Maduro presses claims on Guyana
In a televised statement, the Guyanese President Irfaan Ali called Venezuela’s annexation of its Essequibo region a direct threat to Guyana’s sovereignty, security and political independence. Guyanese military forces have been placed on full alert. Ali has also announced communication with the United Nations Security Council, Brazil, France the United Kingdom and the United States. This comes after the Venezuelan referendum to annex the region passed on 3 December, with a claimed 98% of the vote.
Maduro had officially claimed the Essequibo region for Venezuela, ordering the creation of a military command structure, with appointed Major General Rodriguez Cabello as the head of command. Additionally, the licenses for the exploitation of oil and gas in Essequibo have been ordered immediately. Guyana is scrambling to obtain diplomatic support from the international community, and to reassure companies such as Exxon Mobile, who have received their own licenses for the region.
Should Venezuela begin a ground invasion, they will likely succeed in occupying the region. The Guyanese military consists of around 3,000 active duty and 3,000 reserve soldiers, with a very basic navy and air force. For comparison, Venezuela has around 137,500 active duty and 30,000 reserve soldiers. There are few significant routes into Guyana from the Venezuelan border, creating a logistical challenge as the terrain consists of thick jungle. Potential jungle combat favours guerrilla styles of warfare, however as Guyana is so strongly outnumbered and is open to air and naval attacks, they will only be able to slow them at best without foreign support.
The Brazilian Army is sending 16 Guaicurus Armoured Multitasking Vehicles to the border with Guyana & Venezuela. In addition to this, the 1st Jungle Infantry Brigade, consisting of 2000 troops, has stepped up its presence in the contact zone between the two countries. Furthermore, Brazilian intelligence has detected a build-up of Venezuelan troops on the Guyanese border, according to a senior military source. In the event of the conflict escalating, Brazil is expected to play the role of peacemaker between the two countries.
“We do not want and we do not need war in South America” - Brazilian President Lula
The US embassy in Guyana has announced that SOUTHCOM will begin conducting flight operations with the Guyanese military as US Secretary of State Blinken reaffirmed unwavering US support for Guyana’s sovereignty while speaking with Ali. Guyana may also benefit from diplomatic support from the UK as a Commonwealth country, although no military aid is expected for now.
There remains the very real, and more likely, alternative that Maduro will not invade the contested region. Analysts suggest that the referendum was a means for Maduro to project strength and inflate support for his government prior to the 2024 election. On 6 December, Venezuelan opposition figure Roberto Abdul was arrested for alleged treason connected to the referendum. Warrants are also out for the three staff members of opposition presidential nominee Maria Corina Machado, with Machado’s legal representation rejecting claims of wrongdoing. The US State department have stated that they are aware of these orders and are monitoring the situation closely. The repression of political opponents may have been the primary objective behind this spectacle, as the country would suffer significantly under renewed sanctions following a potential invasion.
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