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Why Venezuela Is Showing Force Along the Guyana Border

Venezuela has made recent deployments towards the Guyana, Essequibo region border. Satellite images have captured images of military bases along the border armed with armored vehicles, aircrafts, and missile patrol boats.

The Essequibo region was laid claim to by Venezuela in the early 1800s. Venezuela had become independent from Spain in 1811. Shortly after Venezuela’s independence, Britain acquired Guyana from the Netherlands through a treaty in 1814. Once Britain acquired Guyana, a western border needed establishing between Guyana and Venezuela. At the time, there was no official border within agreements. 

Britain commissioned a surveyor named Robert Schomburgk, who established what’s known as the Schomburgk Line in 1835. The line laid Guyana’s claim to the Essequibo region. Venezuela disputed the border, which led to an arbitration the United States facilitated between Venezuela and Guyana. In 1899, the arbitration resulted in the Schomburgk Line being deemed lawful and would continue to stand as the border between Venezuela and Guyana. Today, 15% of Guyana’s population lives in the Essequibo region. 

Guyana became independent from Britain in 1966. Venezuela then believed that since Britain was out of the picture, it would void the border agreement and reclaim the Essequibo region. However, as the Essequibo region had no significant resources, making this claim official was not a priority. Venezuela now believed they already had a lawful claim to the land. 

Then, in 2015, Exxon discovered significant amounts of oil in the region, which sparked the dispute again. Venezuela tried laying its claim, which the Guyana government pushed back on. The U.N. then stepped in to mediate between the two countries. Guyana filed proceedings against Venezuela in 2018 over the dispute, and in December 2023, the International Court told Venezuela to refrain from annexing the Essequibo region. 

The court’s direction has not deterred Venezuela from their recent show of force, which they say is a direct result of observing Guyana military drills with American and U.K. forces. Venezuela also states its discontent with energy companies such as Exxon, Chevron, and CNOCC currently mass-producing oil under an agreement with the Guyana government. Many doubt that an invasion is the end goal for Venezuela. Most believe that the strategy is a show of force to bring Guyana officials to the table to reach a mutually beneficial agreement for the two countries. Energy companies are unphased by the tension. Exxon spokesperson Michelle Gray stated, “We are not going anywhere—our focus remains on developing the resources efficiently and responsibly, per our agreement with the Guyanese government.”


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