Venezuela-Guyana Dispute: Escalation Concerns

  Dec 05, 2023

Venezuela-Guyana Territorial Dispute: Escalation Concerns

Situation Overview:

Venezuela's recent referendum on the sovereignty of the Essequibo region, part of Guyana, has reignited longstanding territorial disputes between the two South American nations.

Referendum Outcome:

Venezuela's Claim: Over 95% voter support for Venezuela’s sovereignty over Essequibo.

Timing: Conducted close to Venezuela's next presidential election, suggesting possible political motivations.

Historical Context:

Longstanding Claims: Venezuela has claimed Essequibo for over a century, alleging colonial powers' misdrawn borders.

1966 Geneva Agreement: Venezuela and the UK agreed to seek a peaceful resolution while Guyana was a British colony.

Oil Factor: Rising tensions coincided with Guyana's oil boom.

Guyana's Stance:

1899 Border Agreement: Guyana views this agreement as final and approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018.

Venezuela's Opposition: Venezuela disputes the 1899 agreement, deeming it void and rejecting the ICJ's jurisdiction.

International Dynamics:

ICJ's Role: The court urged Venezuela to refrain from altering the status quo but declined to ban the referendum.

U.S. Sanctions: Eased against Venezuela amid election agreement negotiations.

Domestic Challenges in Venezuela:

President Maduro's Position: While retaining control over state institutions, Maduro faces domestic dissatisfaction due to economic hardships.

Election Focus: The border issue could distract from domestic problems.


Avoid Unilateral Action: Maduro is advised to adhere to the Geneva Agreement's spirit and resolve the dispute through dialogue, not unilateral actions.

Venezuela's Referendum on Guyana Territory Claim

Referendum Result:

Venezuelan electoral authorities reported that 95% of voters in a non-binding referendum backed Venezuela's claim over a large portion of oil-rich Guyana territory.

Political Context:

President Nicolas Maduro described the referendum as a significant step towards reclaiming what he believes is rightfully Venezuela's territory.

Maduro views this as a pivotal move in the historical context of the region's liberation.


The referendum has caused apprehension in Guyana and the broader region regarding Venezuela's intentions for the disputed area.

Maduro aims to use the referendum's outcome to bolster Venezuela's claim to the Essequibo territory, currently governed by Guyana, especially ahead of his re-election bid during an economic crisis.

Guyana’s Stance:

Guyana's President Irfaan Ali reassures citizens of the nation's commitment to border security and public safety.

Guyana maintains that the territorial borders were established during the British colonial era and legitimized by a 1899 arbitration court decision


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