The territorial dispute over the oil-rich Essequibo region between Venezuela and Guyana continues to develop. While the Western media are wondering why the President of the Bolivarian Republic Nicolas Maduro decided to play the “Essequibo card” now, the United States has taken decisive action. They promised to conduct patrols of Guyanese airspace under the guise of “joint exercises.” We are looking into whether this is a signal of preparation for a large-scale war with Venezuela.
Following last weekend's referendum on the inclusion of the new Guyana-Essequibo region in Venezuela, the international community is increasingly making it clear to Nicolas Maduro that it will side with Guyana. However, the leader of the Bolivarian Republic does not listen too much to the admonitions of the West.
In appearances on local television, Maduro actively presents a map showing the Essequibo region as part of his country. Maduro also states his intentions to grant Venezuelan citizenship to people living in the territory, license state oil company PDVSA and state-owned metals conglomerate CVG. He dreams of ordering the energy companies currently located there (including the American ExxonMobil) to leave the region in three months.
“The world must know, the Republic of Guyana must know, that Essequibo belongs to us,” Maduro declares without alternative.
Georgetown immediately warned of “army readiness.” The neighbors of the two South American countries also began to react. Or rather, a neighbor. This is Brazil. Almost at lightning speed, the republic increased its military presence on the borders with Guyana and Venezuela due to a possible conflict.
“Although Brazil considers conflict unlikely, the country's armed forces have already prepared a scenario for such a possibility and have increased the level of combat readiness in the region. Including expanding the presence of the Brazilian military on the two borders with Venezuela and Guyana,” said a source in the office of the country’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lula da Silva is confident that it is possible to resolve the situation peacefully. Thus, he proposed to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to resolve the situation in Essequibo. As reported by Reuters, the Brazilian President said that these organizations should contribute to a peaceful solution to the conflict.
“We don’t want war, and we don’t need it in South America,” pleads Lula da Silva, offering his country as a mediator in resolving the Essequibo dispute.
However, not all countries demonstrate such a desire for peace. Here, for example, is the statement from the US Embassy in Guyana about the planned patrol of the South American country's airspace: "This exercise builds on routine engagement and operations to strengthen the security partnership between the United States and Guyana and strengthen regional cooperation."
In the current situation, Western media are speculating why Maduro decided to take such actions. According to The Washington Post, this may just be a political stunt by an unpopular leader trying to win re-election. However, the Venezuelan President's threats are causing international concern.
The newspaper is confident: “Maduro’s bluster will turn into action.” However, the Financial Times considers military conflict unlikely in the near future. The publication repeats the words of the Washington Post that the main point of the referendum and subsequent events is the desire to overcome the decline in Maduro’s popularity and divert voters’ attention from the opposition candidate.
But Foreign Policy turned out to be more radical: “For the first time in more than 75 years, Latin America is on the brink of a potential continental war.” An anonymous Venezuelan energy expert told Foreign Policy that an interstate war would be “suicidal” for Maduro’s political ambitions: “He can take heart from the fact that the conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East makes it difficult for the US to create another front or potential conflict in this region. People perceive this as a dangerous situation."
But can things really go according to the escalation scenario? And should US actions in Guyana be taken as a signal of preparations for war with Venezuela?
“I don’t think this is preparation for war.” It’s like Maduro decided to rattle his sabers and show that he has the strength, but he’s not going to actually fight. So the United States decided to show Maduro that they also have something to protect Guyana,” says Viktor Kheifets, director of the Center for Ibero-American Studies at St. Petersburg State University. “But it’s unlikely that they are going to fight right now.” Actually, why would they do this until Maduro took the first step. If Maduro does this, then, from the point of view of international law, this will be enough for the Americans to strike.
As the political scientist emphasizes, Venezuela has fairly modern air defense systems. However, there are no such systems specifically on the border with Guyana, emphasizes Victor Kheifetz. But the problem is different - the important issue is whether Venezuela will receive political support from any country in the event of the outbreak of hostilities:
- It's quite unlikely. Guyana has every chance of support. So for now, in my opinion, there is the usual show of force on both sides.
– Many argue that Maduro’s move is purely political in order to increase his chances of re-election. Does this mean that after the presidential elections in 2024, the issue of the Essequibo region may fade again?
– I think this will continue. Just because elections are coming. Maduro cannot help but demonstrate to the population that he is a tough guy who is going to defend national sovereignty. If he does not do this, the opposition will tell him that he is not defending national sovereignty. Another thing is that this alone will not be enough to win the elections. But this is a way to mobilize one’s own supporters, to say: “here I am fighting off American imperialism.” I’m not ready to talk about the success of this strategy. It is still completely unclear how they will react to it.