Venezuela holds referendum on annexation of Essequibo

Venezuelans will vote on Sunday, December 3, on whether to annex the border region of Essequibo, which represents two-thirds of Guyana, which borders Venezuela. While Guyana threatens to set up military bases there, the tone has been rising for several weeks in this conflict that has lasted for a century, revived by the exploitation of large oil fields discovered a few years ago. On Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered Venezuela to "refrain from any action" that would change the situation. Interview with Thomas Posado, Ph.D. in political science and specialist on Venezuela.

"The sun of Venezuela is born in the Essequibo," a phrase in the form of a solgan of protest uttered by Venezuelan Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, pictured here. AFP - FEDERICO PARRA

By: Achim Lippold Follow


Read More

RFI: Tensions between Venezuela and Guyana have escalated, culminating in the referendum on the annexation of Essequibo on Sunday, December 3rd. How did we get here?

Thomas Posado: I see two main reasons. Firstly, the discovery of oil fields and the progress in the exploitation of this oil. Guyana has awarded concessions to Exxon Mobile. This made Venezuela's claim to this territory very concrete. Because if this region is exploited, it is difficult to see how Venezuela could recover it. And the second reason has to do with Venezuelan domestic politics. There will be a presidential election in the 2nd half of 2024. So this referendum allows President Nicolas Maduro to mobilize the Venezuelan population on an issue that is very old and very consensual. Opponents and supporters of Nicolas Maduro agree that, according to them, this region belongs to Venezuela.

RFI: And is that indeed the case?

Venezuela believes that this territory has been stolen. In fact, it was taken by the British in 1840. And since then, this area has been on all the official maps of Venezuela. All the children grow up seeing the map of their country with this area, the Essequibo, claimed by Caracas. For Nicolás Maduro, calling a referendum on this aspect allows the Venezuelan population to rally behind him. Moreover, it even allows him to divide part of the Venezuelan opposition on the question of what strategy to adopt between a referendum that legitimizes Nicolas Maduro and abandoning a very old demand deemed just.

RFI: It's easy to imagine that the "yes" vote will win this Sunday. In that case, what happens next?

It's hard to say. Of the five questions posed to Venezuelans, there is one about not trusting the International Court of Justice to settle this dispute. No doubt Venezuela will withdraw from this mediation body. Will the government use it as a propaganda tool for a national mobilization? Will it even go beyond that, with possible military skirmishes? I don't think the latter scenario is realistic, because Venezuela is still a country in crisis, starting with an economic crisis. But it is also difficult to imagine a negotiation. Venezuela's position is legitimate, from a historical point of view. Today, that territory belongs to Guyana, it is 60 per cent of Guyana's territory, and it is difficult to see the State of Guyana giving up 60 per cent of its territory. Nicolás Maduro's strategy beyond this referendum is not very clear. One of its goals, I think, is to mobilize more voters than in the Venezuelan opposition primary.

Read alsoVenezuela holds a referendum on the annexation of Essequibo

READ HERE: a summary of the order of the #CIJ indicating provisional measures in the case of the Arbitral Award of October 3, 1899 (#Guyana v. #Venezuela)

— CIJ_ICJ (@CIJ_ICJ) December 1, 2023

NewsletterGet all the latest international news straight to your inbox

Subscribe now

Keep up to date with all the latest international news by downloading the RFI app


Most read



Three months after the coup d'état in Gabon, what has become of ousted President Ali Bongo?



Burkina Faso: What the images of the attack on the Djibo base say



Gaza: According to the "New York Times", Israel knew of Hamas' terror attack plan