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By Felicia J. Persaud

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Mon. Dec. 11, 2023: Guyana and the CARICOM/Caribbean region have long been champions of their image as a secure investment destination, free from conflicts or threats thereof. This perception has allowed them to stand firm against detractors who view them as either too small or not as vibrant as Latin America.

However, this narrative is now under serious challenge. With the Venezuela referendum on December 3rd, in which its government claimed that “95 percent” of voters approved annexation of three-quarters of Guyana, the CARICOM region and the Western Hemisphere by extension, faces a potentially escalatory conflict.

Nicolás Maduro Moros, the volatile leader of Venezuela, emboldened by the US’ lifting of sanctions on its oil, gas, and gold sectors on Oct. 17th, has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the newfound oil wealth of Guyana and its Caribbean neighbors. “MAD-Uro” has set his sights on claiming Essequibo, a region rich in oil and gold and other natural resources, and a source of historical dispute dating back to the 19th century, when Guyana was a British colony.

Citing this historical context, the regime insists that Essequibo, the largest region of Guyana spanning over 61,000 square miles, (approximately the size of Florida), rightfully belongs to Venezuela under the name ‘Guayana Esequiba.’

Essequibo is divided into six administrative regions within Guyana and is home to approximately 125,000 residents, including a significant indigenous population in what is referred to as the “Highland” region. Notably, there is no Spanish origin or heritage in this region, or in the entire country, except for Venezuelan immigrants who now call Guyana their home. The major colonial powers that controlled Guyana and Essequibo were Dutch and then the British.

Guyana’s border with Venezuela is nearly 800 kilometres long and villages such as Whitewater, Baramita, Kaikan and Arau are all border communities. The boundary was drawn by an international commission back in 1899, which Guyana argues is legal and binding, while Venezuela claims is a land theft conspiracy because arbitrators from Britain, Russia and the United States decided the boundary. Among other things, Venezuelan officials contend Americans and Europeans colluded to cheat their country out of the land.

View of the Arau village in Guyana, a village on the 800 square miles border Guyana shares with Venezuela. (Photo by ROBERTO CISNEROS/AFP via Getty Images)

It is undeniable that MAD-Uro’s actions are directly linked to the October 17th US agreement in Barbados, temporarily suspending certain sanctions on Venezuela as substitute for Russian oil – which became off limits resulting from its invasion of Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, on October 23rd, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council announced a national referendum to determine the annexation of Essequibo from Guyana. The motive behind this move is abundantly clear – O-I-L.

Aerial view of the Essequipo region taken from Guyana on December 10, 2023. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Guyanese counterpart, Irfaan Ali, will meet Thursday on their countries’ growing dispute over the oil-rich region of Essequibo, amid mounting international warnings against escalating the row. (Photo by ROBERTO CISNEROS/AFP via Getty Images)

Following the low-turnout and widely criticized referendum on Dec. 3rd, MAD-Uro is now accelerating his plans to annex Essequibo. He has already instructed the state oil company to issue extraction licenses in the region and proposed legislation in Venezuela’s National Assembly to make Essequibo an integral part of Venezuela. Additionally, Venezuela intends to conduct a census of Essequibo’s inhabitants, paving the way for granting citizenship and identification cards to residents.

maduro-now-claims-essequibo
President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro shows a national map during a march in favor of the Venezuelan position regarding the dispute over the territory of Essequibo with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, in Caracas, Venezuela on December 8, 2023. (Photo by Mariela Lopez/Anadolu via Getty Images)

The mounting situation has raised concerns, not only in Guyana but also internationally. Both the US and Brazil are taking MAD-Uro’s threats seriously. On December 7th, US soldiers from SOUTHCOM conducted flight operations in Guyana’s airspace. The US Embassy emphasized its commitment as Guyana’s trusted security partner, focusing on disaster preparedness, aerial and maritime security, and combating transnational criminal organizations.

Aerial view of the Essequipo region taken from Guyana on December 10, 2023. (Photo by ROBERTO CISNEROS/AFP via Getty Images)

The United Nations Security Council took no immediate action at a closed emergency meeting late Friday requested by Guyana. But diplomats said the widespread view of the 15 council members was that international law must be respected, including the U.N. Charter’s requirement that all member nations respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every other nation — and for the parties to respect the International Court of Justice’s orders and its role as an arbiter.

Brazil, in response to the Venezuelan government’s plans, has deployed troops along its border with Venezuela. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the South American trade bloc, Mercosur, with the CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, has now helped broker bilaterals with both sides on Dec. 14th.

So far MAD-uro’s government has said it agreed to talks to preserve its “aspiration to maintain Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace, without interference from external actors.” Meanwhile, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali has said that he has “made it very clear that on the issue of the border controversy, Guyana’s position is non-negotiable.”

However, it remains uncertain whether diplomatic efforts will deter MAD-Uro, who has shown little regard for verbal threats from international organizations, reminiscent of Russia and Israel’s responses to recent calls for de-escalation in other conflicts.

PARALLELS

The parallels between Venezuela’s oil ambitions and previous power grabs in history are striking. Britain repelled Argentina’s invasion on the oil-rich Falkland Islands in 1982, and in 1991, the US assembled 42 countries coalition to oust Iraq from petrostate Kuwait. President George W. Bush similarly led a coalition in 2003 to confront oil flush Iraq.

Implications for American business interests are enormous. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and the combination of Hess (HES) and CNOOC produce 400K bbl/day off Guyana’s with potential of up to 10 offshore projects.  The conflict could prove detrimental forChevron’s (NYSE:CVX) announced $53 billion acquisition of Hess.

The looming question now is to what extent the US and the UK will defend Guyana, a fellow democracy and Commonwealth member, which is also the sole English-speaking country in South America with substantial investments from both nations. The untrustworthy MAD-Uro must be closely monitored and confronted as he exploits the world’s focus on other conflicts. The US should immediately reimpose sanctions on Venezuela and establish a military presence in Essequibo with Guyana’s consent. 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (L) attend Venezuela – Iran Joint Commission in Caracas, Venezuela on June 12, 2023. Venezuela is the first stop of Raisi’s Latin America tour, which includes Cuba and Nicaragua. (Photo by Pedro Rances Mattey/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

It was only this past June that MAD-Uro welcomed Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to Caracas who made alluded to both countries   having “a common enemy,” presumably the U.S. MAD-Uro reinforced his support for Vladimir Putin in October following a meeting in Caracas with the Russian foreign minister. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) leaves from Miraflores Palace after meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) in Caracas, Venezuela on April 18, 2023. (Photo by Pedro Rances Mattey/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Now, MAD-Uro follows a playbook similar to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine. The Biden administration with Congressional support, must prioritize its role in the Caribbean region and take action against the real security threat posed by MAD-Uro. Ignoring this situation will unleash chaos with dire consequences for both the region and hemisphere and ultimately the United States’ interests. That cannot be allowed!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Felicia J. Persaud is publisher of NewsAmericasNow and founder of Invest Caribbean, the global private sector agency of the Caribbean.

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