Guyana announced that it is stepping up security measures and collaborating with the US military to protect the oil-rich region of Essequibo, describing Venezuela’s intentions to grant oil exploration licenses in the area as a threat to its territorial integrity.
The United Nations Security Council plans to hold a closed-door meeting on this issue on Friday, according to two close sources. Both parties will have the opportunity to speak before the 15 members of the council. Guyanese President Irfaan Ali indicated in an earlier statement that his country had asked the Security Council to take appropriate action, but an immediate decision is not expected at this time, according to the people briefed. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro further escalated tensions with Guyana over Essequibo by ordering state oil and mineral companies on Tuesday night to begin granting exploration licenses for deposits in the region.
“We will not allow our territory to be violated nor the development of our country to be hampered by this desperate threat,” Ali said in the statement, adding that the Guyana defense force was on high alert and had engaged with its military counterparts. , including the United States Southern Command. Ali and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday, with the top US diplomat offering “unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty”.
Guyana is scheduled to join the UN Security Council for a two-year term in January. Before that, she needs a current council member to submit a proposed resolution on her behalf that would be binding if approved by the body.
In stronger language, Maduro, in a televised statement, also ordered foreign oil companies working in Essequibo to withdraw, asserting his right to do so after prominent Venezuelans backed planes to regain control of the rhetorical land in a referendum on Sunday. Guyana has insisted that Essequibo is within its borders, and the matter is currently being reviewed by the International Court of Justice, although Maduro has said he does not recognize its jurisdiction.
Maduro has not yet sent military forces to carry out his demands. On Tuesday he said he would create a special military unit for the disputed territory. “I propose a special law to prohibit all companies working under Guyana concessions from any transaction,” Maduro said. “They have three months to withdraw” once his proposal is approved, he said.
Tensions with Guyana are also part of Maduro’s efforts to stoke domestic support ahead of Venezuela’s presidential election next year, according to analysts such as Nicholas Watson of Teneo Holdings. In that sense, last weekend’s referendum was insufficient. Polling places appeared empty, although the government officially claimed that almost half of the voting population had participated.
While Venezuela and Guyana have disputed the sparsely populated territory of Essequibo since the 19th century, the argument has intensified in recent years following massive oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana by companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. In September, the government of Guyana announced that it would grant concessions for the exploration of new oil blocks before the end of the year, infuriating Maduro, whose government has claimed that some of those blocks are in waters that have not been delimited or by Venezuela. .