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Guyana vigilant Venezuelans vote fate border region

Guyana remains vigilant after Venezuelans vote in favor of claiming oil-rich border region, raising fears about Venezuela's intentions.

Guyana has expressed concern and vigilance after a referendum in Venezuela resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of claiming an oil-rich border region that makes up more than two-thirds of Guyana's territory. The Foreign Minister of Guyana, Hugh Todd, stated that they must remain vigilant and that President Maduro, while they do not believe he will order an invasion, can do something unpredictable. The dispute over the region, known as Essequibo, has been ongoing for decades, and litigation is pending before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

Venezuela has historically laid claim to Essequibo, which Guyana has administered for over 100 years and is home to 125,000 of its citizens. The dispute has intensified since ExxonMobil discovered oil in Essequibo in 2015. Caracas called for the referendum after Georgetown started auctioning off oil blocks in Essequibo in August. The referendum raised fears in Guyana and further afield about Venezuela's ultimate intentions for the contested territory.

The referendum in Venezuela resulted in a 95 percent "yes" outcome, with more than 10.4 million out of 20.7 million eligible voters participating. This has raised concerns about the legitimacy of the turnout, with initial doubts and suspicions about the counting process. Guyana had asked the ICJ to block the referendum, but the court did not grant their request for urgent intervention.

Guyana insists that the frontiers were determined by an arbitration panel in 1899, while Venezuela claims that the Essequibo River forms a natural border and had historically been recognized as such. Guyana plans to maintain defense cooperation with the United States and other strategic partners and continue diplomatic efforts to persuade Venezuela to let the ICJ make the final determination. They have also made it clear that they will abide by the ruling of the court.

The referendum has posed an "existential" threat to Guyana, as it could pave the way for Venezuela to "unilaterally and illegally" seize the region. President Maduro has hailed the referendum as an "overwhelming victory." Guyana remains committed to defending its territory and seeking a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

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