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  HOME | Venezuela (Click here for more Venezuela news)

VenEconomy: The Truth about the Essequibo Region

From the Editors of VenEconomy

One of the great mysteries of the political scene in Venezuela is the half-heartedness with which the democratic opposition has responded to attacks from the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro against the integrity of the national territory in the Essequibo region.

As it is a well-known fact – and there is plenty of evidence – Chávez, endorsed by his then-Foreign Minister, Nicolás Maduro, tacitly waived the rights of Venezuela in the Essequibo area by maintaining his complicit silence since he came to power in 1999 when Guyana started a territorial dispute with Venezuela.

A complicit silence maintained on purpose by Chávez with two clear goals in sight: 1) Make a concession to his mentor Fidel Castro, so that he could pay back the aid granted by Guyana to communist Cuba when it required refueling its aircraft during the so-called Operation Carlota, the military mission that kept Cuba in Angola from 1975 until 1991. 2) Look for the necessary votes to achieve his political ambitions across the region and guarantee the silence from CARICOM member countries in the UN and OAS before the democratic de-institutionalization in Venezuela.

A complicit silence that was maintained for 16 years, without the Venezuelan government having issued a single diplomatic note of protest, despite the fact that Guyana has initiated more than 16 explorations in the area, some of them ecologically harmful, which even Chávez welcomed on three occasions. When Guyana granted oil concessions in disputed areas, including those overlapping with Venezuelan waters (the Orinoco Delta), Venezuela did not say a word about the issue. And also kept its mouth shut when ExxonMobil began drilling in the Stabroek Block.

This silence is interpreted by experts in the field as Venezuela waiving its existing rights in the area in accordance with International Law (doctrine of estoppel), according to which not protesting means acceptance (in other words, silence is assent.)

However, when ExxonMobil announced an oil find in May of this year, the subject of the territorial claim in the Essequibo region reached a tipping point. And Maduro did react, but the wrong way: He accused ExxonMobil of violating Venezuelan waters (as if Guyana had not granted it the concession – and without realizing that the drilling was being performed in Guyanese waters, outside the claimed area).

Then, in a bid to stir up the nationalism that he hoped would give him an electoral advantage, Maduro turned against Guyana and established three Operational Areas of Integral Maritime and Island Defense (Zodimain), among them the Atlantic zone that would have left Guyana without access to the Atlantic Ocean.

Subsequently, after understanding that his strategy was not welcomed by the national public opinion, and that he was being ignored at the international level, Maduro backtracked and dropped Zodimain, stopped touring countries and began to lower his tone with respect to Guyana, but instead made a big fuss at the border with Colombia.

But…the diplomatic storm that he created in Guyana did not abate and, on the other hand, awakened a sleeping dragon.

Guyana requested the intervention of the U.N. and continues to move diplomatically, smoothly and persistently to make everybody feel that it is the legal owner of the disputed area. David Granger, President of Guyana, has traveled to the U.S., Caricom and Unasur to present his case. Also this week, Guyana formally requested Google to re-label in English some of the streets in the contested areas in its maps, in addition to announcing the start of gold extraction activities in the Essequibo.

As things stand at present, it seems that there is no possibility at all that Venezuela can assert its claim.

Then the million-dollar question here is why the opposition has not said anything about Chávez and Maduro waiving the rights of Venezuela in the Essequibo?

The perfect moment for having done so was when Maduro tried to revive the dispute, but did not seize it.

Now, when Guyana has announced it has started gold extraction in the disputed Essequibo territory, comes another opportunity for it to clearly explain to Venezuelans that Chávez and Maduro have been the ones responsible for this new and unjustified seizure of territory being made against Venezuela.

VenEconomy has been a leading provider of consultancy on financial, political and economic data in Venezuela since 1982.

Click here to read this in Spanish


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