In a bold and controversial move, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro orders 'immediate' exploitation of Essequibo's oil, gas, and minesin Guyana. This directive follows closely after a referendum in which Venezuelan voters affirmed the government's claim to the territory.
Maduro's announcement, delivered on Tuesday, underscores a significant escalation in the longstanding territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo region. Spanning over 61,600 square miles, this area is rich in natural resources and has been a point of contention for centuries, tracing back to colonial times.
Maduro, signaling a direct challenge to international legal proceedings, stated:
Immediately proceed to grant operating licenses for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mines in the entire area of our Essequibo.- Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro
The Venezuelan leader also announced the creation of local subsidiaries for PDVSA and Corporación Venezolana de Guayana in the region, along with a new Comprehensive Defense Operational Zone (Zodi) to oversee the disputed area.
This move has raised serious questions about the implementation and legality of these plans, especially given the recent order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which instructed Venezuela not to alter the status quo of the region pending a decision on the territorial dispute.
Guyana has reacted strongly to these developments. President Irfaan Ali, in a national broadcast, expressed grave concerns, stating, "Guyana will be reporting this matter early in the morning. We will write the U.N. Security Council and the court." Ali emphasized that the Guyana Defense Force is on high alert, labeling Venezuela as "an outlaw nation."
Venezuela's claim to Essequibo dates back to colonial boundaries, and its interest surged following ExxonMobil's discovery of significant oil reserves off the Essequibo coast in 2015. The Venezuelan government has varied in its pursuit of this claim, but the discovery of offshore oil and gas has reignited its determination.
Maduro's decision to permit development around the Esequibo river and the announcement of a new state in the territory follows a referendum rejecting the ICJ's jurisdiction. Despite this local support, the ICJ's recent ruling prohibits Venezuela from taking actions that would change the current status of the region.
The Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and state iron and steel maker CVG are set to create divisions specifically for the disputed region. "Immediately proceed to create the division PDVSA Esequibo and CVG Esequibo," Maduro announced on state television, underscoring his government's resolve to press forward with resource exploitation.
Furthermore, Maduro has proposed a law to the Venezuelan legislature to officially declare the new state. He also issued a stark ultimatum to companies currently operating in the area, giving them a three-month deadline to vacate.
In response to these developments, Guyanese President Ali assured investors in Guyana, "Our message is very clear, your investments are safe." He stressed the support of international partners and the global community in this dispute.
As the situation unfolds, the international community watches closely. The maritime border between Venezuela and Guyana remains in dispute, adding another layer of complexity to the ongoing contention. Exxon Mobil and other companies involved in oil production off Guyana's coast are monitoring the situation, as their operations could be impacted by these developments.
This escalation by Venezuela appears to be more than just a territorial claim. Analysts suggest that the referendum and subsequent actions by Maduro could be a strategic move to gauge support ahead of the 2024 presidential election in Venezuela. As the dispute continues, it poses significant implications for regional stability, international law, and the rights of nations to their natural resources.