Guyana preparing to defend itself from Venezuela over disputed region

December 6, 2023  -Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali told The Associated Press that his country is taking every necessary step to protect itself from Venezuela, which has ordered its state-owned companies to explore and exploit oil and minerals in Guyana’s vast Essequibo region that it considers its own.

When asked on Wednesday if he has requested military assistance, Ali said his government is reaching out to allies and regional partners, some of which Guyana has defense agreements with, to protect the Essequibo region, which makes up two-thirds of the country.

“We take this threat very seriously, and we have initiated a number of precautionary measures to ensure the peace and stability of this region,” Ali said in a brief phone interview.

He noted that Guyana’s Defense Force also is speaking with counterparts in other countries but didn’t say which ones.

“Should Venezuela proceed to act in this reckless and adventurous manner, the region will have to respond,” he said. “And that is what we’re building. We’re building a regional response.”

Venezuela’s president orders oil drilling in Guyana region

Ali spoke a day after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Monday said he would “immediately” grant operating licenses for exploration and exploitation in Essequibo and ordered the creation of local subsidiaries of Venezuelan public companies, including oil giant PDVSA and mining conglomerate Corporación Venezolana de Guayana.

Over the weekend, Maduro asked Venezuelan voters whether they would support establishing a state in Essequibo, grant citizenship to its residents, and reject the U.N. court’s jurisdiction in the dispute. On Sunday, he said the referendum was a success.

Maduro also announced the creation of a Comprehensive Defense Operational Zone for the territory in dispute. It would be similar to special military commands that operate in certain regions of Venezuela.

“The announcements by Venezuela are in full defiance of international law,” Ali said. “And any country that so openly defies important international bodies should be of concern not only for Guyana but for all of the world.” He said Venezuela’s actions can severely disrupt the region’s stability and peaceful coexistence.

The Guyanese president said in a statement late Tuesday that his administration has reached out to the U.S., neighboring Brazil, the U.K., France, the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

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