Venezuela’s Successful Referendum Confirms Claim to Oil-Rich Region of Guyana

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Venezuela, a revolutionary socialist government, is celebrating what it claims is an “overwhelming victory” after a referendum on its possession of an oil-and-mineral-rich region in neighboring Guyana over the weekend.

Guyana sees the referendum as a pretext for “annexation” and tensions are rising in a dispute over the Essequibo region, especially since ExxonMobil’s significant oil discovery in the Stabroek block off the coast back in 2015.

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s authoritarian president, declared that more than 10 million votes were counted, and Venezuela’s people took the first steps toward reclaiming the disputed region known as Guayana Esequiba.

He made no mention of Caracas’ next steps regarding Essequibo but applauded the strong voter turnout. At the beginning of his speech, he referred to the referendum as “consultative”.

The Venezuelan National Assembly’s president, Jorge Rodríguez, shared a video showing indigenous people lowering a Guyanese flag and raising a Venezuelan flag in a remote mountainous region, calling out Guyana’s president for his actions.

The referendum occurred after the International Court of Justice ordered Venezuela to not interfere with the status quo of the Essequibo region, which Guyana currently “exercises control over”.

Map showing Stabroek oil concession off the coast of Guyana, with territorial waters of Guyan and Venezuela

The head of Venezuela’s government-appointed national electoral council, Elvis Amoroso, reported over 10 million votes counted with all five questions approved, yet the 10 million figure is not entirely clear.

The 160,000 square kilometers of land claimed by Venezuela is inhabited by approximately 200,000 Guyanese, who predominantly speak English and indigenous languages and is conquered two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.

Tensions have heightened with Guyana accusing Caracas of preparing a military build-up, and Brazil has reinforced its defences ahead of the vote, potentially leading to an increased military presence near the territory.

Described as an attempt for Maduro to boost domestic support, the referendum is taking place as Venezuela prepares for elections in the second half of 2024.

In an effort to entice Maduro into allowing a “free and fair” poll next year, the US last month relaxed sanctions on oil, gold, and secondary financial markets for six months.

Witnesses claim that despite official statements, election queues on Sunday were considerably shorter than those during the opposition’s primary on October 22.

The opposition leader, María Corina Machado, has urged that the matter should be settled at the ICJ rather than through a referendum, calling the vote a “distraction”.


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