The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, promulgated this Wednesday (3) the “Organic Law for the Defense of Guyana Essequiba”, which intends to formalize the decision taken in a referendum by the population last year to treat the Essequibo territory, in dispute with Guyana, as a Venezuelan state.

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During the ceremony, the Chief Executive also said he had evidence that the United States Southern Command had installed a military base on the border with the neighboring country. “In the territory of Guyana, Essequiba installed secret military bases of the Southern Command and CIA centers to prepare attacks against the population of Tumeremo, in the south and east of Venezuela, and to prepare an escalation against Venezuela,” said Maduro.

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The president of Venezuela also asked the population and the Armed Forces to be “alert” to provocations and to defend Venezuelan territory.

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This is not the first time that Maduro has denounced plans for attacks against the country and even the intention of attempting attacks against it. In January of this year, the Public Ministry announced that it had carried out 5 operations that arrested suspects of planning attacks against the president and attacks to destabilize the country. The president also said that former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe had participated in other “terrorist” plans to attack the country.

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Guyana Defense Law

The law sanctioned by Maduro had already been presented by the president himself in December 2023, shortly after the referendum that collected the population’s opinion on the dispute over the territory. The law was approved in the first round in Parliament on December 6th and in the second round on March 21st.

The text determines a transitional period for incorporation, until elections are held to choose a governor for the new state that would be created. Until then, the territory would be legislated by the Venezuelan National Assembly. The law also determines that Venezuela will choose a head of government who will work provisionally in Tumeremo, in the state of Bolívar (south), close to the border with the disputed area.

Another issue indicated by the law is that maps that contain the territory of Venezuela must show the state of Essequibo.

The law was supported by the result of the referendum held in December 2023 in Venezuela. Voters had to answer 5 questions that questioned the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice of the United Nations (UN) to resolve the issue and proposed that the 1966 Geneva Agreement be the valid instrument for the dispute. The agreement signed between Venezuela and the United Kingdom recognizes Venezuela’s claim to the area.

Understand the dispute

With 160,000 km², the Essequibo territory has been the subject of dispute since the 19th century, but the controversy took on a new shape after 2015, when the American company Exxon Mobil found huge offshore oil reserves off the coast of the enclave.

Guyana then handed over concessions so that the company could explore reserves that are estimated at more than 11 billion barrels of oil and made Guyana’s GDP the fastest growing in the world, according to projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The decision displeased Caracas, which claims that Georgetown could not have unilaterally issued concessions in an undelimited territory. The government of President Nicolás Maduro even accused his Guyanese counterpart of following the interests of Exxon Mobil and inciting a conflict in the region. Guyana accuses its neighbor of “expansionist intentions” and since September has been allowing US military exercises on the border.

According to the National Electoral Council, around 10.5 million voters participated in the referendum and 95.93% agreed to incorporate Guyana into the map and grant citizenship to the more than 120,000 Guyanese living in the region.

The presidents of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and Guyana, Irfaan Ali, met in December to discuss the dispute over the territory. Through social media, the Venezuelan Presidency celebrated the meeting and said that the representatives expressed “willingness to continue the dialogue to resolve the controversy in relation to the territory of Essequibo”.

The Guyanese president stated that he expressed to Maduro “Guyana’s clear position that we are a peaceful country and people, we have no other ambitions than seeking peaceful coexistence with Venezuela.” However, Ali said he argued “that the controversy should be resolved in the International Court of Justice [CIJ]”, a scope that is rejected by Caracas.

Editing: Lucas Estanislau


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