The government of Venezuela, intent on finding a solution to its economic woes that do not involve changing its socialist economic system, has taken up a campaign to annex two-thirds of neighboring Guyana, a jungle territory known as the Essequibo. Guyana is soundly rejecting that Venezuela has any claims to its territory.
Venezuela, which recent estimates have found is experiencing 615% inflation, reignited tensions with Guyana in early June, declaring an “integral maritime zone” over waters that have been uncontroversially part of Guyana for decades. The move echoed China’s “air defense identification zone” over the Senkaku Islands, Japanese sovereign territory, in November 2013. Guyana responded by disregarding the declaration of such a zone as illegal and declaring Venezuela a “regional threat.”
Venezuela reignited this feud shortly after Exxon-Mobil announced the discovery of significant oil deposits in the Essequibo region. President Maduro has accused the corporation of attempting to “destabilize” Venezuela by finding oil elsewhere in Latin America–a threat to the richest oil-producing nation on the continent.
Following the removal of the Venezuelan ambassador to Guyana, Venezuela is now demanding the land near the maritime zone it attempted to establish. Vice notes that the land President Nicolás Maduro claims is Venezuelan territory constitutes two-thirds of Guyana. The land was formally handed to Guyana while still a British territory in 1899. Venezuela attempted to take the land over in 1962 but failed; the end result was a treaty signed by Venezuela accepting Guyana’s sovereignty.
“We are going to take back what our grandparents left for us,” Maduro told Venezuelans in a speech last week, failing to mention that their “grandparents” had signed a treaty disagreeing with his claim. He has also claimed that he is involving the United Nations in the mostly one-sided dispute in an attempt to capture some of that land for his country.
“This is a new way in which the Venezuelan government is looking for the famous foreign enemy,” Emilio Figueredo, Venezuela’s former UN ambassador for the implementation of the Geneva treaty, told Vice. “First they tried with Obama, then with Spain. Since they’ve yielded no results, now they’re trying with Guyana’s president.” Maduro has previously threatened to nationalize Spanish companies and accused Vice President Joe Biden of masterminding an assassination plot against him.
The Geneva treaty is the document that confirms the land belongs to Guyana.
Guyana has soundly rejected UN involvement in the dispute. “We have indicated very clearly to the secretary-general of the United Nations that the Good Officer’s Process to which we have adhered faithfully does not seem to offer any prospect of moving forward,” said Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge on Monday. “The feeling is that as it has evolved, it has served as a cover–not deliberately on the part of the UN of course–but it has served for a cover under which Guyana’s sovereignty has been threatened.”