Venezuela vs Guyana over Essequibo: A Situational Assessment

Venezuela has announced a consultative referendum on the Essequibo region for 3 December, which intends to make it a federal state and grant its inhabitants citizenship (source). Venezuela and Guyana both claim the region and their relationship has historically been tense (source). This dispute gained relevance in 1966 with the Geneva Agreement, a treaty stipulating that the parties undertook to find a practical, peaceful and satisfactory solution to the dispute. In recent years, tensions intensified when Guyana discovered significant oil reserves in waters claimed by both countries. Since 2015, Venezuela has contested Guyana’s right to explore and exploit the region’s resources, leading to diplomatic friction (source). In 2023 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favour of Guyana (source), although Venezuela does not recognize it (source). The dispute has serious implications for both countries and regional stability.

Key judgement 1.  The referendum is unlikely to change Venezuelan policies in the next 6 months, independent of the result.

Key judgement 2. Venezuela likely will not use military force to contest the region in the next 6 months.

Key judgement 3. Both countries will likely retain their claims over Essequibo.

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