World

US supports Guyana in dispute with Venezuela over oil-rich territory

The US has reaffirmed its support for Guyana’s sovereignty – as the South American country argues with Venezuela over jungle territory containing huge amounts of oil and gas.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to the president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali late on Wednesday, the State Department said.

A few hours earlier, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the US does not want to see any violence as a result of the territorial dispute.

The region in question is Esequibo – a 62,000 square-mile area around the Esequibo river.

Guyana and Venezuela both claim ownership of it – a dispute dating back to the late 19th century, when Guyana was still a British colony.

Venezuela renewed its claims to the land after 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas were found off the coast of Guyana in recent years.

Tensions have risen further since a referendum in Venezuela on Sunday, in which a huge majority of voters are said to have supported their government’s claim to Esequibo.

President Nicolas Maduro won backing to create a new state and is pledging oil and mining exploration in the territory.

Brazil has begun to move troops and armoured vehicles to Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state, which borders Venezuela and Guyana.

President Irfaan Ali of Guyana
Image:
Guyanese president Irfaan Ali says he will approach the International Court of Justice

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The discovery of valuable raw materials has put Guyana on the world map of oil producers.

A consortium comprising Exxon Mobil, China’s CNOOC and the US’s Hess Corporation began oil production in 2019.

It is currently running at 400,000 barrels a day, sharply boosting Guyana’s economy.

The Venezuelan referendum, in which voters also rejected the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) jurisdiction over the dispute, will not lead to an actual invasion, analysts have predicted.

Rather, it is an attempt by Mr Maduro to show strength and gauge support for his government ahead of 2024 presidential
elections, they have said.

Nevertheless, President Ali said on Tuesday that Guyana will report Mr Maduro’s comments about proposed oil development to the United Nations and the ICJ.

He added that he has spoken to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

His country’s armed forces are on high alert, he said, claiming that Venezuela has declared itself an “outlaw nation”.

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