For years, Guyanese have trivialized the idea of Venezuela annexing the Essequibo and seizing it by force. We’ve made fun and jokes about it. After all, the probability of Venezuela making such a bold and daring move seemed laughably small. Since the early 2000s, Venezuela was beset by internal political turmoils and a looming economic crisis with which it is still wrestling, so invading Guyana was not a top priority.
But when Exxon Mobil announced humongous oil finds in 2015, President Nicolas Maduro’s eyes glutted. He quickly announced that all residents of the Essequibo would be issued with a Venezuelan ID card. That attempt flopped because no Guyanese was willing to betray their homeland to become yet another starving Venezuelan.
From 2015 to 2020, the Maduro Regime barked, roared, and raged about the Essequibo but was ultimately unable to further its objective. During the Trump Presidency, it was difficult for Maduro to make a move. He had bigger problems. He had to protect himself from the US president who wanted him dead or alive, and who wanted to effect a regime change in Venezuela. Any attempt to annex and occupy the Essequibo at that time would have given Donald Trump the perfect excuse or justification to invade Venezuela and take out Maduro once and for all. But now that Donald Trump is out of office, and Joe Biden has rekindled friendly relations with Venezuela, the Venezuelan government feels unhindered. Maduro may be further emboldened by the fact that the current Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, is a good friend, partner, and ally of his, both of them sharing similar communist ideologies.
The defiant Russian invasion of Ukraine, despite warnings from the United Nations and the “all powerful” USA, has established Russia’s dominance and status as an untouchable US enemy. And the fact that Russia is a strong Venezuelan ally further emboldens the current Venezuelan government.
While many Guyanese are childishly hopeful that the USA will defend Guyana because of Exxon Mobil’s presence here, there is no real indication that that will happen. And it is impractical to think the USA will fight for Guyana given the fact that the Biden Administration has issued no substantial warning to Venezuela about its flagrant moves in annexing the Essequibo.
Guyanese and the Guyana Government need to understand that countries strongly condemning an action does not necessarily equate to military protection. In this context, the Guyanese response to Venezuela’s flagrant advances in annexing the Essequibo is alarmingly weak. In 1966, Venezuela seized the disputed Ankoko Island without firing a shot. Amidst the Guyanese chorus of “not a blade of grass,” a whole island was taken. As Venezuela draws up a referendum aimed at annexing the Essequibo, Guyanese continue to sing the same song.
But the ongoing conflict is anything but a singing competition. Unless the Guyana government steps up its game in defending the Essequibo, we might see a similar takeover of the Essequibo by Venezuela without a shot fired from Guyana.
If Venezuela seizes the Essequibo, it will disrupt the lives and livelihood of a large fraction of the Guyanese population, and the loss of revenue from more than two-thirds of the country will drive Guyana into economic ruins. Venezuela spends an estimated 4 million US dollars per year on its military, and there is little to suggest that it would not be looking towards its eastern border for a return on investment.
From the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, experiences have shown that a war between neighboring countries over disputed territory brings nothing but disaster, and people of conscience such resist and reject it at all costs. Such a conflict is likely to be prolonged and result in severe damages to infrastructure, loss of property, rapes, tortures, and a sweeping range of human rights abuses. It’s time that the Guyana government addresses the real and present danger of Venezuela annexing the Essequibo county and take definitive steps in preventing such a catastrophe.
There are two options:
1. Invest heavily in Guyana’s military. Purchase anti-aircraft defense systems, tanks, and military aircraft. Set up military bases near to the Venezuelan border and secure the border with adequate manpower and equipment. Venezuela is already at a disadvantage because of the unwelcoming terrain and thick jungles between Guyana and Venezuela.
2. Form a military alliance with a country which is capable of deterring Venezuelan aggression on some mutually beneficial agreement. For example, letting Brazil complete the Lethem to Linden trail in exchange for using Port Georgetown would give Brazil a vested financial interest in Guyana, and they will not allow Venezuela to annex the Essequibo. A similar bargain can be made with the United States or England.
I would not like to say that giving up the Essequibo without any resistance is an option, but the way things are going right now, that seems like the path we are presently on. It’s time for Guyana to change its trajectory in this conflict which looms over our heads like the sword of Damocles.
Video: Venezuelan Vice President Encourages Venezuelans to Vote in Favor of December 3 Referendum
Confident that they cannot win the case at the ICJ, the Venezuelan government has resorted inciting enmity between the Guyanese and Venezuelan people. In this video, the Vice President encourages persons at a rally to vote yes to all five questions on the referendum and says that “Guyana wants a war.”
Video: Venezuelan Defense Minister Encourages Citizens to Vote Yes to All Five Questions of the December 3 Referendum
Venezuelan defense Minister encourages citizens to vote yes to all five questions of the December 3 referendum which will enable Venezuelan government to annex the Essequibo.