Venezuela and Guyana border dispute
As if Europe’s colonial-era mapmakers haven’t already bequeathed us enough wars. Now the long-running border dispute between Venezuela and its eastern neighbor Guyana is heating up again.
Guyana says Venezuela is sending troops to the frontier, while Caracas says Venezuelan voters will get to decide unilaterally whether to annex Guyanese territory.
At issue: The western two-thirds of Guyana, known as Essequibo, is a jungle terrain inhabited by 250,000 people. The dispute began with a 19th century map that gave the region to Guyana — at the time a British colonial possession — rather than to Venezuela, which maintained earlier Spanish claims to the area. Several international efforts to resolve the dispute since then have failed, and the issue is currently before the International Court of Justice.
But Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro rejects the court’s jurisdiction. He plans instead to put the question of annexation to Venezuelan voters in a plebiscite on Dec. 3.
Why now? Because there’s oil there, lots of it, following massive discoveries by ExxonMobil over the past decade. Maduro has his eye on those reserves, which would bring Guyana’s 800,000 citizens one of the swiftest windfalls of oil wealth in history.
But he may also be playing domestic politics. He recently tried to tar the Venezuelan opposition as national traitors for supposedly advancing a US-backed plan to scuttle the vote — an assertion the opposition vociferously denied.
Los Yanquis are in the area. Any forceful attempts to seize Guyanese territory could spark a crisis that quickly draws in the United States — since 2020, Washington has run joint naval patrols with Guyana.