The government of Guyana has declared Venezuela a “regional threat” after the socialist nation imposed an expansion of its “integral maritime zone” deep into Guyanese waters, just months after President Obama denounced Venezuela as a threat to America’s national security.
Venezuela announced the expansion of this maritime zone in May, shortly after the American oil company Exxon Mobil announced it had found potentially oil-rich territories in Guyana. This expansion, Guyana’s ministry of foreign affairs asserted, was a “flagrant violation of international law and is inconsistent with the principle that all states should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states.” Guyana declared Venezuela a “threat to regional peace and security” following that expansion and warned it would “vigorously” resist any concrete attempts by Venezuelan vessels to enter Guyanese waters.
The waters are, by international law, indisputably within Guyanese borders. The nation points to an international court decision in 1899 in which the Venezuelan government voluntarily agreed to observe these waters as Guyanese.
Venezuela’s new “integral maritime zone” would work somewhat like the illegal “Air Defense Identification Zone” China imposed over oil-rich Japanese islands in the South China Sea in November 2013. It would allow Venezuelan military to monitor the area and force international vessels, including those from Guyana, to identify themselves and request permission to navigate them.
Perhaps predicting such a turnaround upon his election, Guyana’s President David Granger clarified Guyana’s intent to keep the waters within their sovereign territory: “I am convinced that the site which they [Exxon] are drilling is well within our exclusive economic zone… It’s our territory. I don’t see that Venezuela, of all the countries on the continent, should oppose the extraction of petroleum from one of our sites.”
The government of Venezuela, like that of China in the aforementioned dispute, has insisted that it has not acted to incense this matter and accused Guyana of inappropriate “provocations.” “Guyana has emitted an erratic communique full of falsehoods against Venezuela,” said Foreign Relations Minister Delcy Rodriguez. Rodriguez added that Guyana “is exhibiting a dangerous and provocative policy against the Bolivarian Venezuela of peace, supported by the imperialist powers of an American transnational [corporation] like Exxon Mobil, which should be rectified immediately.”
The dispute highlights the mercurial nature of the Venezuelan regime, and especially its ability to harm American companies and interests even when exacerbating disputes with its neighbors. Venezuela has already lost the business of a number of American corporations, including Clorox and a litany of American airlines, all who fear having their property nationalized and their sales rationed in the socialist state. Attempts to keep American business out of Venezuela have largely failed, partly due to the diminishing value of the bolivar, which has forced companies to deal exclusively in dollars and imposed something of a ban on Venezuelan nationals buying certain luxury goods, as they cannot afford to trade their currency in for US dollars.
President Obama declared Venezuela a threat to America’s national security in March, imposing sanctions on major government leaders.