Experts Fear Venezuela May Try to Annex a Portion of Guyana by Force

( – A controversial referendum in Venezuela on December 3 has reignited concerns about whether President Nicolás Maduro may be trying to annex a portion of a neighboring Guayana by force. Citizens voted largely in favor of establishing a new state within the heavily disputed 61,600-square-mile Essequibo region.

The Essequibo, largely made up of jungle, riverlands, and fertile farming regions, is incredibly rich in natural resources — including oil. However, the ongoing dispute over exactly who owns the region dates back several centuries. Venezuela first claimed it in the early 19th Century, shortly after gaining independence. However, an arbitration tribunal in Paris awarded the territory to then-British Guiana, which later became the independent nation of Guyana, in 1899.

Now, ownership concerns are growing increasingly urgent, largely because of the area’s strategic position within South America and access to the sea. Guyana insists that Venezuela relinquished any claim to this land following the historic Paris Award agreement, while Venezuela disagrees.
At an event shortly after the results of the referendum came in, President Maduro called the early December referendum a victory on a path toward national unity. Cultural events and parties also kicked off across the country, while local indigenous populations launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #TheEssequiboIsOurs.

Maduro also took the opportunity to criticize both ExxonMobil and the US Command for their role in the dispute. “The insolence of and the Government of Guyana of trying to divide up the Venezuelan sea… to set up bases of the US Southern Command aimed against Venezuela.”

But not everyone sees the referendum result as a win. Officials in neighboring Guyana and throughout the international community worry that the results of the referendum could intensify hostilities or even kick off a military campaign to annex Essequibo, destabilizing the region.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has since ordered Venezuela to refrain from taking action in any way that would alter the situation on the ground. Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali praised this finding, suggesting that it supported Guyana’s right to administrate and control the Essequibo. Vice President Bharat Jagdeo also warned that Guyana would defend itself “by any means whatsoever” if provoked. Brazil’s Defense Ministry also ramped up its military presence along the border it shares with Guyana and Venezuela.

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