December 7, 2023
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is claiming a victory in the December 3 referendum, in which, figures show, some 2 million people voted overwhelmingly (reportedly 98 percent) in favour of annexing the oil-rich Guyanese territory of Essequibo.
But what Maduro is not saying, but the opposition in Venezuela is taking pains to point out, is that this number only represents less than 9 per cent of the 20 million-plus Venezuelans who were eligible to vote.
The rest decided not to play Maduro’s game and stayed away from the poll, a slap in Maduro’s face as he tries to use this territorial dispute to shore up political support at home.
The turnout appeared so underwhelming that the Venezuelan government has been widely accused by analysts of falsifying the results, the UK Guardian reports.
Indeed, the major British daily said Maduro’s plan to annex Essequibo appears to have backfired — a position also taken by the renowned broadcaster BBC.
This hasn’t stopped Maduro from grandstanding, however, with the Venezuelan President issuing a statement shortly after the referendum ordering foreign companies to leave concessions awarded by Guyana within three months.
Maduro also made several other pronouncements, including the creation of a new High Commission for the Defense of Essequibo coordinated by Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, activation of debate in the National Assembly for the approval of the Organic Law for the defense of Essequibo, creation of the the Zone of Integral Defense of Essequibo with three areas and 28 sectors of integral development, to be located in Tumeremo; the designation of MG Alexis Rodríguez Cabello as Sole Authority of Essequibo whose political and administrative headquarters will be located in Tumeremo; the publication and dissemination in schools, high schools and universities of the country the new Map of Venezuela that includes Essequibo and the activation of an Integral Social Attention Plan for the entire population of Essequibo that includes a Census and the opening of an Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Immigration (SAIME) office for the delivery of identification cards to the population based in Tumeremo (located in Venezuela about 100 kilometres west of the Guyana border.)
But the most concerning of all his actions since the December 3 referendum is his announcement Tuesday of the creation of a new military zone that would be in charge of defending Essequibo.
He backed this up by ordering troops to the area, but it is unclear how large the new military force to be based in Tumeremo would be.
Maduro says he was given a mandate on Sunday to invade Guyana. In response on Tuesday, Brazil’s military reinforced its northern border due to rising tensions. Brazil has borders with both countries.
Guyana, meanwhile, has not responded directly to the referendum or to Maduro’s posturing. Instead, it has turned to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by filing a complaint against Venezuela for breaching the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) order, issued on Friday, that Venezuela must not take any action which would modify the situation that currently prevails in the territory in dispute, whereby Guyana administers and exercises control over Essequibo.
Guyana President Irfaan Ali also assured the people of Guyana, as well as the international investors in the country, that they had nothing to fear as the Guyana Defence Force was on full alert, and the country also had the backing of SouthCom, one of the 11 unified combatant commands in the US Department of Defense.
U. S. officials, who have been keeping a close eye on the simmering tensions over Caracas’ claim to the Essequibo region, have grown increasingly concerned that Maduro could be preparing for the use of military force on Guyanese territory.
President Ali called the moves by Maduro “reckless” and said his country plans to alert both regional and world leaders of Maduro’s attempt to disrupt the peace in the hemisphere.
“It is unfortunate that President Maduro would choose the road of defying an international court order. This speaks volumes about the way in which President Maduro prefers to operate and also points to the fact that he’s unconcerned about the peace and security of this region,” Ali said.
“We once again call on Venezuela to retract from this reckless, adventurous move and to allow international law and the ruling of the [U.N. court] to guide our action,” Ali added.
Maduro, for his part, has dismissed the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
How this will all play out in coming days and weeks is left to be seen, but we believe Ali and his government are on top of things. Indeed, they have international law on their side and have so far refused to be reactive, which is commendable.
We assure President Ali and the Guyanese people that they also have the Diaspora on their side, and we will do whatever it takes to bring a peaceful resolution to this situation.
Stay the course with a steady hand, Mr. President.