The final results of President Nicolas Maduro’s Dec. 3 referendum on Venezuela’s century-old territorial dispute with neighbor Guyana over the Esequibo region will not be known until late Sunday night, at the earliest, but the real winner is already a foregone conclusion: It is London.
This one is a classic case of British geopolitical manipulation, which could well end up with the U.S. Southern Command setting up a military base on Guyanese territory to protect ExxonMobil’s vast oil rights in that country—and to launch war to overthrow the leftist Maduro government in Venezuela. That would ensure that China’s Belt and Road Initiative is blocked throughout the region, which is the stated principal mission of the U.S. Southern Command.
The current global strategic showdown crisis among nations and cultures is the worst time imaginable for any thinking statesman to try to settle the long-standing border disputes which the British have left simmering in every part of the planet.
Back in 2015, very large offshore oil deposits were found in Guyana, and ExxonMobil quickly gained the inside track. Francisco Monaldi, a Latin America energy expert at Rice University in Houston, told the Financial Times: “So far Exxon’s wells and discoveries are in the area north of Guyana’s undisputed land territory, but the [newly] awarded oil blocks do go into the disputed waters.” The disputed area is off the Esequibo region, a territory comprising two-thirds of modern Guyana and administered by that country since an 1899 international arbitration decision.
Caracas called the referendum after Guyana started auctioning off oil blocks in Esequibo in August 2023. Just last month, Guyana announced a “significant” new oil discovery in Esequibo, adding to estimated reserves of at least 10 billion barrels—more than Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates. In The Hague, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) quickly ordered Venezuela to “refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails” in the Esequibo region.
Sunday’s referendum will ask citizens whether or not Venezuela should reject the 1899 arbitration decision as well as the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the matter. They will also be asked whether or not Venezuelan citizenship should be granted to the people—currently Guyanese—of a new “Guyana Esequiba State … incorporating that state into the map of Venezuelan territory,” reported AFP on Dec. 1.
Is Venezuela planning a military move to take the Esequibo, as some media claim? Talk of armed action is certainly in the air. The government of Brazil, which borders on both countries, has “intensified” its military presence in those regions, according to a statement issued by the Defense Ministry. And the U.S. embassy in Georgetown reported that a specialized U.S. army delegation visited Guyana this week, and discussed “processes to enhance both countries’ military readiness and capabilities to respond to security threats,” including joint training exercises. There are media reports that the U.S. has offered to set up a military base in the region. Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s vice-president, said last week that “all the options available for us to defend our country will be pursued. Every option.”
Whether the inept President Maduro called the referendum for domestic political reasons, given an upcoming presidential election in 2024, or out of legitimate security concerns, the fact is that he has walked right into a British trap. It is a trap which his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, recognized and skillfully avoided.
As reported in a recent article in Caracas Chronicles, Chávez “pointed out that the whole dispute was the imperialistic work of the United States, which wanted to promote a war between Venezuela and Guyana to oust Guyana’s left-wing President Forbes Burnham (1980-1985). `The same thing that happened in the Middle East, with Iran, Iraq and Saddam Hussein,’ explained Chávez. `They told us that Guyana was becoming another Cuba, that we had to invade them.… They had us plan a whole invasion of Georgetown, studying the maps and everything.’” The article further recounted that on Feb. 19, 2004, after a meeting with Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo, Chávez had stated: “The Venezuelan government won’t be an obstacle to any project happening in the Esequibo that will benefit the inhabitants of the area.”