The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, proposed this Tuesday a law to declare the creation of a state in Essequibo, a region that disputes Guyana.
Maduro ordered in a meeting with his government to “immediately activate the debate in the National Assembly and the approval of the organic law for the creation of Guayana Esequiba” as a Venezuelan state.
He also urged the state oil company PDVSA to “create the PDVSA-Essequibo division” and to grant, also “immediately”, operating licenses for the exploitation of crude oil, gas and mines in Essequibo, which is controlled by Guyana but which Caracas claims.
Maduro also ordered the creation of a “comprehensive defense zone of Guayana Esequiba” located in the town of Tumeremo, in the state of Bolívar (south) and on the border with the disputed area.
The political-administrative headquarters of the new state will be installed there, whose “sole authority” will be General Alexis Rodríguez Cabello, as announced by the president.
In addition, he asked to establish a “social care” plan for the population of Essequibo and carry out “a census and the delivery of identity cards to its inhabitants.”
Another of the measures decreed by Maduro is the publication and dissemination of the “new map of Venezuela” in all educational institutions in the country, where the Essequibo territory is annexed to the country without the signage of the area under claim.
Maduro’s intervention comes after his government held a referendum on Sunday in which its population supported with a large majority Venezuelan sovereignty over this 160,000 km² territory west of the Essequibo River, in northern South America.
Essequibo is home to six of the ten regions that make up the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, as well as 125,000 of its 800,000 inhabitants.
Although both countries have disputed the area for more than a century, tensions increased almost ten years ago, when large oil deposits began to be found there.
The holding of the Venezuelan referendum caused concern in Guyana, whose government does not believe that Venezuela will try to take the territory by force but does not rule it out either and remains “vigilant.”
The Attorney General of Guyana, Anil Nandlall, declared this Tuesday to the AFP agency that he would ask the UN Security Council for help if Venezuela takes any action after the referendum, which it already tried to avoid without success with an urgent request to the International Court of Justice of The Hague.
It specified that, if necessary, it would invoke Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, which may authorize sanctions or military actions by member states to maintain or restore international peace and security.
What does the dispute consist of?
For decades, Venezuela has considered Essequibo, also known as Guayana Esequiba, as an “area under claim” and usually includes it on its maps with a strikethrough.
There is an ongoing dispute between both countries before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to define the bilateral borders in that area.
Guyana, a former British and Dutch colony, insists the borders were established by an arbitration panel in 1899.
However, Venezuela does not recognize the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the matter and maintains that the Essequibo River, to the east of the country, forms a natural border that has been historically recognized.
The dispute has intensified since ExxonMobil discovered oil in Essequibo in 2015.
Caracas called the referendum after the Georgetown government began auctioning off oil blocks there in August.
Guyana stated that it will maintain defense cooperation with the United States and other strategic partners and will continue diplomatic efforts to persuade Venezuela to allow the ICJ to make the final decision.
“We have already made it clear that we will abide by the court’s ruling,” said the Guyanese minister. Guyana previously asked the ICJ to block the vote.
Although the Court urged Caracas not to take any measure that could affect the disputed territory, it also did not agree to Georgetown’s request for urgent intervention to stop the referendum.
How was the referendum
Venezuelan voters were asked about five questions in the referendum, including whether or not Venezuela should reject the 1899 arbitration decision and the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
They were also consulted on whether or not Venezuelan citizenship should be granted to the people (currently Guyanese) of the new “Guyana Esequiba State”.
The polling stations were apparently empty, but the government assured that more than half of the electorate voted.
The Maduro government launched a massive campaign to get Venezuelans to vote in favor, without there being any initiative against the measure.
More than half of the 20.7 million voters participated, said the president of the National Electoral Council, Elvis Amoroso, trying to dispel doubts about participation.
The initial count was questioned by opposition politicians and analysts, who warned about the possibility that voters’ answers to each of the five referendum questions would be counted as separately cast votes.
The low turnout of voters at the polling stations in Caracas and other cities fostered doubts.
The figure of 10.5 million announced by Amoroso accompanied by Maduro is the highest turnout ever recorded in a Venezuelan election.
The president said it was an “overwhelming victory.”
“We have taken the first steps of a new historical stage in the fight for what belongs to us, to recover what the liberators left us,” he stated.
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