Venezuela Reaffirms Claim Over Essequibo Strip, Rejects Oil Lobby in Guyana

Caracas denounced its neighbor for surrendering the Essequibo region to US corporation ExxonMobil in violation of the 1966 Geneva Agreement.

Caracas, February 23, 2023 ( – The Venezuelan government ratified its sovereignty over the disputed Essequibo region and denounced the territory’s exploitation by transnational corporations.

On Friday, Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a communique celebrating the 57th anniversary of the UN-brokered Geneva Agreement signed by all parties on February 17, 1966, and reaffirmed the country’s adherence to the accord as the only binding international framework “to solve the territorial controversy in an amicable way.”

The statement recalled that the Geneva Agreement overruled the controversial 1899 arbitral award granted to then-British colonized Guyana in a five-jurist tribunal that denied the presence of Venezuelan negotiators. The 1966 deal called for a negotiated solution between the two countries following Guyana’s independence in May of that year. However, no understanding has ever been reached.

The diplomatic quarrel over the 160,000-square-kilometer territory had been mostly uneventful for several decades but it awakened in 2015 following the discovery of massive oil reserves in the Essequibo’s maritime waters totaling an estimated 11 billion barrels. US multinational Exxon Mobil has been carrying out drilling operations after receiving Guyana’s authorization to explore the disputed area.

Caracas has repeatedly denounced Guyana’s violation of the 1966 accords by allowing the continuous resource exploitation of the Essequibo Strip, first by gold transnational companies since the late 1880s and more recently by oil corporations.

For its part, the Guyanese government released a recent statement arguing that “the Geneva Agreement imposes no obligation on Guyana to refrain from practicing economic development activities in any portion of its territory or any appurtenant maritime areas.”

“Any unilateral attempt by Venezuela to restrict the exercise by Guyana of its sovereignty and sovereign right will be wholly inconsistent with the Geneva Agreement and the rule of international law,” the text likewise claimed.

Venezuela responded with a second communique on Saturday denouncing that this line of conduct by Georgetown officials “has led to the deplorable ‘surrender’ of vast areas of jungle as well as water and forest reserves to the voracity of extractivism.”

The Venezuelan Foreign Office’s statement further reasoned that Guyana “has unilaterally tried to abstain from the Geneva Agreement with a legal interpretation financed by oil transnationals,” while ignoring its international responsibilities in an agreement both parties subscribed to before the United Nations.

“It is shocking that Guyana falsely accuses Venezuela of undermining the Geneva Agreement and, on the other hand, boldly affirms that the accord does not impede the disposition, exploitation, and arbitrary degradation of the disputed territory,” read the communique.

Caracas concluded by ratifying its commitment “to solve the territorial controversy in an amicable manner” and urged Guyana to act “with seriousness, wisdom, and diplomatic attitude as required by the Geneva Agreement.”

The Essequibo region is a huge, sparsely populated area that appears on Venezuela’s map as a red and white stripe on the Eastern border and is referred to as “the reclamation zone.” Guyana has strongly rejected this map, calling it a “campaign of disinformation” and requesting that social media companies take action.

Venezuela has historically claimed that its territory extended east to the Essequibo River since the country’s formation as an independent Republic in 1810 and has “indisputable historical and juridical titles” that prove it. For its part, Guyana says its ownership began in 1814 when Britain colonized the area through a treaty with the Netherlands, but the frontier with Venezuela was never defined.

Beyond solving a border issue from colonial times, a resolution would also determine which country has rights to significant offshore oil and gas fields. Following Exxon’s oil discoveries in 2015, Guyana has garnered attention from other several oil corporations prompting Washington to declare its recognition of the 1899 arbitral award.

The most recent well in Essequibo’s waters was spud on January 2023 by US energy corporation Hess, one of Exxon’s partners operating in Guyana, totaling over 30 oil discoveries so far. At least 63 more wells are expected to be drilled in the next three years.

Encouraged by Washington’s backing, in 2018 Guyana presented the case to the United Nations’s International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled it had jurisdiction to settle the controversy. The Nicolás Maduro government immediately rejected the court’s interference and urged for direct talks with Guyana. However, Georgetown authorities have constantly refused negotiations.

In November 2022, Vice President Decly Rodríguez met with the Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Tatiana Valovaya, to request that the ICJ dismiss the case. A decision is expected this year.