United Nations General Assembly sessions provided a bit of political fireworks this week when Venezuela said it would ask its populace to vote to ratify its decades-old land and maritime claim to a large portion of Guyana. This comes as the Caribbean Community nation is readying itself to become one of the largest daily oil producers by the end of this decade.
Venezuela has, in recent weeks, ratcheted up its verbal and diplomatic attacks against its eastern neighbor since Guyana recently opened bids for 14 additional offshore oil blocks in a maritime area closer to Suriname in the southeast than to Venezuela in the far northwest.
The foreign ministry put out a statement contending that Guyana had no right to award blocks to any oil company because the area is its own, even though it is hundreds of miles away from the northern and western portion of Guyana that it claims. Caracas also contended that the U.S. government is using ExxonMobil, the major oil producer and offshore operator in Guyana, to stir up war and enmity between the two countries. Incidentally, Exxon has ignored several cease-and-desist work orders from Venezuela and continues to produce nearly 400,000 barrels of oil daily from two oil fields while working to develop four more in the coming years.
“We alert the international community of U.S. intentions to create, in our peace zone of Latin America and the Caribbean, a military base in the Republic of Guyana, to turn that country into the spearhead of an aggression operation against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which would put the peace and stability of the entire region at risk. The people and the government of Venezuela, united in defense of the homeland, will not give in [to] or be intimidated by pressure, blackmail, or threats when it comes to defending the sacred homeland,” a Venezuelan statement said.
For his country’s part, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali made it clear that Guyana had acted lawfully when it opened bids for the new offshore blocks and would not be bullied by Venezuela, which argues that it was cheated out of a large area by an international boundaries commission back in the 1980s. Guyana contends that settlement as a full and final wrap on boundary demarcation and has since taken its case to the World Court in the Hague (Netherlands) for a complete resolution.
“We demand that Venezuela honors its obligation under the charter to pursue only peaceful means to settle any disputes it may have with Guyana, including adjudication before the International Court of Justice,” Ali told the annual U.N. forum. “Allowing the court to decide would ensure a resolution that is peaceful, equitable, and in accordance with international law. Guyana will spare no effort in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Back in 2015, when Exxon and its consortium partners had declared their commercial offshore find, Venezuela’s parliament had unilaterally redrawn marine maps encompassing all of Guyana and many of its Caribbean neighbors while ordering the companies to stop all operations. Like on other occasions, the cease work orders have been patently ignored.
At the weekend, Foreign Minister Yvan Gil said the nation would be asked to vote in a referendum to ratify its borders against aggressive enemies.
“Two days ago, Venezuela’s national assembly unanimously decided to call our people to vote in a consultative referendum to ratify the defense of our sovereign territory against the aggressions of the American empire, which wants to lead us to a war for natural resources,” Gil said, sparking outrage in Guyana.
The two countries are quarreling despite the fact that thousands of Venezuelans are now settling in Guyana, mostly as economic refugees. Officials have put the number at around 100,000 or a tenth of the population, leading to fears that the country could eventually encounter problems in the coming decades.