Although Venezuela does not have since 1899 the effective control of the Essequibo area disputed with Guyana, President Nicolás Maduro announced Tuesday that he planned to grant oil-drilling licenses after Sunday's referendum recognized the South American country's alleged rights over the territory.
Guyana must know that we will solve this the easy way or we will... said Maduro while ordering the creation of a division of the state oil company PDVSA to immediately start granting operating licenses for the exploration and the exploitation of oil, gas, and mines in the 160,000 square kilometers in dispute. He also requested the creation of a division of CVG -a conglomerate of public companies of mining, forestry, and electric resources- to develop projects in the disputed area. He also proposed to establish a rule prohibiting the contracting of companies operating under Guyanese permits in waters pending to be delimited.
The territorial dispute dates back to the 19th century, but since 2018 it has gained vigor in view of the admission of the case by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which on Friday ordered both countries to refrain from actions that could aggravate the dispute in the region. The ICJ decided to issue provisional measures after concluding that there is a risk of irreparable damage to Guyana's plausible right before handing down its final decision on the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award, which ceded the territory to Great Britain, which at the time controlled the country as a colony.
In 2015, Guyana granted the right to explore for oil in the Essequibo to ExxonMobil, from the USA, which has already discovered more than 11 billion barrels in recoverable reserves - a quantity similar to that of Algeria, which is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In October, six oil companies obtained licenses to explore off the Guyanese coast.
Maduro now rejects the ICJ's mediation and insists on direct negotiations with Guyana. To reinforce his position, he will set up a military outpost in the small town of Tumeremo, inside Venezuelan territory near the border with Guyana, to oversee the new state - although he has not announced any incursions. He appointed General Alexis Rodríguez Cabello to head Essequibo.
National Assembly Speaker Jorge Rodríguez said lawmakers were to vote on Maduro's bill which also provides for the creation of a high commission for the defense of Guyana Essequiba, made up of the National Defense Council (Codena), the Federal Government Council, the Council of State and political and social movements. The body will be coordinated by Vice President Delcy Rodríguez.
Sunday's plebiscite showed Maduro's difficulty in mobilizing his electoral base. According to the National Electoral Council (CNE), turnout was 50%, although it is believed to have been much lower. In 2018, when Maduro was re-elected amid fraud allegations, it was 46%.