Will Nicolas Maduro take the plunge and annex the oil-rich Essequibo province, which belongs to his neighbor, Guyana? In any case, Venezuelans said “yes” by more than 95% to the consultative referendum organized on Sunday.
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The opposition may denounce, after the holding of the referendum on Sunday December 3, a sham success, a massive abstention (on which in fact no official figures have been published), that changes nothing: the President Nicolas Maduro congratulates himself on a victory “overwhelming“. “We have taken the first steps of a new historic stage in the fight for what belongs to us“, did he declare. A success which will give him prospects, while he is rather poorly placed in the polls in anticipation of the presidential election of 2024, which will be held in a country eaten away by hyperinflation (+ 234% in 2022).
This plebiscite, Venezuela is making a real middle finger to international law. Because what this vote says is that the annexation of Essequibo (sometimes called Guayana Esequiba) is entirely legitimate, that the International Court of Justice, although supposed to arbitrate this border dispute which has dragged on for decades, n He doesn’t have a say. On December 1, the UN’s highest court ordered Venezuela to refrain from any action that would change the status quo in Essequibo. This vote also says that the annexed citizens will of course take Venezuelan nationality. Does this remind you of Russia’s method in Crimea? This is normal – even if the inhabitants of the future annexed region were not asked to vote here.
10 billion barrels of oil at stake
On the day of the vote, several leaders (including Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and Speaker of Parliament Jorge Rodriguez) released a video showing Essequibo Native Americans taking down the Guyana flag and replacing it with a Venezuelan flag. As if bringing the province into the fold of Venezuela was obvious.
When an international arbitration was issued in 1899 granting Essequibo to the British, who then owned Guyana, Venezuela did not contest the decision. But when Guyana embarked on the path to independence in 1964, Caracas’ territorial claims were reawakened.
And if today Venezuela is so keen on the attachment of this province, it is because off its coast it has more offshore oil than Kuwait and the Emirates combined. We are talking about phenomenal reserves of 10 billion barrels. Caracas, which already has enormous reserves, wants to expand its operations and has no desire to see this jackpot slip through its hands. Especially since the first discoveries of these deposits in 2015, Guyana has experienced meteoric growth. + 62% last year, + 38% expected this year.
Guyana does not want to give in
In Guyana, human chains formed along the roads throughout the country to express the attachment to Essequibo, its 160,000 square kilometers of virgin forest (which represents two thirds of the country’s surface) and its 125,000 inhabitants .
The president, Irfaan Ali, who spoke of the referendum as a “existential threat, nevertheless wants to be reassuring. “Our first line of defense is diplomacy and we are in a very strong position “, he said on Sunday, stressing that his country has vast international support. “There is nothing to fear in the hours, days or months to come “, he added.
Guyana, a member of the Commonwealth, will indeed be able to count on the support of London and the United States. But will this be enough to prevent an inmilitary intervention? D‘as much as in terms of balance of power it is quickly seen. Venezuela has at its disposal more than a million and a half paramilitaries, fighter planes and tanks, while Guyana can only count on a few thousand men and no heavy equipment.
The Brazilian neighbor which shares its northern border with both Venezuela and Guyana says it is despite everything “concerned” and strengthened its military presence in the area. Since COP28 in Dubai, Lula has “hoped that common sense would prevail“. “If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, that South America doesn’t need, it’s unrest“, he explained even before the result of the referendum.