Venezuela Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ US Meddling in Essequibo Dispute

US State Department Spokesperson Matt Miller that the territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana would not be “settled by a referendum.”
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro celebrates with supporters after results showed Venezuelans overwhelmingly voting to support the country’s sovereignty claim over the Essequibo Strip. (Prensa Presidencial)

Mexico City, Mexico, December 5, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela said it was prepared to defend the result of Sunday’s referendum concerning the Essequibo region from US interference in the matter, the government said Monday in a statement.

“The Venezuelan people as a whole demonstrated their will unequivocally and their revolutionary government will defend this democratic expression in the face of any blackmail or interventionist threat,” read the statement.

Venezuelans overwhelmingly voted to support the country’s sovereignty claim over the Essequibo Strip in a referendum carried out on Sunday. Election officials reported that all five referendum questions, related to different aspects of Venezuela’s argument over the controversial border with Guyana, received between 95-98 percent of “Yes” votes.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) reported a turnout of 10.4 million people. At the time of writing, the detailed breakdown of results by voting center has not been published on the CNE’s website.

US State Department Spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday that the territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo region would not be “settled by a referendum” and called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reacted strongly to Miller’s statement, calling it “unacceptable meddling” and claiming that the US had pushed Guyanese President Irfaan Ali into a conflict with his neighboring country, only to later withdraw US military support in the matter.

Miller also demanded that the 1899 Paris Arbitration Tribunal that awarded the territory to the UK be respected. Venezuelans rejected that ruling on Sunday. 

The country’s government views the 1899 ruling as a “fraud” due to the lack of Venezuelan representation at the tribunal as well as alleged evidence of collusion between the judges. Venezuela was purportedly represented by the United States at the Paris tribunal due to a lack of diplomatic relations with the UK at the time.

“The United States, supported by its nefarious Monroe Doctrine, is the architect, together with British imperialism, of the 1899 fraud and of the recent attempts to strip Venezuela of its historical rights over Guayana Esequiba,” read the Venezuelan government statement.

Venezuela has consistently maintained its dispute over the 160,000 square kilometer territory since the 19th century. In 1966 a newly independent Guyana reached an agreement with Venezuela, known as the Geneva Agreement, which commits the countries to work out a mutually satisfactory solution. 

Caracas views the Geneva Agreement as the only binding instrument to solve the border issue, with its position having been bolstered by Sunday’s referendum.

“The Geneva Agreement, the only legal instrument, was approved by the people of Venezuela and that is what we are going to enforce for a diplomatic, fair, satisfactory and friendly agreement for the parties,” stated Maduro.

On Tuesday, the Venezuelan president announced the creation of a High Commission for the Defense of Guayana Esequiba, headed by Vice President Delcy Rodríguez. The commission will coordinate with several institutions and is tasked with “promoting the execution of the referendum mandate.”

Maduro likewise urged the National Assembly to create legislation based on Sunday’s vote, and appointed an administrative structure for the region headed by Major General Alexis Rodríguez Cabello.

Guyana has taken its case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after a referral by the United Nations General Secretary and is asking the court to uphold the validity of the 1899 border. Venezuela rejects the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the case but nonetheless has participated in proceedings. Voters likewise backed the government’s position that the ICJ has no legitimacy to rule on the controversy.

Last week the ICJ issued a ruling that Venezuela should “refrain from taking any action” that would modify the present circumstances whereby the Essequibo Strip is under Guyanese administration. Georgetown had sought provisional measures from the court against the December 3 referendum, which the ICJ did not accept.

The longstanding territorial dispute flared up in 2015 following the discovery of massive offshore oil deposits. Since then Guyanese governments have proceeded with bidding processes for oil exploration in Essequibo’s undefined territorial waters, which Caracas argues violate the unresolved legal battle.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.