Leaders of Latin American nations to discuss territorial feud
The presidents of Venezuela and Guyana – Nicolas Maduro and Mohamed Irfaan Ali, respectively – will sit down next week to discuss a long-standing territorial dispute that has recently intensified, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has revealed. While Caracas has laid claim to the oil-rich Esequibo region since the late 19th century, President Maduro recently took steps toward gaining actual control over the area, which covers some 160,000 square kilometers.
Earlier this week, the Spanish daily El Pais reported that the Venezuelan government had deployed troops to the border with Guyana.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines PM Ralph Gonsalves, who also serves as president pro tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), broke the news after speaking with Maduro on Saturday, saying the negotiations would take place on Thursday.
The Venezuelan government has confirmed the planned talks, saying they hoped to “preserve our aspiration to maintain Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace.”
The Office of the President of Guyana, for its part, stressed that “Guyana’s land boundary is not up for discussion.”
Also on Saturday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke with Maduro, calling for dialogue and warning against unilateral measures that could escalate the situation. The Brazilian head of state has also been invited to take part in Thursday’s talks as an observer.
Speaking on Tuesday, the Venezuelan president said Caracas wanted the “peaceful rescue of the Guayana Esequiba,” which “has been de facto occupied by the British Empire and its heirs and they have destroyed the area.” Maduro also unveiled a new map of Venezuela that incorporates the disputed territory, and appointed a new governor to the region.
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali, in turn, gave a televised address to the nation, accusing Venezuela of attempting to annex more than two thirds of his country.
“This is a direct threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence, and a violation of fundamental principles of international law,” the leader stressed.
“The Guyana Defense Force is on high alert... Venezuela has clearly declared itself an outlaw nation,” Ali added.
The recent escalation followed Sunday’s referendum, in which 10.4 million Venezuelan voters backed Caracas’ claim to Guayana Esequiba.
The territorial dispute stems from the US’ decision in 1899 to assign the territory to what was then British Guiana – a move Venezuela never accepted as legitimate.