Venezuela's vice president reaffirms commitment to a referendum on the contested Essequibo region, escalating a longstanding territorial dispute with neighboring Guyana.
11/15/2023 – A group of people participate in a demonstration in support of the consultative referendum on El Essequibo, today in Caracas (Venezuela). EFE/ MIGUEL GUTIERREZ
Latin American Post Staff
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Leer en español: Venezuela desafiante en disputa territorial con Guyana
Venezuela Defiantly Proceeds with Essequibo Referendum Amidst ICJ Hearings
In a statement that could exacerbate tensions in a longstanding territorial dispute, Venezuela's Vice President Delcy Rodríguez declared on Wednesday that her country would proceed with a December referendum on the future of the Essequibo region, a mineral-rich area claimed by both Venezuela and neighboring Guyana.
On the second day of hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Rodríguez expressed Venezuela's firm rejection of Guyana's attempts to intervene in what Venezuela views as its internal matters. Her statement at the ICJ's headquarters in The Hague was clear: "Nothing will prevent the referendum scheduled for Dec. 3 from being held." This stance challenges Guyana's recent legal efforts to halt the referendum and brings to the forefront a dispute that has simmered for over a century.
Venezuela-Guyana border dispute
The controversy centers around the Essequibo region, which constitutes about two-thirds of Guyana's territory. The disagreement dates back to an 1899 arbitration ruling establishing the border between Venezuela and Guyana. However, Venezuela contests this ruling, claiming that a 1966 dispute resolution agreement effectively nullified the 1899 decision.
This territorial dispute has seen renewed attention since 2015, with the discovery of significant oil reserves in the region. Oil exploration activities by ExxonMobil and other companies in areas overlapping the contested territory have heightened the stakes and intensified frictions between the two South American nations. Venezuela asserts that Guyana lacks the authority to grant exploration rights in maritime areas of the Essequibo, accusing its neighbor of aligning with global powers seeking to exploit Venezuela's resources.
Maduro's Referendum Proposal and Guyana's Concerns
The upcoming referendum, proposed by Venezuela's National Assembly and approved by institutions aligned with President Nicolás Maduro's government, asks Venezuelan citizens whether they support establishing a state within the disputed territory and offering Venezuelan citizenship to its current and future residents. Maduro and his allies are campaigning for a unanimous "yes" vote on all questions, a move that Guyana's legal team at the ICJ has labeled an "existential threat," fearing it could lead to Venezuela's annexation of the Essequibo.
During the ICJ hearings, Rodríguez's presence was notable, not just for her defiant message but also for her statement that her appearance does not imply Venezuela's recognition of the court's jurisdiction over the territorial dispute. This position underscores the complexity of the legal and diplomatic battle unfolding at the international level.
Guyana's ICJ Case and the Referendum's Challenge to Sovereignty
Guyana, which brought the case to the World Court in 2018, seeks to have the ICJ affirm the validity of the 1899 arbitration award. Guyana views the referendum as a direct challenge to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This legal wrangling at the ICJ is the latest chapter in a protracted dispute that has seen various diplomatic and legal maneuvers over the years.
As the Dec. 3 referendum date approaches, the region watches closely. The dispute's resolution—or lack thereof—could have significant implications for both countries, especially regarding resource control and national sovereignty. The ICJ's decision on Guyana's request to halt parts of the referendum will be pivotal in determining the next steps in this complex territorial dispute.
ICJ President Joan E. Donoghue's announcement that the court would deliver its decision on Guyana's request "as soon as possible" adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings. With both nations firmly entrenched in their positions, the international community awaits a resolution that could defuse tensions or ignite a historical dispute with profound geopolitical ramifications.