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Guyana President Urges Petro “to Be on the Right Side of History”


President Guyana Petro
President of Guyana asks Gustavo Petro to “be on the right side of history” in the Essequibo conflict. Credit: US Departament of State / Public domain / Presidency / Public domain

The President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, has urged Colombian President Gustavo Petro to stand “on the right side of history” in the conflict his country faces with Venezuela over the Essequibo region. Following Venezuela’s non-binding referendum on the territory currently administered by Guyana, armed and diplomatic tension has escalated in the region.

Amid Nicolas Maduro’s nationalist rhetoric, concerns about Venezuelan intentions are on the rise. On their part, the United States and Brazil have initiated maneuvers near Guyana’s borders, while the Colombian president remains silent on the conflict where Ali has requested his intervention due to his good relations with the Venezuelan president.

Maduro presents a new national map, including Essequibo

During one of his speeches, Nicolas Maduro released a new map of Venezuela in which the disputed territory had already been annexed. Following this, the United States announced military exercises in Guyana, and the president of that country, Arfaan Ali, called upon the Colombian President, Gustavo Petro, to intervene, given his diplomatic position and close relationship with the Venezuelan dictator. For now, Petro has remained silent on this issue.

“I would tell President Petro that he must be on the right side of history, respect the sovereignty and territory of Guyana. He must stand for international order and adhere to the ICJ guidelines, stand firm for what is right, be on Guyana’s side, and its defense,” said the Guyanese president to Semana magazine.

“Send a very strong and forceful signal to Venezuela that Colombia will not allow Maduro to annex any region or territory to his country, and that Colombia will not allow this region to be destabilized. He has a very important responsibility as part of this region,” Ali added about the role that Colombia, in his view, should play in this regionally significant conflict.

Likewise, Ali issued a warning to countries that intend to support a possible Venezuelan invasion of Guyanese territory. “If they allow Maduro to be successful in this venture, if they allow him to believe he is successful in this, then who is next? In his mind, in his thought process, he will see this as a realistic means of taking territories. That’s why we have to speak together, forcefully, on this issue, and we have to make Maduro understand that this cannot be tolerated in the region,” explained the President of Guyana.

A region rich in hydrocarbons in a historical dispute

The Essequibo region has been disputed between Venezuela and Guyana for over a century. During the colonial era, it was part of the Captaincy General of Venezuela but passed into British colonial dominion in the 19th century, which maintained administration of the territory after 1899.

With Guyana’s independence in 1966, the new independent state continued to administer the Essequibo, a region rich in hydrocarbons that has always been claimed as unredeemed Venezuelan territory.

Maduro has not hidden his interest in the wealth of the Essequibo. Besides oil, the territory is rich in mining and multiple resources and hydrocarbons, including diamonds, gold, coltan, manganese, cobalt, and uranium, among others.

Nicolas Maduro’s distraction maneuver

As has been done by other authoritarian regimes in the past, the Venezuelan president seeks to gather support for his government in the nationalist sentiment of his country, creating an external enemy. Venezuelan claims over the Essequibo are historical, but it is no coincidence that they surface right now in Venezuela’s social and political landscape.

The country will face an important electoral year in 2024, with presidential elections at the end of the year where the opposition, for the first time, seems to rally around a unified candidacy, led by Maria Corina Machado. The context of a temporary lifting of some foreign sanctions against Venezuela also represents an opportunity for the country’s economy, which has been severely affected in recent years.

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