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Essequibo: Testing the Threshold of Unity

Wayne JumatThe results of Guyana’s 2015 elections and the new incoming administration led by President Danny Granger from the APNU (A Partnership for National Unity), did not change Georgetown’s pursuit of its foreign policy objective of territorial integrity. One of the most pressing concerns of the ruling coalition remains historical and current issues pertaining to its western frontier that faces a serious test of legitimate ownership due to Venezuela’s territorial claims (on land and at sea). The main catalysts that seem to be driving this insecurity and consequential divergent views can be viewed as a matter of historical colonial legacies, “conflicting” approaches, competing economic interests and resource conflict. In addition, there is the blatant external involvement of ExxonMobil’s exploration and the threat that it poses as an American company, considering the relationship between the USA and Venezuela.

The type of interaction that has recently dominated this dispute has contributed to the fraying of relations between the two states, putting a tall hurdle in regional Latin American and Caribbean relations and has begun to involve the populaces through means of social media, such as the #EsequiboEsVenezuela and “Mision Essequibo”. Furthermore, both states have approached the United Nations for assistance in this dispute and have issued threats of distributing Identity Cards in Essequibo.

This dispute between Venezuela and Guyana may therefore be seen as a conflict over territory and resource extraction rights, caused by colonial and historical legacies, and exacerbated by the contestation of political and social values and principles, and the battle of self-determination versus threat of interests.

Although Venezuela may feel it has legitimate rights over Essequibo and its maritime claims, Guyana and other regional states do also possess this same belief and have presented documentation to support their claims that the disputed territories belong under their sovereign control. Furthermore, the nature and trend of the relationship between Guyana and the USA, has brought Essequibo into a position where it presents itself as a “new front” in the on-going conflict between the USA, with Guyana as the de facto proxy, and Venezuela.

The dispute over territory between Guyana and Venezuela has had and can have many side effects. Importantly, it possesses the potential to greatly affect both Guyana and Venezuelan economies and regional Latin American and Caribbean relations and integration. Moreover, this dispute remains more than just a contestation over the control and share of territory, resources and markets between Guyana and Venezuela. This dispute represents the divergences of interests and convergence of fears in the Americas as noted in the nature of the relationship between Guyana and the USA.

When considering the potential after-effects of a successful territorial claim by Venezuela, a question comes to mind: Why is Venezuela continuing to claim the disputed area as its own, particularly if it threatens Venezuela’s project of Latin American and Caribbean unity and impacts on a neighbouring country’s territory and economic potential? This question should be of critical importance to understand Venezuela’s actions and ambitions, and also the potential consequences that may result from either an unchanged status quo or a situation where Guyana loses almost half of its territory. Venezuela’s actions need also to be unpacked not only in the context of its interests and sovereignty but also in the context of increasing political and economic pressure from the USA.

The unresolved colonial legacy, the various perspectives on the efforts (past and present) attempting to deal with this legacy, and the current complicating factors (e.g. the Venezuelan decree that bases its right to claim territory on “territorial defence” and an “Atlantic Coast of Venezuela”, and external involvement), creates a daunting challenge of resolving the Essequibo Dispute. It would therefore seem that a resolution that services Venezuela’s domestic and regional objectives the best, may require a large amount of magnanimity and trust, on behalf of Venezuela.

Wayne J. Jumat is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with the University of South Africa. His research interests include foreign policy analysis, international relations and diplomacy with a focus on African, more specifically Southern African, and Latin American relations. He is currently registered as a MA student in International Politics at the University of South Africa. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.

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