Caracas, December 29, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered large-scale military exercises around the disputed resource-rich Essequibo region following the arrival of a British warship to neighboring Guyana.
In a televised broadcast on Thursday, Maduro announced “a joint defensive action of the entire Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB)” along the eastern Caribbean coast and Atlantic front “in response to the provocation and threat of the United Kingdom against peace and the sovereignty of our country.”
According to the Venezuelan Defense Ministry, the operation will involve over 5,600 military personnel and will encompass patrolling land, air, and sea areas alongside the disputed Essequibo territory.
Maduro’s order came as Britain’s Defense Ministry announced Sunday it would send the Royal Navy patrol vessel HMS Trent to Guyana “as part of a series of engagements in the region during her Atlantic Patrol Task deployment.” An anonymous source told AFP the war vessel would arrive on December 29 but would not dock on Georgetown and would stay for less than a week for open sea defense exercises.
The Venezuelan leader went on to claim that Guyana’s acceptance of the British warship breached the Argyle Agreement signed on December 14 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, during his meeting with Guyana President Irfaan Ali.
In the “Joint Declaration of Argyle for Peace Between Guyana and Venezuela”, both presidents committed to avoid the use of force against the other, refrain from escalating the conflict and continue direct talks to resolve the Essequibo controversy under international law. A second meeting between Maduro and Ali will purportedly take place in Brazil within the next three months.
“The threat of the decadent, rotten, ex-empire of the United Kingdom is unacceptable,” said President Maduro during an event with Venezuelan military leaders from the Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters in Caracas.
In addition to the warship, UK Foreign Minister David Rutley visited Georgetown last week and pledged that London would work with partners “to ensure the territorial integrity of Guyana is upheld.” He also claimed that the Essequibo border was settled in 1899 when an arbitration panel granted the territory to the UK as Guyana’s former colonizer. The Caribbean nation gained independence in 1966.
In a communique issued on Thursday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry warned that the presence of the UK military vessel and British officials’ declarations was “extremely serious” since they followed threats of US military intervention. Earlier this month, the US Southern Command conducted joint military drills with the Guyanese Defense Forces, while US Department of Defense officials visited Guyana in November.
“Venezuela urges the Guyanese authorities to take immediate action for the withdrawal of the HMS Trent vessel and to refrain from continuing to involve military powers in the territorial dispute,” read the statement.
In response to Caracas’ calls for de-escalation, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali commented on Thursday that Venezuela had “nothing to fear from activities within Guyana’s sovereign territory or waters.” He added that his administration is fully committed to peaceful relations with its neighbors.
Ali ratified that his country “has long been engaged in partnerships with regional and international states aimed at enhancing internal security,” but claimed that they pose no threat and are in no way intended to be aggressive towards another country.
On Friday, a UK government spokesperson reiterated its support for Guyana and said that Venezuela’s military drill was “unjustified.”
The two neighboring South American countries’ dispute over the 160,000 square kilometer Essequibo Strip dates back to the 19th century. Venezuela maintains that the territory has been part of the country since gaining independence from Spain in the early 1800s.
It rejects the 1899 ruling as a “fraud” due to the lack of Venezuelan representation as well as alleged evidence of collusion between the judges.
In February 1966, the United Kingdom and Venezuela reached the Geneva Agreement to work out a mutually satisfactory solution, with Guyana taking over the UK’s role after gaining independence months later. However, the controversy remained dormant with Caracas urging direct talks and Georgetown leaders arguing that there was no place for negotiations before the 1899 verdict was proven fraudulent in court..
The dispute flared up again in 2015 following the discovery of massive offshore oil deposits by US corporation ExxonMobil. Since then, Guyanese governments have proceeded with bidding processes for oil exploration in the Essequibo’s undefined territorial waters and in 2018 requested the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to rule over the territorial dispute.
In contrast, Venezuela does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and contends that the 1966 Agreement is the only binding instrument to solve the controversy. On December 3, Venezuelans overwhelmingly supported the country’s sovereignty claim over the Essequibo in a referendum. Since then, Maduro has ordered the creation of a new Venezuelan state called Guayana Esequiba as well as civil and military institutions for the disputed area.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.