News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Mon. Dec. 4, 2023: On Sunday, Dec. 3rd, more than 95 percent of Venezuelan voters supported a claim in a referendum that the Essequibo region of Guyana belongs to Venezuela. That’s almost three-fourths of the new, oil rich South American CARICOM nation, the only English speaking nation in South America. Venezuelans who turned out to vote in the Nicolas Maduro called national referendum overwhelmingly backed Venezuela’s territorial claim.
The referendum has ratcheted up tensions between the two neighbors. Critics of the Venezuelan president say he called the non-binding referendum to whip up nationalist fervor and distract from calls for free and fair elections to be held.
Guyana’s Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar, led a patriotic march through the communities on the East Bank of Essequibo on Dec. 3, 2023. (GINA image)
Still the vote is seen as largely symbolic but it asked voters if they agreed with creating a Venezuelan state in the Essequibo region, providing its population with Venezuelan citizenship and “incorporating that state into the map of Venezuelan territory.” It is unclear what steps Venezuela’s government would take to enforce its claim, however.
Venezuela has long claimed the land, which it argues was within its borders during the Spanish colonial period. It dismisses an 1899 ruling by international arbitrators that set the current boundaries when Guyana was still a British colony, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has cast the referendum in anti-imperialist sentiment on social media.
Guyana has called the move a step towards annexation and an “existential threat.”
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali visited troops in Essequibo and dramatically hoisted a Guyanese flag on a mountain overlooking the border with Venezuela. Ali has affirmed Guyana’s commitment to navigating the border controversy with Venezuela through a path of peace, hope, and dignity.
Addressing potential actions by the Venezuelan government, President Ali warned that ignoring international laws would cause great injustice to the people of Venezuela.
“It will lead in a direction in which the prosperity of the people of Venezuela will continue to be affected. That path has consequences not only for Guyana, but for all of us in the region ─ the movement of migrants, the issue concerning the social circumstances, and security among many countries in the region. Ultimately, it is the people who suffer,” President Ali asserted.
He also highlighted Guyana’s responsibility in the midst of the controversy, noting that the nation has to lead by example during this time.
“We don’t need to do what the Vice President of Venezuela and Maduro are doing. We don’t need to tell lies, spread propaganda, and create mischief… That is not leadership,” the Guyanese leader posited. Ali has also called on the government of Venezuela to act with dignity and in the best interest of its citizens.
The International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, ruled before the vote that “Venezuela shall refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute.” It plans to hold a trial in the spring on the issue, following years of review and decades of failed negotiations. Venezuela does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction on the issue, however.
Guyana, and British Guiana before it, have administered Essequibo for over a century.