Dominica appears to have all but ceded its claim of Bird Island to Venezuela, a diplomatic cable released this week by whistle-blower site Wikileaks, has revealed.
“It’s a fact. So there is nothing we can do from a legal standpoint to reclaim Bird Island,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said during a June 26, 2006 press conference at the CARICOM Secretariat in Guyana, according to Wikileaks.
The cable stated that Skerrit’s remarks came several days after he met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, “where the leaders agreed to establish a joint commission that will meet in July to examine the maritime boundary between the two nations.”
The cable, which was created in July 2006 by the US embassy in Barbados and was released yesterday (Friday, August 26) by Wikileaks, said that days after Skerrit made his announcement the government of Dominica announced that Venezuela will provide Dominica with US$29- million in new aid for housing construction.
“This latest Venezuelan assistance will be given in the form of a US$22-million grant and US$7-million soft loan, supplementing the estimated US$10-million combination of funding and in-kind assistance Venezuela currently provides to Dominica’s airport expansion program,” the cable pointed out.
However when confronted on the matter the cable stated a high level government official said Skerrit did not formally give up Dominica’s claim to Bird Island. “The PM’s remarks were not intended to recognize Venezuela’s claim of sovereignty to the disputed territory, but simply state the current legal situation,” the cable stated. “Dominica understands that several countries have previously recognized Venezuela’s right to Bird Island, and that if the matter goes to arbitration Dominica may very well lose. The MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) official explained that the planned joint commission would not determine which nation’s claim to Bird Island is accurate, but simply allow legal experts to examine technical issues regarding the maritime boundary between Venezuela and Dominica.”
The cable concluded that the Prime Minister’s move was most likely “an attempt by the Government of Dominica to place itself in a position to extract some form of compensation from Venezuela. As the PM’s recent remarks indicate, the Government understood that it did not have a strong legal case for Bird Island and simply sought to get something from Venezuela in return for ultimately acquiescing. The new US$22-million grant from Venezuela suggests that Dominica was successful.”
Bird Island, also called Isla de Aves, is 375 meters in length and never more than 50 meters in width, and rises four meters above the sea on a calm day. According to the UN Law of the Seas it is classified as a rock. It is located 140 miles west of Dominica and 340 miles north of the Venezuelan mainland.