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Map of Guyana - Disputed Area being claimed by Venezuela

Map of Guyana: “Disputed Territory” (salmon-pink) claimed by Venezuela
Source: Caracas Chronicles

Guyana struck black gold in May 2015! American oil giant ExxonMobil estimates that their find amounts to at least 700 million barrels of crude oil, valued at US$40 billion, over ten times Guyana’s entire economy (GDP). The elation of Guyana’s newly-elected government was short-lived. Within weeks, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro issued a decree claiming sovereignty over the ExxonMobil’s drill site along with the rest of Guyana’s territorial waters off the Essequibo region. [That Guyana should keep it in the ground is another story.]

Venezuela persists in a belief that the entire region west of the Essequibo River, including the islands in the river, is rightfully theirs. With over 50,000 square miles of savanna and forest cover, the Essequibo Region makes up about two-thirds of Guyana’s total territory.

Accepted by all parties involved, an Arbitral Award of 1899 defined the Guyana-Venezuela boundaries. Venezuela even took part in demarcation of the new border. Then in 1949, a Venezuelan junior counsel, present at the Tribunal hearings, incited controversy with his posthumous Mallet-Prevost Memorandum alleging collusion in favor of Britain. This was enough for Venezuela to declare the fifty-year-old Arbitral Award “null and void.”

Since then, the Geneva Agreement of 1966 – signed by Britain, Guyana (then British Guiana), and Venezuela, and filed with the United Nations – has failed to resolve the ‘controversy.’ From Venezuela’s current aggressive stance, one would believe that the Guyana-Venezuela border is under revision, which is not the case.

As I see it, Venezuela’s attempt to nullify the Arbitral Award of 1899 is an act of aggression by a larger nation with greater military power towards its small, poor neighbor. Over the years, this flimsy ‘controversy’ has served to stifle Guyana’s economic development.

When tensions escalated in June between the two nations, President Maduro accused Guyana of aggression and provocation. In an interview with teleSUR on July 8, 2015, he claimed: “There is a brutal campaign against Venezuela, financed by ExxonMobil. It’s a campaign to corner Venezuela, in order to lead it to high-intensity conflict, to undermine the policy of peace that we have implemented.”

Contrary to the terms of the Geneva Agreement of 1966, he further declared that the British “recognize it’s a case that still needs negotiation.” He made no mention of the territories in the Orinoco River basin the British had ceded to Venezuela under the Arbitral Award of 1899.

Blogger Francisco Toro of Caracas Chronicles sees Maduro’s bully campaign as “Economic War.” In his comprehensive article, he concludes: “At some point, somebody grown up is going to have to put his or her head above the parapet and say the blindingly freakin’ obvious: el Esequibo es de Guyana. Siempre lo ha sido. Siempre lo sera.”

Guyana, Essequibo is we own. We ain’t giving up…not a blade o’ grass. Ain’t it time to move we capital to Essequibo?