The Venezuelan foreign ministry condemned Guyana on December 5 for acting “under the mandate of the American transnational Exxon Mobile” in the disputed territory of Essequibo, after essentially annexing it on December 3.
“Did the United States remove the chair from the President of Guyana?” reads a Foreign Ministry statement from December 4. “Because the President of Guyana said that he had the United States troops ready to wage war against Venezuela. In other words, the United States – once again – is acting as they are: they make a promise to Guyana, they encourage it to provoke Venezuela and then they leave them alone.”
While this rhetoric might have worked in the past for President Nicolas Maduro, things are a bit more complicated this time around.
The ICJ ruled on December 1 that “Venezuela shall not take any action that would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute,” i.e., they may not enforce the results of a certain referendum.
Venezuela held a consultative referendum on December 3 to gain public support for the annexation of the Essequibo territory, which covers about 2/3 of Guyana’s land mass and contains about 1/6 of its population. On December 5, the country then created a High Commission for the Defense of Guyana Esequiba.
Seizing this 61,600 sq mi piece of Guyana, west of the Essequibo river, would boost Venezuela’s GDP by 25-30%, giving it a massive increase of wealth, as it anxiously seeks to join BRICS, in partnership with Russia and China, both of whom have supported the Maduro regime.
Maduro discussed joining BRICS with Brazilian President Lula da Silva in May, according to Venezuela Analysis, which says “The high-level meeting comes as part of joint efforts to strengthen bilateral ties following the restoration of diplomatic and economic relations after years of tension under Lula’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who embraced Washington regime change plots against Maduro, backing the so-called ‘interim government’ of opposition figure Juan Guaidó.”
Essequibo is a mostly undeveloped, rugged rainforest terrain which is rich in natural resources such as oil, diamonds, bauxite, gold, numerous valuable minerals and tourist attractions such as Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single drop waterfall. The Essequibo river itself is so large that it contains 360 islands.
Aside from being the world’s fastest growing economy due to its large oil reserves, Guyana is uniquely important as it is the only English speaking country in South America with the only Muslim head of state in the Western Hemisphere. It has a diverse, multicultural population, with mosques and access to halal food choices in virtually every direction of travel from the capital city of Georgetown. Guyana has also been increasingly strengthening relations with the USA.
The dispute over the Essequibo was rekindled by Venezuela after ExxonMobil discovered huge oil reserves in the region in 2015, in waters that Caracas considers to be in its territory.
Guyana took the dispute over the Essequibo region to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018 to maintain control of the region and its national sovereignty and sought a ruling in late November to stop the referendum.
While the ICJ issued an emergency decree forbidding Venezuela from taking any action to seize the land in dispute, it also has pledged to see the case through to a final resolution. The ICJ prefers the 1899 ruling by the British when Essequibo was made part of British Guiana, as Guyana was a colony at that time.
Guyana gained independence from the UK in 1966, which complicated matters. Complaints to the UN by Venezuela in 1962 resulted in a Geneva agreement in 1966, signed by Venezuela, British Guinea, and the UK, which established that both countries must find a peaceful, practical, and satisfactory resolution, or refer the matter to an appropriate international organ in the event of being unable to do so.
Caracas Chronicles notes the Maduro administration wishes to “measure its mobilization power and stroke electoral nationalism before the 2024 election.”