Venezuela says voters are reclaiming the oil-rich territory of Guyana

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Venezuela’s revolutionary socialist government claims an “overwhelming victory” in a vote on Sunday to claim the oil- and mineral-rich territory of neighboring Guyana.

The vote, which Guyana described as a pretext for “annexation”, marks a new phase in the dispute over the Essequibo region, which has escalated since ExxonMobil made one of the world’s biggest recent oil discoveries in 2015 at its offshore Stabroek block. .

“We have to give the Venezuelan people a round of applause,” Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro said in a speech in Caracas after the electoral commission announced official results that showed more than 10 million votes had been cast.

“[We] We have taken the first steps of a new historical phase fighting for what is ours and to recover what the liberators left us: Guiana Eszequiba”, as the disputed territory is known in Venezuela.

Maduro did not specify what steps Caracas might take next regarding Essequibo, but he celebrated what he said was a strong turnout. At the start of his speech, he referred to the referendum as “consultative”.

Jorge Rodriguez, head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, released a video on X on Sunday night showing a small group of tribesmen lowering a Guyanese flag in a remote mountain area, which he said was placed last month by Guyana’s President Irfan Ali. and raised the Venezuelan flag in its place.

“On November 23, a slave of ExxonMobil, who acts as the president of Guyana, traveled to the Sierra de Paracaima in a provocative manner and left with the Guyanese flag raised,” Rodriguez wrote. “Well, you have to watch this video.” Maduro quickly retweeted the video, whose shooting date and exact location remain unclear.

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Sunday’s vote came after the International Court of Justice for Venezuela issued an order on Friday ordering Guyana not to take “any action” to change the status of the Essequibo region “under its control”. The court hearing the Essequibo case has stopped short of telling Venezuela not to hold a referendum.

All five ballot questions concerning Essequibo were approved by voters, including the ICJ’s rejection of jurisdiction. Another asked voters whether they believed the territory should become the country of Venezuela and its residents granted citizenship.

Elvis Amoroso, head of Venezuela’s government-appointed National Electoral Council, said more than 10 million votes had been counted and at least 95 percent supported all five questions. However, it is not clear whether the 10 million figure refers to the number of voters or the total number of voter responses to the five questions.

About 200,000 Guyanese live in the 160,000 square km of land claimed by Venezuela, and they speak mainly English and indigenous languages. It represents two-thirds of Guyana’s land area.

Tensions flared ahead of the vote, with Guyana saying it was preparing a military buildup if Caracas wanted to enforce the vote’s outcome. Venezuelan government officials said its forces had been deployed to carry out operations against illegal mining.

Brazil, which borders the two countries, said it had “intensified” security measures near the territory ahead of the vote, “encouraging a greater military presence”.

Observers and opposition politicians inside Venezuela characterized the vote as an attempt by Maduro to drum up domestic support as the country prepares for elections in the second half of 2024.

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Maduro, who won re-election in 2018 – in a vote deemed rigged by the United States – has yet to announce his candidacy, although he is widely expected to run.

The United States last month eased sanctions on oil, gold and secondary financial markets for six months in an effort to entice Maduro to allow a “free and fair” referendum next year.

Despite official claims of a high turnout, witnesses said the turnout was far lower than the opposition’s primary turnout of 2.4 million on October 22 at polling stations on Sunday.

Maria Corina Machado, a former pro-market lawmaker barred from office by the government, won the vote decisively. The government on Thursday said it would allow disqualified candidates to appeal against their bans.

While most Venezuelans consider the Essequibo region part of Venezuela, Machado said ahead of the referendum that the referendum was a “concern” and that the matter should be resolved in the ICJ.

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