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International News: UN Court orders Venezuela to halt actions in Guyana border dispute ahead of referendum

Posted: Saturday, December 2, 2023. 2:11 pm CST.

By Horace Palacio: The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, has issued a directive to Venezuela, instructing it to cease any activities that might change the current control over a disputed territory in the Essequibo region, which is governed by Guyana. This significant ruling comes just days before Venezuela’s planned referendum regarding the oil-rich territory.

The ICJ’s decision on Friday did not explicitly prohibit Venezuela from conducting the referendum as Guyana had requested. However, the court emphasized that Venezuela must refrain from any actions that would alter the existing situation in the Essequibo region, which comprises about two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.

The impending referendum in Venezuela, scheduled for Sunday, is set to ask its citizens whether the country should form a new state in the Essequibo area, a move that Guyana deems as a unilateral and illegal attempt to seize the region. This area, measuring around 160,000 square kilometers, has been under Guyana’s administration for over a century.

Guyana maintains its stance on the border, established by an arbitration panel in 1899, which Venezuela initially accepted but later disputed starting in 1962. Venezuela, on the other hand, argues that the Essequibo River to the east of the region forms a natural boundary, a claim dating back to the colonial era when Venezuela was established as a Captaincy General of Spain in 1777.

The Geneva Agreement of 1966, signed before Guyana’s independence from Britain, had aimed for a negotiated settlement on the region’s borders, but a resolution never materialized.

The upcoming Venezuelan referendum is set to pose five questions, including whether to reject the 1899 decision and whether to deny the ICJ’s jurisdiction over the dispute. Additionally, it seeks to determine if the inhabitants of the proposed “Guyana Esequiba State” should be granted Venezuelan citizenship, although it does not directly address self-determination.

Guyana, concerned about the possible outcomes of the referendum, views the vote as a breach of international law. The country has received support from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS) in this regard.

The dispute has gained momentum since ExxonMobil discovered crude oil in the Essequibo region in 2015. Guyana, with one of the world’s largest per capita reserves of crude, has recently announced another significant oil discovery in the disputed area, further complicating the geopolitical dynamics. This discovery adds to Guyana’s already substantial estimated reserves, surpassing those of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The Venezuelan referendum is being closely watched, as it holds potential implications for the ongoing ICJ proceedings and the broader geopolitical landscape in the region, especially considering Venezuela’s substantial oil reserves and its current economic and political challenges.


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