The presidents of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, and Guyana, Irfaan Ali, will meet on Thursday in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines over their dispute over the Essequibo, an oil-rich Guyanese territory claimed by Caracas.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is attempting mediation, will be present “at the request” of both parties.
Presidents Maduro and Ali “both (…) agreed that this meeting would be held under the auspices of CELAC”, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States of which the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves assumes the rotating presidency, “and of CARICOM”, the Caribbean Community, according to a press release from the archipelago of the Lesser Antilles.
“There is an urgent need to de-escalate the conflict and establish an appropriate, face-to-face dialogue,” writes the letter signed by Mr. Gonsalves.
“Let us all resolve to make this historic meeting a success,” concluded the Prime Minister of the archipelago hosting the meeting, the modalities of which are still to be determined.
On Saturday, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali confirmed to AFP that he would participate in the meeting, saying he was firm on the fact that “the (territorial) dispute is before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which it does not “is not subject to negotiation and (that) this will not change.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil insisted that the dispute “will only be resolved through dialogue, mutual respect and the commitment to preserving the region as a zone of peace and free from (any) interference.”
On Saturday morning, Brazilian Head of State Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva asked his Venezuelan counterpart not to take “unilateral measures” which would aggravate the border conflict.
The president of Brazil, whose government has sent military reinforcements to its northern border, also repeated the “growing concern” of other South American countries, which, in a joint statement Thursday evening, had invited “both parties to dialogue and the search for a peaceful solution.
“If there is one thing we do not want, it is a war in South America,” Lula clearly said at the time.
On Saturday, Colombian President Gustavo Petro followed suit, saying on the X network that “the greatest misfortune that could hit South America would be a war.”
“NATO-Russia in the Amazon rainforest”
Screenshot of a video posted to Guyana President Irfaan Ali’s Facebook account showing Mr. Ali during a speech, December 5, 2023 in Georgetown / – / Guyana President Irfaan Ali’s Facebook Account/AFP/Archives
The discovery of vast oil deposits by the American company ExxonMobil in 2015 and calls for tenders from Guyana for exploitation in the area have revived the old conflict over the Essequibo, a territory of 160,000 km2 administered by Guyana but which Venezuela claims, maintaining that the real border is that dating from the Spanish Empire in 1777.
The dispute is brought before the ICJ, the highest court of the UN, which Venezuela does not recognize. Guyana believes that the boundaries were established in 1899, when the United Kingdom was the colonial power of the territory.
The two countries have been exchanging harsh statements for several days, and the UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Friday evening but no comments filtered through.
Russia, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who supported his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin from the first hours of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, called for “peaceful solutions acceptable to all”.
Washington, an ally of Georgetown, affirmed its “unwavering support for the sovereignty of Guyana”.
The Venezuelan Defense Minister described as a “provocation” the air military exercises that the United States announced would be held in Guyana.
“Reproducing a local version of the NATO/Russia conflict in the Amazon rainforest would only waste vital time, progress and lives… Venezuela and Guyana must defuse the conflict,” Colombian President Petro added on Saturday. .
Analysts, however, believe that the nationalist rhetoric of the Venezuelan power on the Essequibo, and the referendum organized on Sunday calling for 95% of annexation to Venezuela, according to contested official figures, are an attempt at political manipulation by Mr. Maduro at least one year before the 2024 presidential election in which he is aiming for a 3rd term.
Some 125,000 people, or a fifth of Guyana’s population, live in Essequibo, which covers two-thirds of the country’s land area.