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Venezuela: the consultative referendum raises doubts about the stability of the Esequibo Territory

The government is currently celebrating the "overwhelming" affirmation of the "yes" to the five referendum questions with which to advance claims on the region rich in natural resources disputed by neighboring Guyana

Caracas
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The government of Venezuela is currently celebrating the "overwhelming" affirmation of the "yes" to the five referendum questions with which to advance the demands on the Essequibo Territory, the region rich in natural resources disputed by neighboring Guyana. An initiative which, in addition to opening new controversies on the transparency of the electoral system, raises the alarm on the stability of the region. Attention is mainly paid to the possible consequences of question number 5, the one which requests agreement for the "creation" of a state of Guayana Esequiba, in the disputed territory. Let's talk about it specifically. of an "accelerated plan to guarantee integral attention to the current and future population of this territory". Cashed in the “will of the majority” of the Venezuelans, even if in a referendum with a merely consultative value, the various government authorities have assured that they will work for "peaceful solutions", discarding - albeit without naming it - any hypothesis of annexation by force.


A topic that had raised alarm not only in Guyana, ready to guarantee that it will "oppose resistance" to any offensives, but also of at least two other important regional players: the United States, which last week sent a team of specialists to train the local army in Georgetown, and the Brazil which - sensing suspicious movements of Venezuelan troops - had announced the strengthening of its presence at the border. Furthermore, fearful that the referendum could undermine the peaceful resolution of the dispute, Guyana had tried to obtain its suspension, but the International Court of Justice (ICJ), called to put pressure on Caracas, limited itself to inviting the parties not to take initiatives that can increase tension.

The numbers on voter participation released by the poll also sparked discussion National Electoral Council (Cne). With the counting not yet fully completed, said the president of the CNE, Elvis Amoroso, 10.431.907 Venezuelans voted, just over 50 percent of those entitled to vote. Figures that many media continue to measure on images and videos of polling stations and ballot boxes that have mostly been deserted. And the same decision to extend the closing of the polls by two hours, presented by the CNE as a necessary measure to clear the queues, was portrayed by several observers as an expedient to recover voters who would have decided to defect first. The turnout reported for yesterday exceeds that which the authorities had certified for the last general and regional elections, approaching the figures flaunted by the governments of the popular former president, Hugo Chavez. What is certain is that it is still a a cause felt across the board by all Venezuelans, as demonstrated by the "yes" shares, none below 95 percent.

The greatest consensus went to the first two questions (97,8 and 98,1 percent), for which the opposition had launched an explicit invitation to vote in favour: the first referred to the need to prevent "with all legally compatible means" from not accepting the 1899 arbitration award as an instrument for resolving the dispute, on which Guyana is strong. Caracas, as demonstrated by the second question, believes that the instrument to be used is the Geneva agreement of 1966. With the third question, citizens were asked whether they agreed "with Venezuela's historical position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice” on the case. The question insists on a doubt that the Court recently resolved, affirming its jurisdiction over the case, precisely in response to an appeal from Caracas. Guyana also points out that over time Venezuela has asked the Hague to resolve incidental issues in the case. The fourth question asked for support in rejecting any "claim" to "unilaterally" dispose of the waters over which a dispute still weighs, and the fifth, the reason for Georgetown's greatest alarms, is the one that would open up to a de facto annexation of the territory.

Rich in precious natural resources, the Esequibo Territory has returned to the center of a tense international tug-of-war following Guyana's recent announcement to hold a new series of oil auctions. A maneuver which for Caracas - referring to the interests nurtured by Exxon Mobil in the area - is evidence of direct interference by the United States. In this sense, several analysts highlight the important turning point represented by the commissioning, in mid-November, of the "Prosperity" floating production storage and offloading unit, ExxonMobil's third FPSO in the area, potentially capable of boosting production nationally at 620 thousand barrels per day, a figure that could undermine that of Venezuela itself. Caracas has launched a political and media offensive, as well as a judicial one, with an investigation opened by the Attorney General into a criminal complaint against the president of Guyana, Mohamed Irfaan Ali.

The territory at the center of the dispute is an area of ​​159.500 square kilometers that Guyana has incorporated within its borders but whose sovereignty is claimed by Venezuela. Georgetown defends a territorial boundary established in 1899 by an arbitral tribunal in Paris, when Guyana was still a British colony. Caracas claims the Geneva Agreement, signed in 1966 with the United Kingdom before Guyana's independence, which laid the foundations for a negotiated settlement and annulled the 1899 treaty. The issue of sovereignty returned to the fore in 2015, when the US giant Exxon Mobil announced the discovery of oil deposits in the maritime area. Despite Venezuela's opposition, which initially only admitted the possibility of bilateral arbitration, the case has been in the hands of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) since 2018. Rejecting a series of objections from Caracas, the UN tribunal confirmed that it has the qualifications to decide on the dispute, now starting the examination of the merits.

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