December 19, 2023

Guyana and Venezuela

“Guyana and Venezuela [last] Thursday agreed to avoid any use of force and to not escalate tensions in their long-running dispute over the oil-rich Esequibo area after a meeting between their heads of state in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The 160,000-square-km (62,000-square-mile) region is generally recognized as part of Guyana, but in recent years Venezuela has revived its claim to the territory and to offshore areas after major oil and gas discoveries

“Tensions rose sharply this month after voters in a Venezuelan referendum backed a move to make the Esequibo area a new Venezuelan state and rejected the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is hearing the case on the border dispute. They were further inflamed after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said last week he would authorize oil exploration in the Esequibo region.” Reuters

“The White House said [earlier this month] it was prepared to ‘pause’ sanctions relief for OPEC member Venezuela in coming days unless there is further progress on the release of Venezuelan political prisoners and ‘wrongfully detained’ Americans

“Speaking after a deadline for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to meet certain commitments, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. welcomed an announcement on Thursday that opposition presidential candidates barred from public office would be able to appeal to Venezuela’s highest court. But he said the Venezuelan government needed to do more.” Reuters

Both sides are critical of Maduro and urge the Biden Administration to restore sanctions on Venezuela:

“The referendum was a call to Venezuelans to rally ’round the flag, which is the oldest trick in the tyrant’s manual for what to do when things are going badly. And they are. The economy has collapsed since Mr. Maduro took office in 2013. Venezuelan living standards, once the envy of South America, are in the tank. Some 7.5 million people, or a quarter of the population, have emigrated, tearing families apart…

“The other reason Mr. Maduro held the referendum is that the disputed Guyanese land corresponds to what is believed to be enormous oil reserves off its coast. Venezuela’s incompetence and corruption mean it can’t even extract the oil it has within its own borders. But Mr. Maduro sees the nation next door getting rich and reflexively needs to object.”
Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal

“Unpopular Maduro, who succeeded his charismatic mentor, the late revolutionary socialist Hugo Chávez, in 2013, faces an election next year that, if it is free and fair, he will likely lose. The cynical whipping up of nationalist, patriotic sentiment is a familiar refuge of rogues lacking better ways to win votes. It also seems clear that the dispute, which centres on control of the Essequibo region in western Guyana, a sparsely populated area the size of Greece that constitutes about two-thirds of Guyanese territory, is mostly about oil…

“Guyana’s president, Irfaan Ali, has appealed for help to the US, the UN and regional neighbours… It may be that [this] is exactly what Maduro, fake champion of the masses, hoped to provoke, in order to boost his domestic standing and anti-imperialist credentials… While Maduro remains in power, peace and prosperity for Venezuelans and their neighbours will remain elusive.”
Observer Editorial, The Guardian

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken was unequivocal in his statement about Venezuela on Oct. 18. He said the United States expected Venezuela to take steps to allow all candidates to run for president and to release improperly held U.S. citizens by the end of November. If not, he threatened, sanctions that had been lifted would be snapped back into place. The deadline has come and gone…

“To preserve his credibility and that of the United States, Mr. Blinken needs to respond with sanctions that squeeze Mr. Maduro and his gang, who have driven Venezuela to ruin. Who else in the hemisphere will take seriously the U.S. call to stand up for democracy if the Venezuelan dictator gets off the hook so easily and can now bank billions of dollars in new oil revenue?”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Biden should make clear that he will not tolerate Maduro doing to Guyana what Saddam Hussein did to Kuwait. Encouraging our South American ally Colombia and partners such as Brazil and Argentina to join his warning, Biden should state plainly that any move on Guyana would meet severe repercussions, at least an oil embargo and sanctions to weaken Maduro's hold on power. Biden should add that a military response would also be possible.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

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