbados' claim to the territory and ruled that it had no jurisdiction to grant fishing rights to Barbados' fishermen.

That is exactly where the matter would have rested, had Mr. Jeremie not made, on the last day of the hearings in London, commitments that were not required of him to conclude a fishing agreement with Barbados. Having made those commitments before an international tribunal as the Agent of Trinidad and Tobago, he bound the State. Thus the Tribunal ruled that Trinidad and Tobago must conclude a fishing agreement in good faith with Barbados or face sanctions (see paragraphs 290 to 292 and paragraph 385.3).

Obviously, Barbados' tactic of claiming the area around the Tobago Sea was simply to get the fishing access issue on the table. Jeremie walked right into the trap and Barbados ended up with exactly what it was seeking all along.

(4) And now Mr. Jeremy has claimed victory in the face of such a resounding defeat and in doing so has grossly misrepresented the Tribunal's ruling.

At some point the people of T&T will have to be told in very clear terms what has been lost. I believe Mr. Kangal is trying to bring this information to the T&T public. However his ranting about "Bajan imperialism" can do no good to anyone. In stating that T&T had lost forever its right to an Atlantic access and continental shelf rights, our Deputy PM, Ms. Mottley, simply stated the facts of the Tribunal's ruling to counter Mr. Jeremie's blatant disinformation. She certainly was not boasting. Our Prime Minister, Mr. Arthur, has specifically warned his ministers and other government officials against "triumphalism" in this regard.

We in Barbados know that Barbados needs T&T as much as you need us, and that we had better put this matter behind us and get ahead with building, together with our neighbours, a better Caribbean for all.

David Brathwaite
Christ Church, Barbados

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