Recently, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro announced his intention to annex the disputed region of Essequibo and make it part of the Venezuelan state. Controlled by Guyana since independence in the 19th century, there is now widespread fear that Maduro is planning an imminent invasion.
– People are fearful of an invasion. You’re talking about a country with military power and resources against a country of 780,000 people, journalist Nazima Raghubir told The Guardian.
Venezuela recently held a referendum in which authorities said an overwhelming majority of the population supported the country’s claim to the 160,000 square kilometers of resource-rich rainforest.
Maduro hailed the referendum as a “total success”. He claimed that 95% of Venezuelans supported his plans to annex the region and defy the International Court of Justice, which is currently mediating the century-old territorial dispute.
– The Venezuelan people have spoken loud and clear, the Venezuelan leader declared, adding that the local population will be issued with Venezuelan identity cards.
Turning to the United States
– We are a diverse nation, but at the end of the day we are all one people: the Guyanese… We are not in need of Mr Maduro’s ID cards! We already have one. We are Guyanese! said Brentnol Ashley, governor of the Barima-Waini region.
Guyana’s foreign minister Hugh Todd says Venezuela’s actions are “direct threat to our sovereignty and territorial integrity” and has turned to its ally, the US, for support. Last week, the US also conducted a flyover of the border region, reportedly to demonstrate its military strength.
According to several media reports, Maduro has also ordered the national oil company, PDVSA, to begin exploring for oil in the region. He also appointed a member of parliament from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, major general Alexis Rodríguez Cabello, to head a special military unit to oversee the new state of Guayana Esequiba.
Guyana, part of the British Empire for some 200 years, is the only English-speaking country in South America and has close ties to the US and the Caribbean. Venezuela has never formally occupied the Essequibo, but has claimed that the borders drawn with the former British Guiana were the result of corruption.
However, international analysts say it is doubtful that Maduro will actually enter the area militarily, and the campaign could be seen as a way for the president to shore up support for next year’s presidential election. If Guyana is invaded, Venezuela is expected to become even more internationally isolated than it is today, and the US is expected to reintroduce economic sanctions against the country.
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has tried to mediate the conflict, stating that “we do not want and we do not need war in South America”.