Nicolás Maduro’s revival of Venezuelan claims over two thirds of Guyana has placed this old dispute in the spotlight of South American geopolitics. More than a territorial disagreement, Maduro’s stance over the Essequibo threatens the security of the region, creating a potential risk of regional conflict. The shadow of Russia, according to Colombian daily The City Paper, adds complexity to the situation.
Support from the Kremlin for the destabilizing actions of the Maduro regime is evident, The City Paper reported, citing the broad disinformation campaign launched by the Maduro regime in an attempt to manipulate and gain the backing of Venezuelans, using a similar disinformation model than the one Russia employs with Ukraine.
Jorge Serrano, a security expert and member of the team of advisors to the Intelligence Commission of the Peruvian Congress, told Diálogo on January 21 that “this meticulously structured operation to deceive is part of a psychological war executed by the Russian and Cuban secret services.”
Maduro’s alarmingly aggressive rhetoric over the oil-rich region, seems suited to divert public attention from the economic crisis and the upcoming presidential elections in the hope of stoking nationalism in Venezuela, Serrano said. The objective is to present the dictator as the defender of the rights of Venezuelans over the Essequibo and its riches, using this conflict as a political platform.
The alliance between Havana, Moscow, and Caracas operates at various levels, with psychological warfare as one of the main approaches, Serrano added. This method not only supports the Maduro regime, but also seeks to harass those who oppose its objectives, creating a complex and challenging environment.
Additionally, the Venezuelan regime “is aware that a capture by force of the resources in the Essequibo would be suicidal. This would unleash a war by unjustified invasion, marking the end of Maduro’s despotism and generating consequences at the geopolitical level in the region,” Serrano said.
Oil and mineral rich region
The Essequibo covers some 160,000 square kilometers full of valuable natural resources and forests, including extensive reserves of gold and hydrocarbons. The Omai mine, a key source of income for Guyana, produced more than 105,000 kilograms of gold between 1993 and 2005 alone, British broadcasting agency BBC reported.
Between 2015 and 2023, oil giant ExxonMobil and its partners made 46 offshore discoveries, for more than 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas, BBC reported. These reserves are mostly concentrated in the Stabroek block, which covers 26,000 square kilometers and lies in the disputed territorial waters.
While Guyana is experiencing rapid growth driven by oil production and mineral exports, Caracas is facing a prolonged economic crisis caused by years of hyperinflation, rampant corruption, economic mismanagement, which facilitated an environment for transnational criminal organizations to grow and operate with the support of the regime.
The Russian-sponsored communication organizations currently active in Latin America are not only linked to the Essequibo conflict, but also seeks to interfere in the electoral processes of the region, a risk that transcends the current territorial tensions, Serrano said.
The security expert concluded by stressing the importance of U.S. involvement in the region, citing the recent collaboration with Ecuador as an example. “Addressing diplomatic, security, intelligence, and defense issues is crucial to counter the activities of criminal structures and destabilizing systems in regional democracies,” Serrano said.