Eduardo Escalante Perez Venezuela

The disputed region between Guyana and Venezuela, shown in the patched red.

This Tuesday, Venezuela issued a statement demanding that neighbouring Guyana halt oil exploration being carried out by Exxon Mobil Corp, as part of the escalation of a long-running border dispute between the two South American nations.  Late last month, Exxon said that it found oil off the coast of Guyana, leading to complaints from Caracas that Guyana has been “unfairly exploiting” a disputed territory.  Until there is a resolution of the issue of territorial reclamation, they insist, there can be no unilateral use of the disputed waters.

According to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, Guyana has been showing a “dangerous political provocation” against Venezuela, which they claim ExxonMobil is behind.  Earlier this week on Monday, Guyana’s new government under recently-elected President Granger attacked a territorial decree by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as an attempt to annex its waters in the aftermath of an oil discovery.

The region in dispute is the Essequibo region, a sparsely populated and dense jungle area that makes up around two-thirds of Guyanese territory.  Even after an 1899 ruling declared that the region belonged to Guyana, Venezuela has insisted that the ruling was unfair, and insists that the territory is still in dispute.  Venezuelan maps typically describe the Essequibo as the “reclamation zone”.  As the economy deteriorates and parliamentary elections approach, Maduro could use this territorial dispute to court the nationalist sentiment.  Nevertheless, despite strong rhetoric, it seems unlikely that this dispute will lead to an armed conflict between the two countries.