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International News: Venezuelans vote in referendum over disputed territory with Guyana

Venezuelan President

Posted: Sunday, December 3, 2023. 8:41 am CST.

By Horace Palacio: In a move that has heightened tensions with neighboring Guyana, Venezuelans are heading to the polls today to participate in a controversial referendum. The vote aims to decide the fate of a large swath of Guyanese territory, known as Essequibo, which the Venezuelan government claims as its own. This contentious issue, rooted in historical disputes, has resurfaced, sparking international concern.

According to a report by Caribbean.loopnews.com, the referendum poses five critical questions to Venezuelan citizens. These include whether they support the establishment of a Venezuelan state in Essequibo, granting citizenship to its residents, and rejecting the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in resolving the territorial dispute.

President Nicolás Maduro, after casting his vote in Caracas, emphasized the peaceful and democratic nature of this process, framing it as a rectification of “imperial dispossession” that dates back 150 years. However, the Guyanese government views this referendum as a direct step towards annexation, causing widespread unease among its populace.

The ICJ, in a recent ruling, instructed Venezuela not to take any actions altering Guyana’s control over the disputed region. While the court did not explicitly prohibit the referendum, it has raised questions about the legal and practical implications of such a move. Joan E. Donoghue, the court’s president, expressed concern over Venezuela’s apparent intentions to gain control and administer the disputed territory.

Essequibo, a mineral-rich area larger than Greece, also provides access to significant Atlantic oil reserves discovered in 2015. This has drawn increased attention from Maduro’s government. Amidst this backdrop, Brazil has also intensified its military presence in the region, citing the growing dispute.

Historically, Venezuela has claimed Essequibo, arguing that it was within its boundaries during Spanish colonial times. The current border, established by international arbitrators in 1899 when Guyana was still a British colony, has been a point of contention. Venezuelan officials argue that the 1966 agreement to resolve this dispute nullifies the original arbitration decision.

As voters cast their ballots, they face questions regarding the rejection of the 1899 boundary and the endorsement of the 1966 agreement as the sole legal instrument for resolution. Maduro and his allies are campaigning for a “yes” vote on all five questions, intertwining nationalistic sentiments with the referendum.

The outcome of this referendum, while unclear in its immediate impact, is set to shape the future dynamics between Venezuela and Guyana, with potential ripple effects across the region. The international community watches closely as these two South American nations navigate this complex and historical dispute.

 

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