The Essequibo River and the Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana
The Essequibo River, photographed on April 10, flows through the Kurupukari Crossing in Guyana. (Credit: Matias Delacroix/AP)
The dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo is at its highest point after the holding of a consultative referendum by Caracas in which voters supported the proposal to create a Venezuelan state in the region rich in oil, gas, gold and other minerals.
Following the results, the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, ordered the creation of the Guayana Esequiba state and announced that he will grant Venezuelan nationality to all citizens living in that territory. But the area, in fact, corresponds to two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, so an “annexation” by Venezuela, as Georgetown has called it, would pose an existential threat to the country.
Being between one territory and another, its population is diverse and its customs are even more so. This is what you should know about life inside Essequibo.
The epicenter of the territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana is a region where some 125,000 people live. According to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 19,000 Venezuelan migrants live in Guyana in search of better working and economic conditions. Being a region rich in natural, forestry and agricultural resources, its main economic source is oil extraction and gold reserves. Its inhabitants obtain resources mainly from its rainforests, cane plantations, sugar and rice fields, and from fishing.
Several indigenous groups live in the Esequibo: Sarao, Arawako, Kariña, Patamuná, Arekuna, Akawaio, Wapishana, Makushi and Wai Wai, being the Arawako the most numerous community, according to the slogan of the international community of translators, writers and academics Global Voices. Many of these groups, according to the platform, live in both Venezuela and Guyana.
What language is spoken in Essequibo?
English is the predominant language in the territory of around 160,000 km2, much of which is little-explored rainforest. However, due to the diversity of indigenous groups living there speak other languages such as Pemón or Arekuna and Wapishana, according to Global Voices.
Having a history with the United Kingdom and being mostly part of Guyana, in Essequibo customs center on family groups. The culture is similar to that of the so-called “West Indies”. Its festivals are colorful, there is music in the streets and dancing is one of its main activities. Its official currency is the Guyanaese dollar. One US dollar is equivalent to almost 209 Guyanese dollars at the December 6 exchange rate.
The region is a source of dispute due to the large amount of mineral resources. There is a large presence of bauxite, gold, diamonds and manganese there, according to the Government of Venezuela, and “it is suspected,” says Caracas, that there are “important reserves of uranium, oil and natural gas.”