Presidents of Venezuela and Guyana to meet on Essequibo dispute

Guyana’s and Venezuela’s Presidents will meet on Thursday to discuss the escalating crisis over a disputed oil-rich territory, which is threatening to destabilize the region.

By James Blears

The tension-laden meeting between the presidents of Guyana and Venezuela will take place in St Vicent and the Grenadines. The summit is an attempt to mediate the situation over the disputed region of Essequibo, encompassing 159, 500 square kilometers and constituting two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. More than 125,000 of Guyana’s population of 800,000 people currently live there. The region became Guyana`s territory, then under British control, via an international tribunal decision in 1899. Venezuela has always rejected that ruling.

The situation started to percolate in 2015 with the discovery of huge offshore oil deposits. Current oil production there is 300,000 barrels annually, with a projection of 800,000 in the coming years.  In September, Guyana put up for auction 14 areas there for exploration The current situation came to the boil with a December 3 referendum by Venezuela which claims that 95 percent of those who voted urged that the area must now become Venezuelan territory. That defies a December 1 ruling by the International Court of Justice for no further action until the situation is fully assessed. 

The situation further worsened during the last few days with Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab issuing arrest warrants for 14 opposition politicians, accusing them of treason concerning this dispute. He is accusing Exxon Mobil of funding a conspiracy to destabilize the region. 

Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali says they are fully committed to resolving the dispute via the International Court of Justice. Neighboring Brazil has mobilized and deployed troops. The United States and Guyana have announced a joint military exercise in the region, which Venezuela condemns as provocative. The UN Security Council, which met on Friday, describes the situation as “concerning.” Venezuela is the largest oil producer in the World, but US sanctions have economically crippled it during recent years.