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Dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo region

According to the Venezuelan authorities, Venezuelans supported territorial claims to Guyana and the oil-rich Essequibo region in a non-binding referendum. The area, primarily dense jungle around the Essequibo River, is home to 125,000 people among 800,000 Guyanese. Thanks to the discovery, Guyana’s oil reserves exceed those of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and amount to at least 10 billion barrels. The disputed region, one of the world’s last four pristine tropical forests, is rich in gold, copper, diamond, iron and aluminum.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered domestic oil companies to start licensing Essequibo deposits and ordered foreign oil companies operating in the disputed area to withdraw. Venezuela has long maintained that the territory covering ⅔ of Guyana was stolen from it more than a century ago when the border was established. Proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are ongoing to resolve the border dispute.

The referendum results were seen in Guyana as a step towards annexation. The United States supported Guyana in the dispute, and the Guyanese authorities put their armed forces on alert and asked regional allies for help. Brazil sent troops to its northern border with Venezuela. After several days of tension, the authorities of Venezuela and Guyana decided to meet in mid-December this year in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to discuss the issue of regional sovereignty. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines currently chairs the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

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