123 years after settlement of boundary, Venezuela’s land grab aspirations now being driven by oil

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Earlier this week, Guyana commemorated the 123rd anniversary of the 1899 Arbitral Award, which settled a land boundary dispute which had existed between British Guiana (now Guyana) and Venezuela.

A week prior, Venezuela released a statement alleging that Guyana’s pursuit of oil and gas exploration and development offshore, amounts to an attempt to “seize the riches of the sea.”

ExxonMobil discovered 11 billion barrels of oil-equivalent from 2015 to 2022 at the offshore Stabroek Block in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone and continues with an aggressive exploration campaign aimed at proving the presence of billions more.

But Venezuela falsely claims to own the Essequibo region, about two-thirds of Guyana’s territory. Its claim, if it held weight, would have also moved the maritime boundary, placing Guyana’s oil and gas reserves squarely in the Bolivarian Republic’s control.

Its recent statement came after Guyana’s President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali took defense diplomacy to the United Nations General Assembly, late September. Ali reminded world leaders that Guyana will deny every effort to depart from the peaceful process it has embarked on to protect its territory from Venezuela.

Ali said, “In the matter of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – challenged and threatened by Venezuela as it is, we remain – to quote the Secretary General at the opening of the General Debate yesterday – ‘committed to making the most of every diplomatic tool for the pacific settlement of disputes, as set out in the Charter of the United Nations’.”

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which Guyana approached, affirmed its jurisdiction to preside over the judicial settlement of the case brought before it by Guyana, regarding the Essequibo region.

While it also indicated a commitment to a peaceful resolution to the disagreement between the two countries, Venezuela claims Guyana made misrepresentations of the matter at the UN. Despite the affirmation of the World Court’s jurisdiction, according to its 2020 ruling, Venezuela does not respect the Court’s standing to adjudicate on the matter.

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