As the territorial dispute over the Essequibo intensifies, Guyana, is putting its foot down, rejecting negotiations with Venezuela.
“The time for negotiation is over. There will be no need for talks with Nicolás Maduro,” Guyanese Prime Minister Mark Phillips said during an extraordinary session of the Guyanese Legislature in early November. “There will be no meeting between Maduro and [Guyanese] President Irfaan Ali.”
During the session that rejected Venezuela’s referendum on whether or not to annex the disputed territory, set for December 3, Minister Phillips expressed confidence in the process being carried out by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
“Let the ICJ decide. Let the ICJ be the judge and issue a definitive ruling on this dispute. The Essequibo belongs solely to Guyana and Guyanese,” Phillips said. “Together we will ensure the triumph of justice and preserve the sovereignty of our nation.”
In April, the ICJ ruled it had jurisdiction over the case, which could determine which country has rights to the territory rich in oil and gas that represents almost two thirds of Guyana, Voice of America reported.
The issue did see a resolution more than a century ago, when both sides, Guyana, then a British colony, and Venezuela, agreed to arbitration. In 1899, an international tribunal awarded most of the disputed land to British Guiana (modern-day Guyana), which Venezuela enthusiastically welcomed at the time, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) said in a report.
“However, Venezuela opposes the ICJ’s jurisdiction, because the Court rigorously respects the integrity of existing treaties,” Euclides Tapia, professor of International Relations at the University of Panama, told Diálogo on November 4. “Moreover, the territorial claims raised by Caracas are untenable.”
On November 1, during a special session of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Minister Phillips emphasized that the Venezuelan claim represents an ongoing and direct threat to Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Caracas is intensifying its campaign of intimidation and threats to pressure Georgetown and force compliance with its demands,” Phillips said. “The referendum represents a threat to investments in Guyana and would have a direct impact on the country’s development.”
“Demanding a country to surrender two-thirds of its territory is of course insane,” Tapia added. “It goes against international law.”
During the extraordinary session, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said that “the Venezuelan propaganda machine is trying to discredit the 1899 treaty, since oil resources were discovered in Guyana in 2015.” In October 2023, ExxonMobil announced yet another offshore oil discovery off the coast of Guyana, the fourth this year, for a total of 46 from 2015 to date, Reuters reported.
“The Maduro regime is manipulating the population to force the referendum, which includes a proposal to grant Venezuelan citizenship to the population in Esequiba Guyana,” Tapia said. “This also constitutes a violation of the international order.”
Almagro pointed out that the improper use of a referendum is illegal, according to the Geneva Agreement. Various aspects of this instrument are used as a pretext to justify the worst actions before countries, including crimes of aggression, Tapia pointed out.
“Maduro is using the conflict with Guyana to derail the upcoming elections, where he will have to face a strong Venezuelan opposition candidate,” Tapia added. “He is willing to cause an armed conflict with Guyana to suspend the elections, taking advantage of the political and social situation in the country.”
In mid-October, the Maduro regime beefed up troops on the border with Guyana, not only increasing military personnel but also exercises, under the guise of a crackdown on illegal mining. Some reports seemingly indicate that the Venezuelan military is building an airstrip in the vicinity of the border area.
Maduro also launched an aggressive campaign of disinformation that spilled on social media, prompting Guyana’s Office of Foreign Affairs to request Facebook and Twitter in late 2022 to remove what it called “illegal maps” showing the Essequibo as belonging to Venezuela.
One crucial question arises, however: Will Venezuela ever be satisfied? COHA asked.
For Phillips, now is the time to send a strong message. “We are sending a message of unity in the face of a clear and present danger from […] Nicolás Maduro […],” he said at the Legislative session. “If Guyanese do not mobilize around this issue it will become a lost cause.”