VENEZUELA. MADURO WANTS GUAYANA ESEQUIBA
(December 24, 2023)
CARACAS. Venezuela wants the Guayana Esequiba at all costs, a territory of 160 thousand km2, belonging to Guyana: to this end, five plebiscites were held on 3 December to ask the Venezuelan population for consent to an operation which, if not blocked, could lead to invasion of neighbor’s territory.
In mid-September, the Caracas Parliament, controlled by the Chavistas, adopts a bill requiring the calling of a vote to reaffirm the country’s “rights” to the Esequibo.
A month later, the National Electoral Council (CNE) sets the date of the vote for December 3, 2023 and dictates the questions:
«1. Do you agree to reject by all means, within the law, the line fraudulently imposed by the Paris Arbitration Award of 1899, which aims to deprive us of our Guayana Esequiba?
2. Do you support the Geneva Agreement of 1966 as the only valid legal instrument to reach a practical and satisfactory solution for Venezuela and Guyana regarding the Guayana Esequiba territory dispute?
3. Do you agree with Venezuela’s historical position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve the territorial dispute over Guayana Esequiba?
4. Do you agree to oppose by all means, within the law, Guyana’s claim to unilaterally dispose of a sea awaiting delimitation, illegally and in violation of international law?
5. Do you Agree with the creation of the state of Guayana Esequiba and the development of an accelerated plan of comprehensive assistance for the current and future population of that territory, which includes, among other things, the granting of citizenship and charter of Venezuelan identity, in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and international law, thereby incorporating said state into the map of Venezuelan territory?”
THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN
At the beginning of November, President Nicolás Maduro Moros, in office since 2013, kicks off an electoral campaign in which the pedal of the most heated nationalism is pressed without any savings:
• on TV he gives history lessons
• huge rallies are promoted in every part of the country during which patriotic gadgets and propaganda leaflets are sold;
The objective is clear: to extinguish the voices of dissent and prepare the ground for the presidential race which should take place in the second half of next year.
HOW MANY VOTED?
According to the government, 10.5 million voters would have voted, but there are those who doubt this, arguing that in practice the electoral commission would have multiplied the voters of each plebiscite by 5.
Indeed, it is noted that Chavismo has never managed to obtain more than 10 million votes and in 2018 Maduro was re-elected by six million voters.
The CNE was careful not to disclose the disaggregated data on each vote and the photos taken during the voting operations show practically deserted polling stations.
For most Venezuelans, the main concern is putting together lunch and dinner or finding work, because the national economy is in a serious state of crisis, inflation is galloping and corruption is devouring huge economic resources.
If we look at the political map of South America we realize that in the north of the subcontinent there are three territories bathed by the Caribbean Sea: from west to east we find the three Guianas: the closest to Venezuela is the one that was a British possession, followed by Surinam , formerly a Dutch colony, then French Guiana, Paris’ overseas territory, from where the Arianne rockets depart and where a feared penal colony was once based.
These territories are bathed by the Caribbean Sea in whose depths considerable gas and oil reserves have been found, while on the mainland, particularly in the disputed area, in the middle of the rainforest, other succulent sources of income appear to be found.
In the 16th century, the Guyanas entered the Spanish orbit, which, with the exception of Brazil, dominated the whole of South America.
In the late 16th century, the English adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh landed in these parts, as well as several Dutch navigators. Indeed, the United Provinces founded an important colony in Recife, which includes the Brazilian Northeast, wresting it from weak Portuguese control.
Subsequently, the French and English also created colonies, while Lisbon eliminated the Dutch bridgehead in the Brazilian Northeast, limiting the presence of settlers to the future Surinam.
Europeans used the Guyanas to create large sugar cane plantations, cultivated by black slaves from Africa. Later the English and Dutch transferred labor of Indian and Javanese origin there.
In 1815, UK concluded an agreement with Amsterdam for the division of the territory: on one side there was Dutch Guiana, on the other British Guiana: its dimensions, however, are not well defined. In 1824 Simón Bolívar, leader of Greater Colombia, wrote a letter to London asking that the area located west of the Esequibo river be returned to the new state built on the ashes of the Spanish empire, but London remained silent.
Indeed, in 1840 the superpower had a compliant geographer draw up a map that didn’t satisfy Caracas: on the basis of it the extension of the colony was significantly expanded;
1899, Paris Award. an international arbitration ratifies the 1840 map: subsequently, it’ll be discovered that one of the members of the arbitration committee, a Russian, was corrupted by the British, siding with London at the time of the vote.
1966, Geneva. Venezuela signs an international treaty with Britain.
It recognizes the current size of Guyana, but also establishes that the two neighboring countries will have to settle their border problems in the future with another treaty. This allows London to grant independence to its colony which is proclaimed on 26 June of that year.
Hugo Chávez Frías, Venezuelan president from 1999 to 2014, during his first years in office, never misses an opportunity to claim the Esequibo and protests against any violation by Guyana of the Geneva agreements.
However, when in the early 2000s world oil prices rose and funds flowed into the state’s depleted coffers, the Bolivarian leader softened his positions. For him the important thing is to acquire a kind of hegemony in the Caribbean area and the support of the small English-speaking states that regularly receive supplies of hydrocarbons at discounted prices from Caracas.
In 2004, the détente in bilateral relations reached the point that Chávez visited Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, from where he promised that the Venezuelan government wouldn’t hinder “any project to be conducted in the Esequibo” and that the territorial dispute would be “removed from the framework of social, political and economic relations of the two countries”.
2015. In the territorial waters of Esequibo, massive oil deposits were discovered, thanks to the exploration activities of the US oil company Exxon Mobil. Since then, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana has recorded impressive GDP growth rates: in 2022 it grew by 57.8% and by 20% in the current year.
Per capita income has tripled in the last four years.
WHO LIVES IN THE EXEQUIBUM?
The territory claimed by Venezuela, despite being the size of half of Italy, is not very populated: there are around 125 thousand people.
Once the land of the Aruachi, today it is inhabited by Amerindian populations who speak English and who move freely between the two neighboring countries.
“No one is prepared for this annexation and no one has informed us,” says (strictly in English) Michael Williams, leader of the Toshao community interviewed by el País. “We are praying, hoping that all this is a lie. Because we aren’t people who create problems. We want to continue living a peaceful life in this magnificent land of ours.”
Among other things, the referendum of December 3rd did not involve the inhabitants of Esequibo who fear annexation by Caracas.
The turn of events is of great concern to all the chancelleries of South America:the most worried are obviously the leaders of Georgetown who reiterate at every turn that Venezuela must respect their national sovereignty and the integrity of their territory.
They then add that the International Court of Justice in The Hague will decide on the border dispute, but Venezuela has already made it abundantly clear that it does not respect the jurisdiction of the ICJ, whose deliberation times can be very long.
In any case, Guyana has made investments to strengthen its army and conducted joint maneuvers with American military forces.
Brazil, a South American regional power, is also trying to convince Caracas not to take steps that lead to armed conflict.
To this end, it has sent its own military contingent to the border that it shares with the two countries, while conversations have begun with Maduro and the Guyanese leaders.
On December 14, the two presidents Maduro and Mohamed Irfaan Ali met in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to discuss the issue: at the end of the meeting which lasted about two hours, a joint statement declared that force will not be used to resolve the dispute, a commission will be set up including the two foreign ministers and in three months there will be another bilateral meeting at the highest level in Brazil.
However, the Kingstown statement is very vague about what will actually happen in the disputed territory.
War averted? Perhaps in the immediate future, yes, but sensational twists cannot be ruled out, especially considering that in Caracas there is no sign of lowering the tone of nationalistic propaganda which also serves, let us not forget, as a weapon of mass distraction for Venezuelan public opinion.
PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI