Increased Guyana-Venezuela border tensions in the Esequibo

By Catherine Soltero

Border tensions between Guyana and Venezuela have increased as both countries continue to make claims regarding their sovereignty over the disputed Guayana Esequiba (Esequibo) region.

The region, administered and controlled by Guyana, comprises nearly two-thirds of its territory and is incredibly valuable in terms of natural resources, with deposits of hydrocarbons and precious metals.

Its value has increased even further after the Guyanese government let United States (US) oil corporation Exxon conduct exploration activities in the offshore area, discovering significant oil reserves.

The border issue has existed since the late 19th century, and while temporarily resolved in 1899 via an arbitration agreement that awarded the Esequibo to Guyana (then British Guiana), it was reawakened in 1949 amid possible evidence that the tribunal president had colluded with the United Kingdom (UK), suggesting the original agreement was illegitimate.

In 1966, the newly independent Guyanese government signed the Geneva Agreement with the UK and Venezuela to come to a resolution regarding the border. In the meantime, the status quo, whereby Guyana administered the Esequibo, was to continue; this continues to be the case as a decision accepted by both sides has yet to arise.

17 February 2023 marked 57 years since the initial signing of the Geneva Agreement. Guyana utilised the anniversary in order to encourage Venezuela to respect the Agreement, condemn Venezuelan military activities in the region and reject statements by the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro administration that Venezuela has true sovereignty there.

Venezuelan leaders responded by asserting control of the Esequibo and denouncing US-Guyanese oil exploration as a violation of the Agreement. Guyana has defended its position by stating that the treaty does not prohibit any economic activity approved by Guyanese authorities.

Guyana sought to settle the dispute via the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by submitting a case which was accepted in 2018, however most discussions have been stonewalled by Venezuela, which does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ as mandatory.

In its current state, the legal aspect of the dispute remains at a stalemate since both Guyana and Venezuela believe the other party is in violation of the Agreement and little progress is to be made through international governing bodies when Venezuela does not accept their authority.

Guyana, supported by the US, will continue to explore economic opportunities in the Esequibo’s offshore area and bolster relationships with oil and gas companies, while simultaneously continuing to enlist the support of allied nations and intergovernmental organisations to back Guyanese claims.

President Maduro issued a recent warning toward both Guyana and the US, indicating that further oil exploration would undoubtedly warrant a response from Venezuela.

An escalation of the dispute could translate into severe political and economic repercussions that could extend throughout the Caribbean, as other nations may feel obligated to enter the dispute based on their economic or political ties.

As such, any sudden military or diplomatic action by either side could rapidly alter the overall security situation in the region.

Catherine Soltero is a Travel Researcher for Riskline.


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