The standoff continues. Even after the signing of the Argyle Peace Agreement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in mid December, the struggle for Guyana’s sovereignty against a bullying Venezuela continues.
Both Guyana’s President Ali and Venezuela’s President Maduro left St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the resounding note that each one maintains their claim of the disputed Essequibo territory. What was agreed upon however, is that force will not be used by either parties to make good on that claim.
Maduro had humbled and agreed to peace talks only after the UK Foreign Secretary issued a strong statement of deterrence against Venezuela. David Cameron in early December said that Venezuela’s “retrograde step” in claiming the Essequibo must “cease” and that he would speak to world leaders to put a stop to it. Prior to that, Maduro had soldiers at Guyana’s borders poised for a military takeover and had declared that the Essequibo is legally Venezuela according to Venezuelan law following the referendum. Maduro did not renege on this stance, and many people speculated that his attending the CARICOM/CELAC/Brazil brokered peace talks in St. Vincent was nothing short of buying more time.
In a show of support for Guyana, the UK rerouted its warship, HMS Trent, for a visit to waters off the coasts of Guyana’s Atlantic. Calling this an act of aggression and provocation, Nicolas Maduro said that Venezuela will not be intimidated and rallied 5,600 troops from the ground, air, and naval divisions to be deployed for “defensive” military exercises in what he deems a threat from Guyana and the UK.
Both President Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo reiterated that the visit of the HMS Trent or any of Guyana’s military maneuvers pose no threat to Venezuela or any sovereign state. But Nicolas Maduro insists that accepting the HMS Trent on Guyana’s shores violates the Peace Agreement signed in St. Vincent.
As the standoff continues, it is not clear how far this will escalate or where it will stop. Despite engaging in peace talks in St. Vincent, Maduro did not back-peddle on his actions aimed at annexing the Essequibo. The Venezuelan military continues to cut roads through the forests heading towards the Essequibo border. The airstrip close to the Essequibo border is currently under construction. It will be used to support military operations and is expected to be completed soon. Further, Venezuela is currently constructing a naval base just 70 km from the Essequibo.
Despite the recently signed peace agreement, the threat of force against Guyana has been a constant tactic of Nicolas Maduro and past Venezuelan governments. Nicolas Maduro is not alone in his claim of the Essequibo. He is supported by millions of Venezuelans who share the same conviction that the Essequibo belongs to Venezuela.
Military experts have said that risk of war erupting between Guyana and Venezuela remains low.