Notes From The Margin

July 29, 2008

Venezuela Presses Its Claim – The Propaganda War Starts

We have tracked two stories on Venezuela’s claim of Barbados’ waters in the Venezuelan media today. The tone of one is actually quite strident.

The first article:

NGO reports Barbados is bidding oil blocks in Venezuelan waters

The government of Barbados has launched an oil and gas bid for 26 offshore blocks, two of which are allegedly located in part in Venezuelan waters, claimed on Monday Aníbal Martínez, head of non-governmental organization Frente Nacional Pro Defensa del Petróleo Venezolano (National Front for the Defense of Venezuelan Oil).

Martínez said that the government of Barbados put 26 oil and gas blocks for tender stretching more than 70,000 square kilometers. He added that there are two blocks in the bid, called Botton Bay and Crane Bay, 70 percent of whose area would be in Venezuelan waters.

“This amounts to an area of 5,200 square kilometers. It is a hostile act on the part of Barbados, and we have to be on alert. Even if it was one square centimeter, we cannot let this to happen,” said the Venezuelan oil expert.

The second article is a follow up

Claims of sale of oil licenses by Barbados

Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramírez reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in possession of the evidence attesting to the sale by Barbados of licenses for oil drilling in Venezuelan maritime areas.

“We took the official letter to the appropriate channels; the Foreign Ministry is working on it. This has been the case in the past, where countries, well, awarded licenses for areas that are beyond their jurisdiction and by talking, directly speaking, things are eventually placed where they should be,” said the official.

What will also be interesting to watch is the reaction of Caracas to Barbados claims to the outer continental shelf. What is legally Barbados’ southernmost waters Venezuela considers to be its exit to the Atlantic (hence the Trinidad/Venezuela treaty) However Venezuela never made a treaty with Barbados, and Barbados has no reason to negotiate one as it is a small slice of their territory. The Venezuela/Trinidad treaty has no impact on Barbados or Guyana, so it will be interesting to see where this goes.

It is unlikely that this will go away.  Further Barbados has little reason to take on Venezuela’s claims other than Venezuela has the means to agressively enforce its claims on the area by force of arms.

Hopefully this will not go that far.

Marginal

How Trinidad Recognised Venezuela’s Claim to Most Of Guyana’s Land

Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land

Marginal Picks Up His Pen – Venezuela’s Claim of Barbados’ Waters

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June 16, 2008

Marginal Picks Up His Pen – Venezuelas Claim of Barbados’ Waters


After much thought we’ve decided to come out of retirement to blog on the subject of Venezuela’s claim of Barbados’ waters. This is not a full re-opening of NFTM but we felt that given our history of blogging on Venezuela and it’s territorial claims that we might be able to provide some clarity on this issue. This article is freely reproducible (once the source is attributed). In fact we would ask that given the potential seriousness of the claim that members of the blogosphere and other media propogate this story.


Marginal

Like Barbados Free Press we saw the story today in the Venezuelan publication PetroleumWorld entitled “Barbados’ Troubled Waters”

The new government of Barbados opened the bidding process for rights to offshore blocks for oil & gas exploration on Monday and will close it on September 30. The winner announcement will be made on Nov 20th. More than 20 companies were present this week in the bid kick off, including among others, Exxon, Gazprom, Lukoil Shell, BHP Billiton of Australia, Hess Oil Company, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Marathon Oil and Murphy Oil, all of the United States, StatoilHydro, Petro-Canada, and Petrobras from Brazil. However, there is an issue that the IOC’s perhaps have not taken in account, that is that two of the block are in venezuelan waters, the Bottom Bay blocks Ad I and Ad II. We expect that the venezuelan government will issue a diplomatic note to the government of Barbados asking for clarification and the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA will issue a warning to the OIC’s on the issue.

The two blocks in question are the two southernmost blocks that are up for bid (Highlighted in red in the illustration). Venezuela’s claim rests on two pillars

1. It’s claim to approximately half of Guyana’s land area.

Venezuela claims everything west of the Essequibo river, the historical reasons for this can be found in our post. Venezuela and Its Claim of Most of Guyana’s Land

2. Venezuela’s Maritime Treaty with Trinidad.

In 1990 Venezuela and Trinidad agreed a treaty delineating their maritime boundary. This treaty can be found on line HERE.  This treaty allowed the development of Trinidad and Tobago’s offshore oil resources. However this treaty had two unforeseen impacts. First it tacitly recognised Venezuela’s claims on half of Guyana, and secondly it pushed Trinidad’s territorial claims north which is what led to the Maritime border dispute between Barbados and Trinidad. The impact of this can be seen in our post How Much Gas Does Trinidad Have? Indeed the main sticking point in the negotiations was the Trinidadian position that Barbados should recognise the 1990 treaty. The UNLOS council held that two countries could not bind a third without it’s consent and hence the 1990 treaty had no impact on Barbados.

The maritime boundaries are currently as seen in the diagram below. The purple line indicates Trinidad’s initial boundary claim and the brown line indicates the claim they put forward to the UNLOS Council. The green line represents the final decision of the UNLOS Council.

The result of the UNLOS is that the 1990 boundary between Venezuela and Trinidad extends into what is (and always was) legally Barbados’ waters.

Venezuela is now seeking to exercise a claim in an area that it has no right to claim. The waters under discussion can ONLY be Venezuelas if you accept that

1. Half of Guyana is actually Venezuela.

2. That two countries (Venezuela and Trinidad) can commit a third and fourth countries (Barbados and Guyana)  to some form of agreement or treaty without consulting them and without their agreement.

In short, the Venezuelan claim is baseless.

Marginal

Other interesting information on this topic.

International Law Environment by Professor Robert Volterra

Venezuela and Bird Island

Details on Aves Island – How Venezuela Controls the Caribbean Sea

Bird Island Again! – Grenada in Maritime Boundary Dispute With Venezuela.

February 23, 2008

Once Again Stn. Sargeant Reid We Disagree!

One of the more disturbing stories in the media this week comes from statements made by Station Sargeant Hartley Reid who is the First Vice President of Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB). We’re sure that Sargeant Reid is a committed individual who is passionate about his job and his Union affilliation, but these comments left us shaking our heads.

“The problem we have in Barbados is that not even half the workforce is unionised . . . . As low as 30 per cent of all workers are unionised, this is true.

“You could understand the struggles which the unions have in this country because they have 70 per cent of the workers who are benefiting from the subscriptions and the work of only 30 per cent,” first vice-president of the 14-member Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), Station Sergeant Hartley Reid, said in an interview.

“I am happy that this issue has come to the fore at this early stage of the new Democratic Labour Party administration because they will now have to take a position on unionisation and the rights of the workers.

“I have long called for legislation which says that every worker should be unionised. There is a reason for it. When a worker is not unionised you have a situation
where the employers take advantage.

“They are offered whatever salary there is and the workers have no recourse. Workers are exploited left, right, and centre; late payment of their salary or
wages; shifting of their employment conditions; sometimes they have no conditions at all,” he said.

The CTUSAB vice-president argued that with “all the anti-worker practices by unscrupulous employers” any legislation enacted by Government regarding mandatory signing up would mean that it would no longer be a requirement that “50 per cent plus one” of a company’s employees for the union to be recognised.

“It would mean that even if one person is unionised in employment that the union of their choice would come in and bargain on their behalf,” Reid said.

He said that this move would also strengthen the ombudsman’s role because he would be responsible for overseeing the operations of the trade unions.

“That can easily be done. Governments must stop hiding behind democracy, by stating every worker has a democratic right to be a member of a union or not. They are perpetuating a system where persons are continuing to live a parasitic life where they would benefit from the contributions and efforts of a few,”
he said.

We on the margin have to admit that we never thought we would see the day that a trade unionist would argue for doing away with Freedom of Association! The question that we would have to ask Sargeant Reid is as follows:

If all employers are as bad as he says in the above quote, why have trade unions not been as successful in attracting more members?

Now we aren’t denying that there are employers out there whose management practices date back to the plantation era, but surely if they were all as bad as this…

“They are offered whatever salary there is and the workers have no recourse. Workers are exploited left, right, and centre; late payment of their salary or
wages; shifting of their employment conditions; sometimes they have no conditions at all,” he said.

Then we would be seeing a much higher proportion of Unionization in the population.
Perhaps what is even more disturbing about the above statement is that it comes not just from a trade unionist but from a police officer. If this is the thinking of someone who is charged with safeguarding our democracy, perhaps we should all be concerned.
Marginal
For our earlier comments on Stn. Sargeant Reid see below:
With Respect Sargeant Reid… We Disagree

February 19, 2008

BREAKING NEWS – Strike Off – Union Backs Down

“Due to the newness of the government” BWU defers the pending strike action. However talks continue.

We’ll publish more details as we get them.

Marginal

February 17, 2008

Does Barbados Need An Industrial Court?

I run a small business (approx. 10 employees) if this general strike comes off next week it will cost me a significant amount of money. I have no part in this BWU/Royal Shop/Sandy Lane, and yet I will suffer a direct economic consequence of what is a Union action! In theory the Union must carry some civil liability for this cost, but in reality there is no way that I can recover this cost.

Why should I (along with everyone else) be penalised for one company’s perceived intransigence? The threat of a general strike is irresponsible and shows why we need to have an industrial court in this country.

Small Business Owner

Above is a comment by a small business owner and he asks what in our opinion is a valid question.

Historically industrial relations in Barbados has relied on a system of volunteerism. That is that collective agreements aren’t actually legal contracts but are considered to be more along the lines of “gentlemen’s agreements”; that is that either side can breach the agreement at will. Collective agreements are usually enforced by the relative power of the union and the business owner. Now here’s the funny thing… as INSANE as this system may sound, in Barbados it has actually worked! While industrial courts are well established throughout rest of the Caribbean, we in Barbados continue to function on a volunteerism basis, and have had a relatively stable IR climate for a long period of time. ‘

Now of course there are certain features of the Barbados system that make this workable, you have a very small number of very large powerful unions, and you also have a relatively homogeneous private sector. This has meant that historically, everyone knew the rules and how the game was played and everyone was prepared to give and take to make the overall system work.

Now in 2008 we still have a small number of large unions, however the private sector is no longer as monolithic as it was in the past. We have new international investors, we have regional investors, we have relatively new local players. In short we have people who are accustomed to functioning a more “rules based” industrial relations culture. They don’t know how we play the game “’bout here”

This of course leads to all sorts of complications, issues of recognition, issues of wildcat strikes. The Sandy Lane Showdown is a prime example of this. Is there a penalty for workers breaching the collective agreement? Where historically local employers have accepted the occasional wildcat strike as par for the course, someone accustomed to an environment where collective agreements are contracts will expect to be able to terminate wildcat strikers for “abandoning the job”.

Issues such as this will continue to come up. So we on the margin ask the question

Is it time that we retired the volunteerism system?

Do we now NEED an industrial court?

We think it deserves serious consideration.

Marginal

February 14, 2008

The Royal Rumble…..

Well after simmering for a few weeks the Royal Shop Vs. Barbados Workers Union is beginning to bubble. On the one hand the owner of the Royal Shop insists it is a straightforward case of a worker refusing to follow a reasonable instruction on the other hand the BWU is maintaining that the worker in question was fired for trying to organise the Royal Shop workforce.

The drama has rolled on through several acts, with allegations of untruths and insults being thrown around, the parties have met several times and there has been no shifting of positions. The latest salvo in the firestorm has the union reaching for perhaps its biggest gun, that of a national strike.

Now the Union actually doesn’t have many cards to play against the Royal Shop, there is no other unionised workforce there that it can call out, so it can’t stop the store from working. Further because of the smallness of the operation it can be run by literally a few people, so in a worst case scenario the owner can run it with friends and family. The stock of the store is high value, and brought in by individual courier so the union can’t say it’s not handling cargo consigned to the Royal Shop at the port. The shop’s main customers are tourists so it’s business is unlikely to suffer from a withdrawal of custom from Barbadian customers. That leaves the Union pretty much in the position of having to use the labour relations equivalent of an atom bomb to squash the proverbial cockroach.

However the Union should exercise some care with the idea of a national strike, while Bajans will support the idea of freedom of association in theory and in practice while it costs them nothing, the Union may well find that their support wavers if it suddenly starts becoming personally inconvenient to the average man in the street.

A national strike is in no one’s best interest, we on the margin would urge both sides to return to the bargaining table and let cool heads prevail.

Marginal

February 1, 2008

Bird Island Again! – Grenada in Maritime Boundary Dispute With Venezuela.

Venezuela’s claim to Bird Island seems about to become an election issue in Grenada with opposition parties protesting the length of time it is taking to settle the matter.

Now Dr. Alexis’ assertion is usually true, however the arbitrator for these issue is usually the UN Law Of The Sea Treaty, however Venezuela is not a signatory to that treaty. (unsurprisingly as Bird Island does not meet the criteria under that treaty for it’s massive claim of sea space). It is unlikely that Venezuela will  recant it’s claim, and this does appear to be a somewhat intractable problem.
Of course, Grenada like almost everyone else in the Caribbean signed up to the Petro Caribe agreement. It sounds like they are about to find out exacly how the strings are attached.
We will continue to follow this story.
Marginal
Further reading:

Details on Aves Island – How Venezuela Controls the Caribbean Sea

Venezuela and Bird Island

January 10, 2008

Politicians, It’s One Week Before Elections, Do You Know Where Your Vote Is?

With one week left to go before elections, Barbados is in the grips of one of the most intense election campaigns in recent memory. The two parties’ campaigns appear to be evenly matched, and evenly funded, and to a certain extent evenly supported. We on the Margin have been watching the silly season unfold in all its glory, and we have to admit we are unable to predict a winner at this stage.

Yes, if you listen to Waiting In Vain and Royal Rumble and the other party hacks that inhabit the blogosphere, they all predict a resounding victory for their particular party. But having spent the last week talking to many people, we think that both parties are “Whistling past the graveyard”. For as much bluster as either side makes we’re not sure that either of them has captured the hearts of the electorate.  Barbadians are looking at both parties with a skeptical eye and the hard truth is that this election could go either way.

What we have noted that this campaign has been more about accusations and counter accusations rather than issues. We would like to see some serious discussion about both parties’ visions for the next five years. While we wish that we could say that we thought we would get such reasoned debate in the next next week, we really don’t think so. We think that this next week will get wilder and dirtier with each passing day.

We on the margin would urge Barbadians,  think long and hard about both parties before you go into the polling booth. Whoever you choose is entirely up to you, but be sure to participate, be sure to cast your x. Be sure to treat that decision with the seriousness it deserves.  Hopefully we will all be better off for your doing so.

Marginal

December 21, 2007

Owen Arthur Rolls The Dice….

Owen Arthur announced the general elections today as January 15th 2008 with nomination day being December 31st. Signalling the start of what must surely be one of the shortest campaigns in local political history. Both opposition parties have been quick to condemn the announcement coming before Christmas while saying that they are ready to go to the electorate.

NFTM tries not to get into the political scene however I’m sure that we will get into commenting now and again over the coming two weeks. We had quite honestly figured that the bell would have been rung later down in the year, however the election date is the sole prerogative of the PM and given the harsh criticism of the date by the opposition, it would appear that he has execised his choice to give tactical advantage to his party.

I’m sure over the next couple of weeks we’ll hear about:

The teifing and corruption is terrible!

What corruption?

We are united behind our leader!

They are a house in disarray!

So and so is a dis and dat

and all the other things that pass for intellectual discourse in a political campaign.

However, the fact remains that both parties come from the same ideological position (we’ve talked about this before in our post “Prime Minister Owen Arthur, and the Opposition Democratic Labour Party led by David Thompson, who was once the Minister of Finance, are virtual ideological twins”)

So whoever wins don’t expect much to change (both good and bad)

Marginal

December 20, 2007

How involved should Unions be in the political process?

In our browsing of the news online we came across this story from CBC.

This article raises several questions in our mind as to how appropriate this is.
Should a Union endorse a political party? Should politicians be union representatives?
We can think of several scenarios…
what if the union endorses Party A, who goes on to lose. What happens when the union sits across the table from a Party C (sorry the letter B is too politically charged here)  Prime Minister? Will the workers suffer for the union’s poor choice?
or…
what if the union endorses party F who goes on to win, is that government then the lapdog of the union? (and if you really want to think about it how different would this be from political parties current relationships with financial donors?)
hold on it gets better….
Let’s say party F above has to make some hard decisions for the good of the economy. These decisions have to be taken for the long term good of the country, but they will have short term repercussions for workers. Does the Union’s sway over the party stop them to the short term benefit of the workers but the long term detriment of everyone?
Nowwwww……
Before you think I’m coming down firmly against Unions being involved in the political process think about this. Barbados has a long history of heavy trade union involvement in politics, way back to the founding of the BLP and Grantley Adams.  More recently we have seen Evelyn Greaves, Bobby Morriss and others being sitting members of Parliament. Barbados hasn’t done badly over the long term. Did this union involvement help or hurt. Or did it help at some times and then hinder at others?
We’ve knocked this back and forth and haven’t come to a firm position. It’s an interesting discussion to have though…..
We’d like to hear other’s input.
Marginal
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