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28 Dec, 2023 22:42

Venezuelan leader orders response to British warship

Caracas says London’s move violated the deal with Guyana over the disputed Essequibo region
Venezuelan leader orders response to British warship

Britain’s decision to dispatch a warship to Guyana breaches the “spirit” of the agreement to resolve the Essequibo dispute peacefully and will be met with “defensive action,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the UK announced it would send the offshore patrol vessel HMS Trent, currently deployed in the Caribbean, to visit the “regional ally and Commonwealth partner.” 

Maduro called the move “practically a military threat from London” that violates the “spirit of dialogue, diplomacy and peace of the agreements” made with Guyana. 

“I have ordered the activation of joint defensive action by the Bolivarian National Armed Forces in response to the UK provocation and threat to the peace and sovereignty of our country,” the Venezuelan president said in a televised speech.

Venezuela “reserves all actions, within the framework of the Constitution and International Law, to defend its maritime and territorial integrity,” the Foreign Ministry in Caracas said in a statement.

Following a national referendum at the beginning of December, Caracas laid claim to “Guayana Esequiba,” a mostly forested region rich in mineral resources that Venezuela asserts it has owned for over a century. Guyana has protested, noting that the area amounts to two-thirds of its internationally recognized territory, and asked the international community for help.

Brazil and several Caribbean countries have offered to mediate the dispute, resulting in Maduro and Guyanese President Irfaan Ali signing the Declaration of Argyle on December 14, at a meeting in St. Vincent. Both sides pledged to refrain from escalation by “words or deeds,” and established a joint commission to discuss the dispute.

Four days later, Britain’s Undersecretary for the Americas David Rutley visited Georgetown and promised Guyana “unequivocal backing,” vowing to “ensure the territorial integrity of Guyana is upheld.”

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who has taken on the role of the mediator in the dispute, told the island via radio on Thursday that he had read the Venezuelan statement “very carefully,” describing it as “firm but… not particularly belligerent.”

Gonsalves said he has reached out to both Georgetown and Caracas, and received assurances from both of their “commitment to peace and continued dialogue.”