Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

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Almost out of nowhere, the stage could possibly be set for a long and bitter war between Venezuela and Guyana (the latter enthusiastically ‘backed’ and egged on by the US and Exxon Mobil), driven in large part by stubbornness, greed, opportunism, provocative posturing and obviously mutually unacceptable unilateral claims over the enormous and mostly untapped natural resources in the disputed territory of Essequibo (Guayana Esequiba).

Although the rapid and decisive action taken jointly by many countries in the region (led by CARICOM and Brazil) pushing for a diplomatic solution have raised hopes that the two countries will return to the path of substantive dialogue and negotiations instead of hurling long distance threats, insults and insinuations, their respective claims to exclusive sovereignty remain fundamentally incompatible and the outbreak of hostilities cannot be ruled out (the armed forces of both countries have been put on high alert, and the US Southern Command has intensified its activities in Guyana at the same time as US officials – and Exxon Mobil – have expressed their unconditional support for Guyana).

In this context, in terms of a worst case scenario several preliminary observations can be noted. In raw realpolitik terms, although Venezuela enjoys a vast superiority in terms of overall military strength and capabilities, the enormous challenges posed by the vast and inaccessible terrain involved would make a large-scale invasion or occupation extremely difficult and risky (among other things, the armed forces throughout Latin America are not generally known for their agility and advanced logistical and technological capabilities). Moreover, the United States is well-placed to make sure that any invasion attempt by significant troop formations would be extremely costly: US military forces have extensive experience in the conduct of jungle warfare, reconnaissance, infiltration, sabotage operations and ‘high-value target’ training in the dense tropical jungles of Guyana and elsewhere throughout the region. The US elite and their slavish politicians, administrators and enforcers in the Congress, the White House and the Pentagon would like nothing more than to take advantage of such a golden opportunity to humiliate and inflict heavy casualties on its arch nemesis, having failed time after time in their constant regime change efforts over the last twenty-odd years. Amidst the heated rhetoric and uncompromising postures, one thing is certain: the last thing the world needs is another war.

Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for South Front 

The disputed Esequibo region (called Essequibo in Guyana and Guayana Esequiba in Venezuela) is a vast but sparsely populated area (approximately 160,000 square kilometres) covered by extensive tracts of tropical forest and reputed to contain abundant and largely untapped natural resource wealth, possibly including very substantial quantities of gold, diamonds, bauxite, hydrocarbons, copper and iron as well as enormous biological diversity and fresh water sources. The region amounts to around two thirds of Guyana’s total (claimed) territory and a bit over one eighth of the country’s population (approximately 125,000 inhabitants of a total of just over 800,000, most of whom live in the coastal regions of Guyana proper). The length of the de facto border is over 800 kilometres, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean) to Brazil. There are very few major transport corridors (or even basic paved roads) within the region, there are no direct transport links between Venezuela and Guyana (the main transport route between the two countries is via separate road connections from each country to a highway in Brazil), and the territories subject to dispute are traversed by numerous large and fast-flowing rivers.

Background events leading up to the sudden flare-up in the border dispute

For the most part bilateral relations between the two neighbouring countries have been almost non-existent, amounting to a condition of benign neglect and indifference, mostly due to their very different colonial trajectories and contemporary social characteristics (particularly the language barrier). More generally, the geographically and culturally anomalous colonial remnants of Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana (located in the far north east of South America) are unknown to the rest of Latin America. Prior to the latest crisis very few people in the region would have been able to find Guyana on a map.

The regional context – ‘Las Guyanas’

The broader biogeographical region around Guyana is referred to by some as “Las Guyanas”. The three adjacent territories/ countries of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are the leftover fragments produced by a series of chaotic and opportunistic Dutch, French and British imperial adventures over the course of several centuries. They remain largely uninhabited and almost completely unknown to the rest of the world. Throughout their history (since European invasion) they were neglected outposts of the respective Dutch, French and British Empires, acquired by way of a succession of military invasions and incursions over successive periods as the European powers sought to expand their dominions and out-manoeuvre their rivals at every opportunity.

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

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The area currently constituted as The Cooperative Republic of Guyana was first claimed by the Dutch in the 1600s before falling to the British in the early 1800s, and remained a British colony until its formal independence in 1966 (although the total area claimed by Guyana is around 240,000 square kilometres, it has unresolved border disputes with both Venezuela and Suriname with respect to over two thirds of that area). To the east, the neighbouring Republic of Suriname (with a territory of just over 630,000 square kilometres and around 590,000 inhabitants – a cultural melting pot of Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, along with the survivors of the original Indigenous inhabitants) remained a Dutch colony until 1975. Further to the east, the overseas department of French Guiana (of 83,500 square kilometres and just over 300,000 inhabitants) remains a French colony (the ‘Territorial Collectivity of French Guiana’ and the ‘outermost region of the European Union’), where even the European Space Agency has joined the colonial adventure taking advantage of the launching facilities constructed by the French (Guiana Space Centre) for their space program.

The overall tenor of each country/ territory’s economic and foreign relations orientation and priorities is indicated by their main trade partners – most of the exports and imports of French Guiana (total GDP approximately $4 billion euros, main exports fish, timber and gold) are of course with France. The major trading partners of Suriname (total GDP around US$3 billion, the economy is dominated by the production of aluminium which until recently accounted for 15% of GDP and two-thirds of all exports, the reminder consisting of other primary materials and products such as oil, gold, rice and seafood) are as follows: most exports are to Switzerland (48%), UAE (30%), US (8%), China (2.3%) and Belgium (2.3%). Most imports are from the US (23%), China (21%), Netherlands (19%), Japan (4.4%) and last (but not least) neighbouring Brazil (2.9%).

The major trading partners of Guyana (total GDP around US$16 billion, the main export products have traditionally been bauxite, gold, timber, rice and sugar) are as follows: most exports go to the US (26%), Canada (13%), Trinidad and Tobago (9%), Jamaica (6%) and the UAE (6%). Most imports are from the US (25%), Portugal (16%), Trinidad and Tobago (10%), China (10%) and the UK (4%).

These basic data are sufficient to get an idea of the region’s continued condition as a cluster of isolated neo-colonial outposts and enclave economies based on the exploitation of natural resources and other primary commodities with very little in the way of integral social and economic development and regional cooperation. In this respect a report prepared by the US Congressional Research Service (2023) states of the dominant factors that have influenced Guyana’s traditional social and cultural makeup, political institutions and international relations and orientation:

Guyana has characteristics similar to other Caribbean nations because of a common British colonial heritage… The country participates in Caribbean regional organizations, and its capital, Georgetown, serves as headquarters for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a regional integration organization. Once one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, Guyana’s development prospects have shifted significantly since the discovery of large offshore oil deposits in 2015…

The country’s traditional emphasis on political and economic relations with the other post/ neo-colonial island States and offshore territories of the UK, the US, France and the Netherlands in the Caribbean – and the deeper ties and relations with the neo-Imperial metropoles of the UK and the US in particular – rather than on interactions with the neighbouring States of South America is an important background aspect underlying and influencing the course of the current dispute with Venezuela.

Background of the territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela

Although the expansion of colonial settlement and occupation did not reach the disputed areas between Guyana and Venezuela until relatively recent times, in the late nineteenth century both the British and Venezuela claimed exclusive sovereignty. In 1899 the Paris Arbitration Tribunal ruled in favour of Britain in proceedings in which Venezuela did not participate directly (and two of the four members of the ‘international tribunal’ were British). This ruling was superseded in 1966 by the Geneva Agreement, the result of direct negotiations between the United Kingdom and Venezuela but also deemed to be binding on Guyana which was granted independence later that same year (the terms of which Guyana readily accepted at the time).

Given the contradictory assertions and claims that have been made by the respective parties to the dispute as to the fundamental principles and terms of the 1966 Geneva Agreement, assertions which have for the most part been uncritically echoed in the media, it is worth citing the key terms of the document in full. The Agreement between Venezuela and the United Kingdom “to resolve the controversy over the frontier between Venezuela and British Guiana” was signed in Geneva on the 17th of February 1966 and was formally registered with the UN several months later. Article VIII provided that following the attainment of independence by British Guiana, the Government of Guyana would thereafter be a party to the Agreement, in addition to the Governments of the United Kingdom and Venezuela. The preamble states:

The Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in consultation with the Government of British Guiana, and the Government of Venezuela;

Taking into account the forthcoming independence of British Guiana;

Recognising that closer cooperation between British Guiana and Venezuela could bring benefit to both countries;

Convinced that any outstanding controversy between the United Kingdom and British Guiana on the one hand and Venezuela on the other would prejudice the furtherance of such cooperation and should therefore be amicably resolved in a manner acceptable to both parties;

In conformity with the agenda that was agreed for the governmental conversations concerning the controversy between Venezuela and the United Kingdom over the frontier with British Guiana, in accordance with the joint communique of 7 November, 1963, have reached the following agreement to resolve the present controversy:

Article I

A Mixed Commission shall be established with the task of seeking satisfactory solutions for the practical settlement of the controversy between Venezuela and the United Kingdom which has arisen as the result of the Venezuelan contention that the Arbitral Award of 1899 about the frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela is null and void…

The following Articles stipulate that the Mixed Commission to be created by the Governments of Venezuela and British Guiana was to comprise two representatives appointed by each government (the members of the Commission also being empowered to appoint consultants to provide additional advice and expert opinion on related matters), and that the Commission was to provide an interim report at six month intervals for a period of four years. According to Article IV of the 1966 Agreement:

(1) If, within a period of four years from the date of this Agreement, the Mixed Commission should not have arrived at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy it shall, in its final report, refer to the Government of Guyana and the Government of Venezuela any outstanding questions. Those Governments shall without delay choose one of the means of peaceful settlement provided in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.

(2) If, within three months of receiving the final report, the Government of Guyana and the Government of Venezuela should not have reached agreement regarding the choice of one of the means of settlement provided in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, they shall refer the decision as to the means of settlement to an appropriate international organ upon which they both agree or, failing agreement on this point, to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. If the means so chosen do not lead to a solution of the controversy, the said organ or, as the case may be, the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall choose another of the means stipulated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, and so on until the controversy has been resolved or until all the means of peaceful settlement there contemplated have been exhausted…

One other provision is of particular importance given the accelerated approval and implementation of major economic development projects in disputed areas over the last ten years undertaken unilaterally by the Guyanese Government.

Article V

(1) In order to facilitate the greatest possible measure of cooperation and mutual understanding, nothing contained in this Agreement shall be interpreted as a renunciation or diminution by the United Kingdom, British Guiana or Venezuela of any basis of claim to territorial sovereignty in the territories of Venezuela or British Guiana, or of any previously asserted rights of or claims to such territorial sovereignty, or as prejudicing their position as regards their recognition or non-recognition of a right of, claim or basis of claim by any of them to such territorial sovereignty.

(2) No acts or activities taking place while this Agreement is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in the territories of Venezuela or British Guiana or create any rights of sovereignty in those territories, except in so far as such acts or activities result from any agreement reached by the Mixed Commission and accepted in writing by the Government of Guyana and the Government of Venezuela. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty in those territories shall be asserted while this Agreement is in force, nor shall any claim whatsoever be asserted otherwise than in the Mixed Commission while that Commission is in being…

The Mixed Commission created pursuant to the Geneva Agreement of 1966 couldn’t resolve the dispute, and the alternative provisions for settlement of the dispute (invoking Article 33 of the UN Charter) were pursued by both parties until as late as around 2015 – the last meeting between the respective Heads of State, Presidents Nicolas Maduro and Donald Ramotar, was in 2013. The State-owned media outlet Guyana Chronicle (“Venezuela guilty of breaching international obligations”, 12 December 2023) describes the long course of diplomatic procedures that were established over successive periods to try to work towards a pacific solution: “Efforts of more than half a century, including a four-year Mixed Commission (1966-1970), a twelve-year Moratorium (1970-1982), a seven-year process on a means of settlement (1983-1990), and a twenty-seven-year Good Offices Process under the UN Secretary-General’s authority (1990-2017) have been futile thus far…”

The last of the bilateral accords providing a format for negotiations to resolve the dispute (the ‘Good Offices Process’) formally expired in 2017, though it was for all intents and purposes dead and buried some time before that having been unilaterally and irrevocably abrogated when Guyana began granting extensive exploration concessions in the disputed maritime zone. Throughout this period Guyana remained the de facto administrator of the disputed territory.

The termination of the Good Offices Process

Although the terms and provisions of the Good Offices Process had been neglected and undermined by ongoing developments for some time, the Accord was effectively abandoned and ultimately terminated in 2015 when Exxon announced the discovery of the vast offshore oil and gas fields in the disputed zone. The Guyanese Government insisted in public statements several years later (Oilnow, 6 February 2018, “The Good Offices process as Guyanese know it has finished – VP Greenidge”) that all of the diplomatic procedures envisaged by the 1966 Accord had run their course without the most minimal progress in terms of finding a viable solution and that the Accord was of no further relevance. The newspaper article commented of these developments:

Venezuela has objected to a decision by the UN Secretary General (Antonio Gueteres) to refer its border objections with Guyana to the International Court of Justice (upon the request of the Guyanese Government), calling instead for (a continuation of the) Good Offices mechanism.

The former British colony is having none of it however, with its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vice President Carl Greenidge declaring, “the good offices process as Guyanese know it has finished, it has been completed…

In statements reported in the media at the time then Vice President Carl Greenidge was adamant that Venezuela must accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ to make a binding ruling, despite the emphasis throughout the 1966 Geneva Agreement that both parties must agree before the matter could be referred to any specific alternative arbitration procedure, international agency or tribunal, and that none of the alternative procedures envisaged by the agreement (which invokes Article 33 of the UN Charter as a measure of last resort) even mention the International Court of Justice. Specifically, Article 33 of the UN Charter (titled ‘Pacific Settlement of Disputes’) states:

  1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

  2. The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.

Although referral to the Office of the UN Secretary General is specifically mentioned in the 1966 Agreement as “one of the means of peaceful settlement” of the UN Charter to be invoked in the event no agreement had been possible, it is only one of many alternatives stipulated in a context in which the explicit agreement and consent of both parties to submit the dispute to a third party for arbitration is repeatedly mentioned as a fundamental principle.

Moreover, the decision to refer the dispute to the ICJ was precipitated at a time when Guyana had clearly violated the terms of the Accord by unilaterally granting exploration and exploitation concessions in one of the disputed areas in circumstances that strongly suggest the Guyanese government was seeking to gain a procedural advantage by adopting that particular course and renouncing the possibility of any alternative dispute resolution framework based on ongoing dialogue and negotiation.

Border disputes between Guyana and Suriname

In this context, it is worth noting that Guyana also has a long-standing unresolved border dispute with its neighbour to the east (Suriname), which as noted above attained independence from the Dutch in 1975 and must be observing current developments very closely. The disputed section of the border with Suriname is referred to as The New River Triangle or Tigri Region (and is also substantial, amounting to 15,600 square kilometres), and the two countries also had a longstanding disagreement over the maritime boundary.

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Maps showing contested borders of Guyana, Suriname & Venezuela

The dispute over the location of the maritime boundary between the two countries ultimately reached flashpoint in 2000 when a company registered in Canada (CGX Energy Inc.) placed an offshore oil rig in the disputed area claiming exploration rights pursuant to a concession granted by Guyana (at that time the current Vice President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, was president). Shortly afterwards the oil rig was captured and removed from the area by Suriname’s navy pending settlement of the dispute (the rig had not yet commenced drilling operations). While CGX Energy Inc. promoted and supported the full extent of Guyana’s claims, Suriname’s territorial claim was backed by the oil companies Repsol YPF (based in Spain) and MAERSK (based in Denmark), each of which held concessions conferred by the government of Suriname (CORPWATCH, 2005).

The dispute was finally referred to an international arbitration panel pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea’s ruling was accepted by both countries in 2007. The dispute over the terrestrial border with Suriname still has not been resolved. (Venezuela has not had other major territorial disputes with its South American neighbours, while a lingering set of maritime border disputes with the Kingdom of the Netherlands were ultimately resolved pursuant to a treaty signed by both countries in 1978).

Recent developments in the territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana

After several years of rising tensions and increasingly strident but essentially harmless patriotic posturing on both sides, almost out of nowhere in early December of this year it appeared that the age-old border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana could be fast approaching the point of no return, with both countries claiming exclusive sovereignty over the entirety of the disputed territories, expressing their determination to make good their claim, and appearing to be actively taking steps to do so (including placing their Armed Forces on High Alert).

The Government of Guyana must have known when it started unilaterally granting exploration permits in the disputed maritime zones (with both Venezuela and Suriname) that this would lead to major problems with its neighbours sooner or later. The companies involved also must have known that the international maritime boundaries had not been settled and were the subject of ongoing disagreement between the countries involved.

Although the first offshore exploration concessions were granted in 1999 and Exxon commenced exploration activities in the disputed offshore area between Venezuela and Guyana in 2008, the stakes involved in the crisis that inevitably followed multiplied exponentially when the foreign consortium led by Exxon Mobil discovered huge reserves of oil and gas in the concession area in 2015 and almost immediately commenced production (production started in 2019 and quickly reached around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd), over half that of Venezuela whose production dropped from well over two million bpd at its peak to less than 800,000 after the imposition and vigorous enforcement of draconian extraterritorial financial sanctions and a strict economic blockade by the US). In November of this year a third autonomous offshore production platform (‘Floating, Production Storage and Offloading vessel’) came on line, which is projected to lift Guyana’s total oil production to 620,000bpd by next year. The total hydrocarbon reserves in the disputed area are reported to be among the largest in the world (the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated total reserves of 13.6 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of gas).

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

The ‘Stabroek Block’ exploration zone

While the consortium formed to conduct exploration and production activities includes participants from other countries (including one of the Chinese State-owned oil companies, CNOOC), Exxon Mobil is the major partner and is responsible for the project’s operational management (Exxon’s subsidiary Exxon Mobil Guyana Limited has a 45% stake, Hess Guyana Exploration Ltd has 30%, and CNOOC Petroleum Guyana Limited 25%). Meanwhile, as noted above the Canadian-based firm CGX Energy Inc. has also been conducting offshore exploration in the region for some time. More recently, since January of 2023 the Ali administration has been engaged in talks over the allocation of other offshore blocks for oil and gas exploration with representatives from Qatar, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and India.

In early December of this year Guyana’s Vice President reiterated his government’s posture that all negotiations conducted through formal and mutually agreed diplomatic procedures have been terminated and that Venezuela must accept the decision to refer the dispute to the ICJ. A media report describing the government’s latest official statements also reveals the immensity of the Exxon Mobil-controlled offshore project:

Maintaining that Guyana has the right to pursue development in every inch of its territory, Vice-President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has said that the evolution of the nation’s economy will not stop. “If we pause any of our development, Maduro succeeds. Maduro has no right in international law to tell the people of Guyana, [a] sovereign country, how to pursue its affairs. And that is why we are forging ahead with our development in all 83,000 square miles”…

Dr. Jagdeo further said that his government will not become “paralysed” and fall prey to the Bolivarian Republic’s tactics…

The 2023 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report revealed that Guyana’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to continue its rapid growth. Guyana achieved the highest real GDP growth in the world in 2022 – 62.3 per cent. Guyana’s economy has tripled in size since the start of oil extraction (in 2019). In the early 90s it had one of the lowest GDPs per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, the US has of course been enthusiastically ‘meddling’ in the dispute and throwing fuel on the smouldering embers, expressing unconditional support for the full extent of Guyana’s unilateral territorial claims and ambitions and using the soaring tensions to persuade the Government of Guyana to approve ever more frequent and extensive ‘joint’ military exercises in the country. Over the last month the US and Guyanese governments have been reported as being in favour of establishing a long-term US military presence at bases not only in Guyana proper but also in the disputed regions adjacent to the de facto border with Venezuela.

A series of bilateral and ‘international’ or ‘regional’ military exercises and war games have been held in Guyana over the last year, all of which were organised and commanded by the US. The largest of these (“Exercise Tradewinds”) was held in July for two weeks with the participation of 1,500 military personnel from over twenty countries under the leadership of US Southern Command (the US also contributed the overwhelming majority of the participating military personnel). The series of military exercises, tasks and operations included “jungle certification, airborne wing exchange, oil spill and flood simulation, and human rights and Women, Peace and Security Training”.

In the days following the referendum held in Venezuela in early December the US added regular surveillance flights along the de facto border to its repertoire of military/ intelligence assets and activities in Guyana (which also includes a previously existing International Military Education and Training program). According to reports in late November of this year, there is also an unspecified number of personnel from the US Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade deployed to Guyana on a ‘capacity building mission’.

Apart from greatly aggravating tensions and hostility and thereby raising the risk of a mutually devastating war breaking out (which could however serve Washington’s geopolitical interests and objectives very nicely) whether by accident or by design, the prospective implantation of substantial US military outposts in the de facto border zone is not surprisingly considered by the Venezuelan Government to be a major and direct threat to its national security given the openly declared and clearly demonstrated obsession of the US elite with overthrowing the Venezuelan Government by any and all means possible over the last twenty years.

Although throughout its history since achieving formal independence the Government of Guyana has on numerous occasions adopted a strong position of actively maintaining and defending its independence and sovereignty in its bilateral and international relations, as mentioned previously the US military has nonetheless managed to acquire extensive experience in the conduct of reconnaissance activities, exercises and war games throughout the country, and no doubt has much better knowledge of the terrain in terms of the enormous variety of militarily-relevant geographical features and other details that could affect military operations than the armed forces of either Guyana or Venezuela. It is illustrative in this sense that a report produced by the FAO in 2015 (“Country Profile – Guyana”) cites the US Army Corps of Engineers as the source for information on the maximum, minimum and average annual flow of selected rivers in Guyana.

More recently the United Kingdom has also sought to join the fray, sending a naval patrol boat (HMS Trent) to Guyana (barely a week after a bilateral meeting between the presidents of Guyana and Venezuela at which they agreed to resume negotiations and refrain from taking any steps that could aggravate the dispute, discussed below). The deployment has been variously referred to as ‘routine’ by UK and Guyanese officials while at the same time being described in other statements as a demonstration of the UK’s unconditional support for Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This cynical act of Guyana’s former colonial power was condemned by the Venezuelan Government as a blatant violation of the agreement signed at the bilateral meeting on the 14th of December (the Argyle Agreement), and Venezuela responded by announcing the immediate deployment of a combined military task force to the border area (reported to consist of between 5,000 and 6,000 personnel).

The rapidly deteriorating situation during the first days of December prompted the leaders of the members of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) as well as neighbouring Brazil to take urgent measures seeking to de-escalate the dispute and reactivate diplomatic procedures, direct dialogue and negotiations. Most of the governments of South America also issued a joint statement calling for calm and a return to direct dialogue and negotiations shortly afterwards. During a regional meeting of the members of Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur) on the 8th of December, the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru expressed “their profound concern over the increase in tensions” between Caracas and Georgetown. The joint declaration further states that “Latin America must be a territory of peace”, urging both countries to resume “dialogue and to search for a pacific solution to the controversy” and “to avoid unilateral actions and initiatives that could aggravate” the dispute.

Against all odds CARICOM and Brazil managed to persuade the presidents of Guyana and Venezuela to meet in mid-December. Although the atmosphere of the meeting was tense and it only lasted a few hours, the two leaders agreed to sign a ‘Joint Declaration of Argyle for Peace between Guyana and Venezuela’ (‘the Argyle Agreement’). The document contains eleven points, including that neither country will threaten the use of force against the other, their determination that controversies will be resolved in accordance with international law, and to refrain from taking any steps that could escalate the conflict. The two countries also agreed to establish a Joint Commission comprising delegates appointed by their respective foreign ministries to consider such matters as may be referred to the Commission in the future, and to meet in Brazil within three months to continue discussions (a meeting that will also be accompanied by senior delegates from CELAC, CARICOM and numerous individual States in the region).

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Bilateral meeting between Presidents Maduro and Ali, 14 December 2023

A Preliminary Survey of Some Alternative Scenarios   

Before going into a detailed analysis of the political, economic and geopolitical dimensions affecting the course of the dispute, some of the alternative scenarios that could conceivably develop (albeit some of which are extremely unlikely) are sketched out to provide a basic conceptual and contextual framework for the analysis that follows. While of course there is always the likelihood of completely unexpected developments occurring, some possible basic scenarios for the future course of developments related to the dispute include –


* The Venezuelan Government (and people) accept the Guyanese Government’s position and the ICJ decides the dispute. (Very unlikely to inconceivable at this point.)

* The Guyanese Government (and people) accept the Venezuelan Government’s assertion of exclusive sovereignty. (Also very unlikely to inconceivable).

* The Guyanese and Venezuelan Governments agree to negotiate in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable solution. (Also currently unlikely, though perhaps not inconceivable given the recent success of CARICOM and Brazil to get the two parties two agree to meet resulting in an agreement to reactivate a Joint Commission to investigate related topics).

* One of the governments accepts the other’s position under duress but the decision is rejected by the people (and/ or by powerful vested interest groups opposed to the government), resulting in social and political turmoil and a possible change of government. (Technically possible but also unlikely.)

* The US finally succeeds in its interminable scheming to overthrow the Venezuelan Government and arranges for the instalment of a regime subservient to it, which ultimately accepts the status quo – perhaps with a small consolation ‘concession’ offered by the US (via Guyana) in order to assuage public sentiment. (Very unlikely, unless the Venezuelan Government is conclusively thwarted in its efforts to conclude a mutually acceptable arrangement or, if progress towards such a negotiated agreement remains impossible, if the Venezuelan Government is unable to effectively take over and incorporate at least some significant portions of the disputed territory and suffers heavy casualties in the process).

* The (US-backed) Venezuelan opposition wins the presidency and/ or a majority in the National Assembly in the elections scheduled to be held in 2024. (It is unclear how this might affect Venezuela’s territorial claims and/ or its disposition to negotiate in good faith with Guyana.)


* Incremental military occupation of and control over disputed areas by each party: Each side expands the deployment of military forces to currently unoccupied areas and strategic zones to incrementally occupy and secure control over specific localities and regions to the extent that each sides’ respective military capabilities and local circumstances and conditions permit (with Guyana’s armed forces most likely accompanied by a limited number of US military personnel – along with an unlimited number of mercenary forces contracted by the Pentagon or rather, the number of mercenaries being limited only by the availability of cheap cannon fodder, which is abundant in the region).

Direct confrontation and combat might generally be avoided by both sides in order to limit the risk of a major conflagration, but occasional or regular skirmishes would be a distinct possibility along with actions of sabotage and subversion from each side against the other with the objective of delegitimizing their rival’s claims and making effective occupation untenable. Each side would also presumably seek to weaken and destabilize the other in terms of the government’s hold on power, taking advantage of the profound internal differences, fissures and schisms that already exist in each country. (Appears to be a feasible development at this point, leading either to a negotiated solution once the enormous costs and losses involved begin to mount, or possibly leading to intractable ‘low intensity conflict’ and ‘hybrid warfare’ for a lengthy period – or until one side or the other is exhausted and/ or overthrown by some combination of internal or external actors and forces. Alternatively, such a scenario could eventually build up to a formal declaration of war and major conflict).

* A declaration of war and major conflict: Ultimately, neither side can realistically hope to effectively occupy and control the entire area in the face of active counter-measures and resistance by the other – it would take 160,000 troops just to have one soldier in each square kilometre. Presumably each side would also try to induce or persuade the residents in each region to support their actions and maybe try to form local armed militias to bolster their forces and capabilities, in which case local perceptions and attitudes would be crucial.

Some of the key factors and questions in such a war scenario include would the US attack major military targets in Venezuela directly, and correspondingly whether the Venezuelan armed forces have managed to obtain advanced weapons systems from Iran, Russia and/ or China (long range missiles, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, for example) capable not just of defending itself against a large-scale attack by the US but of hitting strategic US assets in the region. While it is certain that the US could inflict heavy losses on Venezuela (in terms of both military and civilian personnel, infrastructure and equipment), it is possible that Venezuela may also be capable of inflicting heavy losses on the US.

Final preliminary comments

The incremental military/ civilian occupation of border areas and communities as well as strategic points throughout the disputed areas appears to be one of the most likely developments in the immediate future, given that both sides remain adamant in their respective claims to exclusive sovereignty. Initial reports of activities of the FANB along the de facto border suggest this may in effect already be occurring in some areas. However, the establish of the Joint Commission in mid-December and the agreement of the two Heads of State to meet again in Brazil within three months provides an opportunity for this to be avoided (or perhaps even shifted towards a competition to establish civilian infrastructure and provide essential services in remote and regional communities instead of a race to establish military outposts and territorial occupation, taking an overtly optimistic point of view on the possible future course of events).

Summary of key political developments and geopolitical factors in Venezuela

While its real intentions and plans remain unknown, the Venezuelan Government could be taking a huge gamble with its stated intention of incorporating the disputed Esequibo region within Venezuela with immediate effect, by raising the expectations of the Venezuelan people well beyond what would seem to be a realistically feasible outcome. That is, if the immediate integration or ‘reclamation’ of the entire territory is indeed the Government’s intention; it could of course be staking out such a vehement ‘winner takes all’ posture more in the nature of a rhetorical device and tactical move to demonstrate Venezuela’s determination to finally reach a mutually satisfactory agreement before it is too late, as well as trying to strengthen its bargaining position in negotiations.

The referendum on ‘Guayana Esequiba’ and related developments

The referendum in Venezuela that was held on the 3rd of December included a provision explicitly rejecting the legitimacy and validity of the 1899 Paris Arbitration Tribunal ruling, and another supporting and reaffirming the Government’s decision not to recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ to decide the dispute. Meanwhile, the key question postulated asks if the voter is in agreement with the creation of the State of Guayana Esequiba as an integral part of Venezuela, along with the accelerated implementation of a plan for social integration and economic development that includes the granting of Venezuelan identity documents and citizenship to all residents in the relevant territories. Nonetheless, the other terms of the provision stipulate that this will be done pursuant to and in conformity with the Geneva Agreement of 1966 and International Law, and the Venezuelan Government has repeatedly reaffirmed its willingness to enter into discussions with Guyana without preconditions.

President Nicolas Maduro forwarded a proposed Law to the National Assembly shortly after the referendum (the “Organic Law for the Defence of Guayana Esequiba” – Ley Orgánica por la Defensa de la Guayana Esequiba) to establish the founding principles and administrative arrangements for the creation of the new state, and also promulgated a series of executive decrees and orders to formalize the transitional governmental structures responsible for planning and administering the new provisions. Central features of the new decrees and institutional arrangements include:


* A High Commission for the Defence of Guayana Esequiba (Alta Comisión por la Defensa de la Guayana Esequiba) headed by Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and charged with overseeing and coordinating the management of all activities related to the integration of the new province into Venezuela’s sovereign territory and system of government;

* The creation of a Zone for the Integral Defence of Guayana Esequiba (Zona de Defensa Integral de la Guayana Esequiba) headed by Major General Alexis Rodriguez Babello, comprised of three geographic areas and responsible for 28 operational sectors and related logistical arrangements for the planning and implementation of the integral social and economic development strategy together with the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela (headquartered in Tumeremo in the state of Bolivar and administratively and militarily dependent on the Integral Defence Region of Guayana – Región de Defensa Integral Guayana);

* A provision authorizing PDSVA and Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (the State-owned petroleum and steel producers respectively) to create regional subdivisions empowered to grant concessions for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and minerals in the new province;

* The activation of a Social Plan for the Provision of Public Services (Plan de Atención Social) and the initiation of a census of residents in the new province to recognize them as Venezuelan citizens;

* The prohibition of contracts, licences or commercial relations with companies involved in or collaborating with any project pursuant to the unilateral concessions granted by Guyana in the maritime zone whose territorial limits are yet to be defined;

* A request to the National Assembly to approve a special law to create environmental protection zones and national parks in the territory of Guayana Esequiba.


The proposed legislation and all relevant decrees providing measures necessary for the formal incorporation of the disputed territory into Venezuela and for its subsequent administration were unanimously approved by the National Assembly within days and is currently subject to a period of ‘public consultation’.

Adding to the zero sum, all or nothing quagmire/ stalemate that the territorial dispute has reached, the Maduro Government is speaking and acting as though the incorporation of the disputed territory is a foregone conclusion, with only the technical and administrative details to be sorted out. As noted above, one of the first announcements of the Government in the aftermath of the referendum was the ordering of procedures to unilaterally grant mineral and energy exploration permits throughout the disputed territory, thereby taking the same course of action as that previously taken by the Guyanese Government which resulted in the dispute reaching such an antagonistic and potentially explosive crisis point in the first place.

Even more ominous in terms of the prospect that the dispute could suddenly deteriorate into a catastrophic and prolonged military confrontation notwithstanding the détente achieved by the bilateral meeting in mid-December and the Argyle Agreement, the Venezuelan Government has demanded that all existing resource development projects in the disputed maritime region (that is, Exxon Mobil’s already enormous offshore oil and gas production facilities) terminate operations within three months pending the conclusion of a new agreement with Venezuela (it is not clear if a similar ultimatum applies in terrestrial areas, where there are countless large-scale logging, mining and other commercial activities, both legal and illegal). Although Maduro has avoided using the language of a military occupation and forced integration of the territory, that is currently the only way his stated intentions could be achieved.

Nonetheless, in this sense it should also be acknowledged that anything less than the adoption of such a vehement posture (possibly accompanied by a series of strategic military infiltrations leading up to the consolidation of significant areas under direct Venezuelan occupation and control throughout the disputed region) would be equivalent to a tacit acceptance of the status quo, similar to the stalemate that exists in the Falkland Islands/ Malvinas dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina where the only thing that would be capable of altering the UK’s unilateral territorial claims and de facto sovereignty over the disputed areas (which, according to international law, belong to Argentina) is a successful Argentine military intervention. In such a situation possession is nine-tenths of the law. The other tenth is the ability to sustain effective territorial occupation.

Some recent media reports (in particular “Venezuela. FANB realiza jornada de atención integral en Guayana Esequiba”, Aporrea, 12 December 2023) suggest that a strategy of incremental joint military/ civilian territorial occupation may indeed already be underway, with rapid reaction forces of the Venezuelan armed forces reported to be conducting security patrols along and across the other side of the de facto border accompanied by integrated civilian security teams who are also providing free health services to remote communities:

The National Bolivarian Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, FANB) continue in their deployment to provide integral attention to the residents of Guayana Esequiba, according to a communiqué by the strategic operational commander of the FANB (G/J Domingo Hernández Lárez)…

In another publication, commander G/J Domingo Hernández Lárez emphasized that the Rapid Response Units (Unidades de Reacción Rápida) of the FANB are conducting night patrols in the area together with personnel from the Citizens’ Security Units (Organismos de Seguridad Ciudadana) to guarantee the security of residents…

He also commented that the security forces are making regular visits to the frontier townships to guarantee the honour and liberty of the inhabitants…

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

The FANB conducting a patrol in early December among border communities

Venezuela: The Political Landscape and Major Social and Economic Factors

In terms of Venezuela’s always complicated, polarized, animated and volatile political situation, beyond the temporary surge of patriotic demonstrations and hubris lies a multitude of challenges and obstacles, as well as imminent risks and dangers. There are many sectors within Venezuelan society that have been critical of the Government’s policies and performance for some time, stemming from many different perspectives and for very different reasons. More generally, the Government’s inability to clearly and decisively identify, explain and resolve the structural causes that have resulted in many years of intense economic scarcity and hardship is a constant and profound source of concern for all Venezuelans. The prolonged economic crisis was produced by a combination of complex geopolitical, administrative and economic factors such as the crushing extraterritorial economic embargo and financial sanctions imposed against Venezuela by the US, instances of financial and economic mismanagement by the Government and State officials, and widespread practices of cronyism, fraud and corruption both in State institutions as well as in the private sector.

Preliminary comments on the historical context and analytical perspectives

In order to establish a clearer conceptual and contextual basis for the political analysis that follows, veteran Latin America scholar James Petras provides an excellent overview of the 2012 presidential campaign in Venezuela that clearly explains the key ideological and programmatic characteristics and objectives of the opposed candidates and the social sectors behind them.

I strongly recommend the article to readers in the US in particular, where definitions, concepts and interpretations of left-wing and right-wing ideological premises and political forces, factions and interest groups is extremely muddled and confusing. Leftist policies, factions and groups are variously referred to in the US as ‘progressive’, ‘populist’, ‘liberal’, ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ (the latter two invariably condemned as subversive and irrational political heretics), and right-wing factions are usually referred to as ‘conservative’, in some contexts ‘neo-liberal’ or ‘neo-conservative’. Many commentators and analysts also often seem to associate ‘leftist’ ideologies and policies with anything the Democrats favour, and rightist ideologies with anything the Republicans favour. Meanwhile, there is much evidence supporting the veracity of Howard Zinn’s conclusion that both major political parties ultimately represent and serve the country’s economic elites above all else. To very briefly summarize some of the key points made from this perspective:

The stories of class struggle in the nineteenth century are not usually found in text books on United States history. That struggle is most often obscured by the pretence of intense conflict between the major political parties, although both parties have represented the dominant classes of the nation…

It was the new politics of ambiguity – speaking for the lower and middle classes to get their support in times of rapid growth and potential turmoil. To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control…

(In more recent times however there has been) a troubling incongruity in the society. Electoral politics dominated the press and the television screens, and the doings of presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and other officials were treated as if they constituted the history of the country. Yet there was something artificial in all this, something pumped up, straining to persuade a skeptical public that this was all, that they must rest their hopes for the future in Washington politicians, none of whom was inspiring because it seemed that behind the bombast, the rhetoric, the promises, their major concern was their own power…

There were other citizens, those who tried to hold on to ideas and ideals still remembered from the sixties and early seventies, not just by recollecting but by acting. Indeed, all across the country there was a part of the public unmentioned in the media, ignored by the politicians – energetically active in thousands of local groups across the country. These organized groups were campaigning for environmental protection or women’s rights or decent health care … or housing for the homeless, or against exorbitant military spending.

This activism was unlike that of the sixties, when the surge of protest against race segregation and war became an overwhelming national force. It struggled uphill, against callous political leaders, trying to reach fellow Americans most of whom saw little hope in either the politics of voting or the politics of protest.

The presidency of Jimmy Carter, covering the years 1977 to 1980, seemed an attempt by one part of the Establishment, that represented in the Democrat party, to recapture a disillusioned citizenry. But Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of ‘human rights’ abroad, remained within the historical political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad.

Carter seemed to be the choice of that international group of powerful influence-wielders – the Trilateral Commission … (which) thought Carter was the right person for the 1976 election given that ‘the Water-gate plagued Republican party was a sure loser’… Carter’s job as President, from the point of view of the Establishment, was to halt the rushing disappointment of the American people with the government, with the economic system, with disastrous military adventures abroad… (See also for example: Byrd, 2004: Hightower, 2003: McCoy, 2003: Scott & Marshall, 1991)

While the political scenario in Venezuela is also dominated by two broadly allied groupings that overall has produced a type of bipartisan competition, in stark contrast to the political situation in the United States (where both major parties essentially represent the same elite interests) in Venezuela there are clear and fundamental differences in the ideological basis, policies and objectives of each broad alliance of political parties, interest groups and social sectors. On one side are those connected to, allied with or supporters of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV) formed by Hugo Chavez, who taken together form a broad and diverse coalition that is vehemently opposed by an eclectic array of mostly US-backed and right-wing neoliberal opposition political parties and interest groups. In terms of the prevailing political and economic context in Venezuela as of 2012 (and still very relevant today) James Petras states:

On October 7th, Venezuelan voters will decide whether to support incumbent President Hugo Chávez or opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. The voters will choose between two polar opposite programs and social systems: Chávez calls for the expansion of public ownership of the means of production and consumption, an increase in social spending for welfare programs, greater popular participation in local decision-making, an independent foreign policy based on greater Latin American integration, increases in progressive taxation, the defense of free public health and educational programs and the defense of public ownership of oil production.

In contrast Capriles Radonski represents the (traditional political) parties and (economic) elite who support the privatization of public enterprises, oppose the existing public health and educational and social welfare programs and favour neoliberal policies designed to subsidize and expand the role and control of foreign and local private capital. While Capriles Radonski claims to be in favour of what he dubs “the Brazilian model” of free markets and social welfare, his political and social backers, in the past and present, are strong advocates of free trade agreements with the US, restrictions on social spending and regressive taxation.

Unlike the US, the Venezuelan voters have a choice and not an echo: two candidates representing distinct social classes, with divergent socio-political visions and international alignments. Chávez stands with Latin America, opposes US imperial intervention everywhere, is a staunch defender of self-determination and supporter of Latin American integration. Capriles Radonski is in favour of free trade agreements with the US, opposes regional integration, supports US intervention in the Middle East and is a diehard supporter of Israel.

In the run-up to the elections, as was predictable the entire US mass media has been saturated with anti-Chávez and pro-Capriles propaganda, predicting a victory or at least a close outcome for Washington’s protégé. The media and pundit predictions and propaganda are based entirely on selective citation of dubious polls and campaign commentaries; and worst of all there is a total lack of any serious discussion of the historical legacy and structural features that form the essential framework for this historic election…

A brief overview of left-wing political factions and social sectors

To the left of the extremely diverse and highly compartmentalized and polarized political spectrum that exists in Venezuelan society, numerous leftist political parties, factions and social movements have long criticized and complained about the adoption and implementation of many of the socialist government’s policies. Relevant topics that are hotly debated in this respect typically include that the government has been far too willing to compromise with the ‘oligarchs’ and the traditional ruling elites, or that provisions for worker representation and participation in the management of State-owned companies are grossly inadequate and ineffective in many cases. The long series of compromises and agreements that have been reached by the Venezuelan Government at different times with a variety of groups and sectors from the traditional economic elites has severely undermined it’s ‘revolutionary credentials’ in these circles and fed suspicions among some that the plight and hardships of the common people is a secondary concern to staying in power. In terms of this perspective, an article by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim (2016) summarizes and evaluates the main principles, objectives and alternatives associated with the respective arguments in favour of ‘deepening the Revolution’ or compromising with the government’s US-backed political and economic opponents.

Another emblematic topic that has generated frictions between the Venezuelan Government and one of the main social sectors that typically has strongly supported and defended the revolution led by Hugo Chavez since its inception (poor and historically marginalised and oppressed small-scale rural farmers, producer collectives and communities) is the implementation of agrarian reform and rural development strategies. For many years there has been a substantial and growing divergence between many of these rural communities and producer collectives and the Government: key issues in this context include the strategic objectives and effective implementation of the agrarian reform agenda, as well as the need for reliable and effective technical and logistical support for collective social and economic projects and value-added production in rural communities.

A major problem in this context is that there are still very powerful landlords and economic/ political elites in many regions who control or have established alliances with the provincial governments, bureaucracies and police contingents, and while they are not as frequent and systematic as in Colombia the selective assassination of social leaders in rural areas is not uncommon, often accompanied by simultaneous legal/ bureaucratic persecution, harassment and forced displacement of rural communities in circumstances that suggest the active collaboration of some police and other State officials.

Attitudes and opinions on the country’s relations with the US have of course also been extremely divisive and problematic. On the pretence of alleged concerns over democracy and human rights violations, the US imposed a series of strict financial sanctions against the State-owned oil company PDVSA in 2017, which was extended to include an export embargo in 2019 with additional secondary sanctions imposed in 2020 (including severe penalties for any company maintaining financial or commercial relations with Venezuela, measures that were rigorously enforced). Following the outbreak of the Russia-NATO war in Ukraine and the subsequent large reduction in available energy sources, the US Treasury authorized some limited waivers to the sanctions in 2022 (for Repsol, Eni and Chevron). This was followed by another six-month licence allowing limited production, investment and sales in the oil and gas sectors in Venezuela following a so-called electoral deal (pursuant to which the US purports to have the right to evaluate and ‘certify’ the legitimacy of the pending electoral process in Venezuela – begging the question, who will supervise and certify the pending elections in the US).

Consequently, amongst the chaotic and unpredictable dynamics and developments that typify relations between the US and Venezuela over the last twenty-five years, the Venezuelan Government and US oil giant Chevron have reactivated commercial relations and the development of several joint projects in the energy sector. Chevron has been present in Venezuela since 1923, and notwithstanding the prolonged disruption the company still has four joint ventures with PDSVA that are capable of producing up to 200,000 bpd.

From a critical leftist perspective, the only way this could be considered even remotely justified (given that among a long list of other hostile and destructive acts against Venezuela, several years ago the US arbitrarily expropriated all of the properties and assets of Venezuela’s State-owned CITGO, a US-based refinery and distributor with a network of retail outlets whose assets have been estimated at over $10 billion) is in the nature of creating a potential economic ‘hostage’ or captive (against the enormous losses incurred from the theft of the Venezuelan peoples’ assets in the US), as well as possibly creating some contradictory corporate interest group and lobbying pressures within the US that might provide some counter-weight to the enormous influence that Exxon Mobil and its major shareholders enjoy viz the Congress, the White House and the media.

In this context, while Chevron agreed to work together with the Venezuelan Government (however reluctantly) following former President Hugo Chavez’ strategic decision to nationalise most of the oil sector (maintaining however the option of joint ventures in which PDSVA had a majority interest and a substantial role in operational management), Exxon Mobil bitterly condemned the decision and has done everything possible to contest and disrupt the process of nationalisation (a grudge that was carried over into the Trump administration when Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was appointed Secretary of State in 2017).

However, it should also be noted that – in a financial/ corporate variant replicating to some extent the ‘of, by and for the economic and political Elite’ two-party State described by Howard Zinn – just below the surface it turns out that Chevron Corporation’s major shareholders are Vanguard Group Inc. (8.6%), Blackrock Inc. (6.6%), State Street Corporation (6.6%), Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (5.8%) and Morgan Stanley (1.8%). Almost exactly the same as Exxon Mobil, whose largest shareholders are Vanguard Group Inc. (approximately 9.8%), Blackrock Inc. (6.8%), State Street Corporation (5.3%) and FMR, LLC (3.7%). Hence, in any given situation where they appear to be rivals or competitors no matter which consortium gets the deal, the result is already in: Heads we win, tails you lose. To further confuse the matter, almost all of the major institutional shareholders in each company also has a substantial stake in most of the other major shareholders, overlapping and interlocking in such a way that it is impossible to identify a central nucleus, organization or group of people who exercise strategic control over the corporations (Fichtner et al, 2017: Edgar, 2018a). LINK

Viewed from this hard core revolutionary perspective, compounding the failure to prosecute many of the senior military officials and opposition political figures who have openly conspired with a hostile foreign power in repeated violent and destructive coup attempts since 2002, or to take decisive steps to substantially reduce the control that a small number of oligarchs still exercise over key economic sectors (which they have exploited to the full on numerous occasions to deepen the economic woes of the country and the scarcity of essential goods to thereby destabilize the government), the willingness of the Venezuelan Government to maintain discussions with the US at all is a grave affront to many given that the US and the UK have brazenly stolen many billions of dollars-worth of Venezuela’s sovereign funds and economic investments in those two countries, among their incessant efforts to subjugate the country or destroy it economically and socially in the attempt.

US efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan Government

With respect to this broader geopolitical context, the detailed and well-informed analysis by James Petras cited above also provides an overview of the background to as well as the main social, economic and political factors and factions involved in the early attempts by the US to overthrow the Chavez Government:

For nearly a quarter of a century prior to the Chavez election in 1998, Venezuela’s economy and society was in a tailspin, rife with corruption, record inflation, declining growth, rising debt, crime, poverty and unemployment.

Mass protests in the late-1980s and early-1990s led to the massacre of thousands of slum dwellers, a failed coup and mass disillusion with the bi-partisan political system. The petrol industry was privatized; oil wealth nurtured a business elite which shopped on Fifth Avenue, invested in Miami condos, patronized private clinics for face-lifts and breast jobs, and sent their children to private elite schools to ensure inter-generational continuity of power and privilege. Venezuela was a bastion of US power projections toward the Caribbean, Central and South America. Venezuela was socially polarized, but political power was monopolized by two or three parties who competed for the support of competing factions of the ruling elite and the US Embassy.

Economic pillage, social regression, political authoritarianism and corruption led to an electoral victory for Hugo Chávez in 1998 and a gradual change in public policy toward greater political accountability and institutional reforms which signaled a turn toward greater social equity.

The failed US backed military-business coup of April 2002 and the defeat of the oil executive lockout of December 2002 to February 2003 marked a decisive turning point in Venezuelan political and social history: the violent assault mobilized and radicalized millions of pro-democracy working class and slum dwellers, who in turn pressured Chávez to turn left. The defeat of the US-capitalist coup and lockout was the first of several popular victories which opened the door to vast social programs covering the housing, health, educational, and food needs of millions of Venezuelans.

The US and the Venezuelan elite suffered significant losses of strategic personnel in the military, trade union bureaucracy and oil industry as a result of their involvement in the illegal power grab. Capriles was an active leader in the coup, heading a gang of thugs that assaulted the Cuban embassy, and an active collaborator in the petrol lockout which temporarily paralyzed the entire economy.

The coup and lockout were followed by a US-funded referendum, which attempted to impeach Chávez, and was soundly trounced. The failures of the right strengthened the socialist tendencies in the government, weakened the elite’s opposition and sent the US on a mission to Colombia, ruled by narco-terrorist Álvaro Uribe, in search of a military ally to destabilize and overthrow the regime from outside. Border tensions increased, US bases multiplied to seven, and Colombian death squads crossed the border (to conduct sabotage operations and terrorize border communities in Venezuela)…

The transfer to Colombia of the main bases for the organization and preparation of covert hybrid warfare operations against Venezuela was rapidly consolidated and deepened over the following decade. Many readers no doubt automatically dismiss such claims and allegations as absurd and preposterous, completely unsubstantiated socialist/ communist (‘Castro-Chavista’, the local equivalent of ‘Kremlin-backed’) ‘talking points’ and propaganda. Nonetheless, before dismissing them out of hand, as a short introduction to some of the available information and evidence supporting the preceding affirmations a good starting point is the analysis written by James Petras noted previously explaining the political, economic and geopolitical dimensions of the presidential elections in Venezuela in 2012 (“Venezuelan Elections: A choice and not an echo”), another published by Venezuela Analysis several years later (by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim, 2016, “Revolutionise or Compromise?”), and two documentaries describing events during the openly US- and corporate media-backed failed 2002 military/ corporate coup attempt (“The Revolution will not be televised” produced by The Irish Film Board and YLE Teema, and “Anatomy of a Coup” produced by Journeyman productions).

A very short selection of other very well documented examples of the machinations of US subversion operations and regime change plots include the extraordinary short book “War is a Racket” written by US Marines Major General Smedley Butler (in the 1930s), the documentary produced by Bill Moyers in 1987 on the Iran-Contra scandal (“The Secret Government: Constitution in Crisis”), another documentary on the assassination of Patrice Lumumba (Michel Noll, “The execution of Patrice Lumumba”, from the Political Assassination Documentary series produced by News World). For a quick introduction to intensive and systemic ‘meddling’, subversion and institutionalised fraud and corruption within the United States, a good start would be a documentary that investigates “COINTELPRO: The FBI’s War on Black America” (by Maljack Productions) and another produced by Aaron Russo (America: From Freedom to Fascism).

Perhaps most disturbing of all is a document attributed to the US Southern Command which describes the available alternatives and military/ intelligence assets in and around Venezuela that could be called upon in an all-out attempt to overthrow the Venezuela Government. In 2018 a ‘top secret’ document entitled “Plan to Overthrow the Venezuelan Dictatorship ‘Masterstroke’” was disclosed by veteran Argentinian journalist Stella Calloni (Calloni, 2018). The document, dated the 23rd of February 2018, was attributed to the United States Southern Command (‘SouthCom’). Its publication generated considerable coverage and comment in the ‘alternative’ press in Latin America, however it received little or no mention in the ‘mainstream’ media (Edgar, 2018b). LINK

As with the ‘Protocols of Zion’, whether or not the document is authentic (as far as I know SouthCom has not denied its authenticity, and they would hardly acknowledge authorship of such a document), the report appears to provide a very accurate description of many developments related to the clearly demonstrated US obsession with and strategies for overthrowing the Venezuelan Government, apart from evidencing the authors’ considerable familiarity with US military and intelligence assets in the region.

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Alleged SOUTHCOM Document Cover

The wide range of prospective contingency plans and alternatives canvassed in the document include an open military invasion together with the armed forces of as many of Venezuela’s neighbours as could be persuaded or obliged to participate (in particularly Brazil, Colombia, Panama, and Guyana), supported by paramilitary groups and other covert forces and groups either already present in or projected to be infiltrated into Venezuela and other countries throughout the region.

The report also appears to provide an accurate description of the immense scope and ruthlessness of the United States’ disruptive economic, social and political actions aimed at destabilizing and overthrowing the Venezuelan government, and anticipates the possibility of an even more dramatic escalation in intensity and scale. For instance, in order to undermine “the decadent popular support” for the Venezuelan Government: “Encouraging popular dissatisfaction by increasing scarcity and rise in price of the foodstuffs, medicines and other essential goods for the inhabitants. Making more harrowing and painful the scarcities of the main basic merchandises…” All this accompanied by a relentless media campaign blaming the Venezuelan Government and ‘the Dictator Nicolas Maduro’ in particular for the shortages of basic goods in the wider context of total economic collapse. Related activities and objectives would include:

“Fully obstructing imports… Appealing to domestic allies as well as other people inserted from abroad in the national scenario in order to generate protests, riots and insecurity, plunders, thefts, assaults and highjacking of vessels as well as other means of transportation with the intention of (provoking mass desertions and migration from Venezuela) through all borderlands and other possible ways, jeopardizing in such a way the National Security of neighbouring frontier nations. Causing victims and holding the Government responsible for them. Magnifying, in front of the world, the humanitarian crisis in the country…”

Also consistent with the stated intentions, plans and coordinated series of overt and covert military/ intelligence operations outlined in the document, around the same period the US staged several large-scale multilateral military exercises in the region (Dinucci, 2017). The threats and polemic emanating from Washington intensified dramatically after 2015 when then president Barack Obama promulgated an Executive Order “declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela”.

The document also inadvertently acknowledges the importance of Venezuela to the ‘second war of independence’ in Latin America following the election of Hugo Chavez, leading to the consolidation of regional forms of cooperation that explicitly or implicitly rejected Washington’s ‘leadership’ and domination. In this respect, the report affirms with satisfaction that the recent “rebirth of democracy” (return to conservative, neoliberal, right-wing governments that unquestioningly support Washington’s policies) has halted the trend “in which radical populism was intended to take over” South America (Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador are cited as examples of the resurrection of democracy).

Also reflecting the geopolitical significance of other related developments in the region initiated by Hugo Chavez, the report includes as part of the ‘Information Strategy’ a mass media campaign proclaiming the failure of regional “mechanisms of integration created by the regimens of Cuba and Venezuela, specially the ALBA and PETROCARIBE”, along with “strengthening the image of the OAS”. In this wider context, the document expresses the expectation that “overthrowing the Venezuelan Dictatorship will surely mean a continental turning point” in terms of returning the entire region to a strategic alignment with and political and economic subordination to the US.

In case the economic and social turmoil and political violence generated within Venezuela itself should prove insufficient, the document advocates “preparing the involvement of allied forces” to support a prospective rebellion launched by Venezuelan army officers willing to collaborate with the scheme. Related measures would include:

“Getting the support and cooperation of the allied authorities of friendly countries (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Panama and Guyana)…

Organizing the provisioning, relief of troops, medical and logistical support from Panama. Making good use of the facilities of electronic surveillance and signals intelligence, the hospitals and its deployed endowments in Darién, the equipped airdromes for the Colombian Plan, as well as the landing fields of the old-time military bases of Howard and Albrook…

(Existing weapons stockpiles would be greatly augmented including with heavy weapons as a prelude to) developing the military operation under international flag… Binding Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Panama to the contribution of greater number of troops, to make use of their geographic proximity and experience in operations in forest regions. Strengthening their international coalition with the presence of combat units from the United States of America and the other named countries, under the command of a Joint General Staff led by the USA…

Using the facilities at Panamanian territory for the rear guard and the capacities of Argentina for the securing of the ports and the maritime positions…

Leaning on Brazil and Guyana to make use of the migratory situation that we intend to encourage in the border with Guyana…

Coordinating the support to Colombia, Brazil, Guyana, Aruba, Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago and other States in front of the flow of Venezuelan immigrants in the event of the crisis…

Continuing setting fire to the common frontier with Colombia. Multiplying the traffic of fuel and other goods. The movement of paramilitaries, armed raids and drug trafficking. Provoking armed incidents with the Venezuelan frontier security forces… Recruiting paramilitaries mainly in the campsites of refugees in Cúcuta, La Guajira and the north of Santander, areas largely populated by Colombian citizens who emigrated to Venezuela and now return, run away from the regimen to intensify the destabilizing activities in the common frontier between the two countries. Making use of the empty space left by the FARC, the belligerency of the ELN and the activities in the area of the Gulf Clan…”

Regional geopolitics in Latin America are inherently volatile and unpredictable, and major unexpected developments can never be ruled out. At the time the document was disclosed publically (in 2018), in terms of the US efforts to subjugate Venezuela neighbouring countries Brazil and Colombia (the latter in particular) could be relied on not just as staging grounds for related US covert operations but also as active collaborators and accomplices, while Guyana was attempting to avoid becoming entangled in hostile acts against its neighbour. These positions have however been reversed since then, with Brazil and Colombia seeking to improve ties with Venezuela and avoid hostile acts while Guyana has become ever more willing to host and facilitate US military/ intelligence activities in the country.

In this context, in a worst case scenario it is possible if not likely that the US might use all its power and influence to exert ‘maximum pressure’ on Colombia and Brazil to actively support and collaborate in the schemes against Venezuela, and when this is not forthcoming it could not be ruled out that the US may seek to launch a regime change operation in one or both countries making use of its still very considerable and powerful array of assets and collaborators in each country who are vehemently opposed to the current governments and would welcome an opportunity to regain control over the State.

With respect to Brazil, the military announced that they had increased their presence and capabilities in the border regions with Venezuela and Guyana during the first week of December. At the moment the only major land link between the two countries is via a highway in Brazil, and according to the Brazilian authorities’ statements this is strictly a precautionary measure. The main objective of the recent deployments has been described as being to improve security in the troubled border zone (in this context the Brazilian Government also recently authorized significant military redeployments to other remote parts of the country in an attempt to confront outbreaks of organized crime and violence), as well as to ensure that neither of the potential belligerent parties attempts to make use of Brazilian territory in any possible military operations or related activities (which would of course be a massive strategic error if either side were to do so).

While it is unlikely that the veteran President of Brazil, Luis Inicio Lula de Silva, would willingly take sides in any armed confrontation, this cannot be taken for granted given the unpredictability of military conflicts once set in motion. In particular, if Venezuela were to proceed with an invasion of Guyana (to be more precise, to enter the disputed regions currently occupied and administered by the Guyanese Government), the Brazilian President is almost certain to face enormous pressure from the military leadership to intervene (with active encouragement, incentives and support from the US), while Lula’s many wealthy and powerful political opponents (who together control the National Assembly) would be likely to unite and try to take advantage of the situation to destabilize and if possible impeach or simply overthrow the Government.

Meanwhile, it is most unlikely that Venezuela’s other main neighbour (Colombia) would seek to intervene or collaborate with US efforts to destabilize and overthrow the Venezuelan Government (though again, this could not be taken for granted). Prior to the assumption of power by President Gustavo Petro in 2022 the Colombian Government and military/ intelligence apparatus had been enthusiastic supporters of and collaborators in the United States’ constant regime change efforts directed against Venezuela (with Colombian territory and military/ intelligence facilities and assets playing a major role in many of the plots that have been hatched over the last twenty years).

This has however changed abruptly over the last year, during which the Colombian Government has worked hard to improve relations with Venezuela (which are better at the present time than they have been for at least 25 years, if not ever). Nonetheless, as in the case of Brazil, in the event of a military invasion of the Esequibo region the Petro Government would be placed under enormous pressure by the opposition/ oligarchy controlled mass media and his numerous powerful political opponents and enemies to actively intervene and perhaps even open a second front against Venezuela from Colombia, again at the behest of and in close collaboration with the US.

Right-wing opposition groups in Venezuela

Meanwhile, with respect to recent political developments within Venezuela, the still substantial economic and social bases of the various political factions of the opposition in Venezuela (which are dominated by political parties, personalities and interest groups that are completely in favour of returning the country to the US orbit and neoliberal economic policies), generally supported by social sectors from the middle to ‘upper’ classes and the centre to the far right-wing political parties, can be expected to do everything possible to sabotage the government’s efforts to create the new province of Guayana Esequiba in order to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Maduro Government and the ruling political party (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV, established under the leadership of Hugo Chavez). Such a development would likely guarantee the opposition’s return from the political wilderness and signal the end of the staunchly independent and revolutionary socialist governments of the Chavez-Maduro era.

When the opposition right-wing parties regained a majority in the National Assembly in 2016 it appeared that the US might finally be close to achieving its cherished goal of burying the revolutionary and national liberationist tendencies in the Venezuelan Government once and for all. The opposition lost no time in using its control over the legislative branch to paralyse the Government’s strategic economic and social programs (which is of course their constitutional right, however harmful and destructive it might be to the country’s economy and most of the people). However, they also didn’t hesitate to continue their brazen collaboration with US efforts to overthrow the government through the organization of regular mass protests featuring widespread violence, wanton and deliberate destruction of public and private property, and repeated calls to the Armed Forces to join a coup d’état against the government.

This open and treacherous collaboration with a hostile foreign power probably contributed more to their subsequent loss of support among many Venezuelans than any active sentiment of support for the incumbent government’s policies and performance, resulting in the PSUV and its allies regaining a majority in the 2020 elections (of course the US-backed opposition parties boycotted the election, thereby forfeiting their presence in the National Assembly completely, but it is arguable that the boycott was motivated by their calculations that public sentiment had shifted against them to such an extent that they had no chance of retaining their majority).

It was in the aftermath of this strategic defeat that the US and their collaborators returned to more extreme measures, including the reinvigorated activation of their assets in Colombia to sow terror and chaos in border areas, launch organized incursions and sabotage missions deep into Venezuelan territory, and even to carry out an attempted assassination attempt against Nicolas Maduro with a drone at a military parade. A related subversion plot was the farcical recognition of Juan Guaido as ‘interim president-in-exile’, which despite its crude and blatantly fabricated nature provided the pretext as well as the means for the US to confiscate the Venezuelan people’s assets and investments in that country.

Even throughout the most tumultuous and difficult periods over the last twenty years, the prospect of the most fanatical and servile US-backed political factions and personalities returning to power has induced to revolutionary left factions and social sectors noted above to support the Venezuelan Government up until now rather than risk facilitating a return to the US-backed opposition, notwithstanding their many concerns and regular statements emphatically criticizing the government’s economic policies and political strategies that have favoured the maintenance of negotiations and compromise with ‘The Empire’ and its local collaborators instead of trusting in and relying upon the country’s own human and technological resources (along with the crucial cooperation agreements and technical support from strategic allies Russia, China and Iran) and ‘deepening the Revolution’.

Summary of key political developments and geopolitical factors in Guyana

The Western corporate media has routinely – one could say obsessively – criticized, condemned, mocked and demonized everything that the Venezuelan Government has said or done ever since the abysmal failure of the US-led coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002, at the same time revelling in the country’s economic woes which have been produced in large part if not almost entirely by the relentless economic and hybrid warfare campaign that has been waged against the country. Following on from this baseline, most ‘international’ media outlets already had a pre-packaged narrative and script worked out to explain everything related to the origins and causes of the dispute over Esequibo as well as the underlying motives and objectives of the main protagonists (Venezuela and ‘the Maduro regime’ BAD – Guyana, Irfaan Ali (¿who?), Exxon Mobil and US Southern Command GOOD).

However, as is usually the case the reality is much more complicated than that. This is immediately apparent once one begins to explore some of the other political, economic and social developments in Guyana and Venezuela that aren’t mentioned in the artificially constructed reality that has been portrayed to Western and international audiences, saturated with bland clichés and stereotypes that reduce everything to a simple GOOD v’s EVIL narrative. The previous section of this report explored the different perspectives and interpretations of the system of government, political actors and major developments in Venezuela over the last 20 years, particularly those related to the country’s troubled relations with the United States. The following section extends the analysis of key features of the system of government, political actors and related geopolitical and economic developments to Guyana, where it immediately becomes apparent that the country has also long suffered from its own fair share of profound social, political and economic problems and conflicts.

As has already been noted, almost every news report about Venezuela produced by the mainstream international media outlets for the last twenty years hammers the theme of a brutal and corrupt dictatorship that has captured all State institutions by devious methods and imposed itself on the Venezuelan people against their will, notwithstanding that for much of the period the governments of Hugo Chavez and subsequently Nicolas Maduro have consistently enjoyed much higher levels of public support and approval than the political leaders of many Western countries, that for most of this time substantial sectors of the Venezuelan media have been free to criticize the government (including with often inflammatory and clearly false allegations), and that the voting system in Venezuela has consistently been described by experts as one of the most secure and fraud-proof in the world.

Meanwhile, as discussed in more detail below, it is clear that authoritarian tendencies, cronyism, corruption and mal-administration in both the Guyanese government and key economy sectors have been at least as endemic as in Venezuela for much of its history if not more so. Moreover, the circumstances in which Irfaan Ali won the presidency in the 2020 elections are widely suspected to have been affected by substantial irregularities and fraudulent proceedings in the voting process. Although international media reports on Guyana have been very few and far between over the last twenty years, recent reports on the dispute with Venezuela give the impression that President Irfaan Ali represents a bastion of democracy, justice and liberty caught up in an unprovoked and unwarranted confrontation instigated by the conniving and unscrupulous tyrant from Venezuela.

The latest report by the US Congressional Research Service describing bilateral relations between Guyana and the US corresponds well with the prepared script of the benevolent Empire (‘leader of the free world’) and its basically well-intentioned albeit incompetent and sometimes unruly prodigy (Guyana) who is nonetheless showing some signs of improvement thanks to the encouragement and guiding influence of its superiors to the North:

U.S. relations with Guyana improved in the early 1990s when the government moved away from one-party domination of the political system and embraced a market economy and free and fair elections. According to the State Department, U.S. policy toward Guyana seeks to support robust and sustainable democratic institutions, an empowered civil society, economic growth and development, and stability and security…

However, even the “Freedom in the World 2023 Country Report on Guyana” by US-based NGO ‘Freedom House’ paints a very different picture with respect to the current political leadership and social and economic conditions in the country:

The president, who serves as both chief of state and head of government, appoints the cabinet, though ministers are collectively responsible to the National Assembly. Parties designate a presidential candidate ahead of National Assembly elections, with the winning party’s candidate assuming the presidency for a maximum of two five-year terms.

Long-delayed elections held in March 2020 were marred by serious attempted fraud. The High Court ordered a recount, but political and courtroom maneuvering continued for months until the government of then president David Granger ultimately accepted the results of a recount showing that Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had won the presidency…

Members of the unicameral, 65-seat National Assembly are elected to five-year terms… In the 2020 elections, the PPP/C won 33 seats, Granger’s coalition of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) won 31, and a coalition of opposition parties was allocated 1 seat. European Union (EU) observers said the campaign was competitive and generally free, although polarization, unregulated campaign finance, and a lack of transparency characterized the pre-electoral period.

The EU observers said the poll’s integrity was “seriously compromised” by the manipulation of results by senior Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officials. The eventual allocation of seats was based on a recount approved by Caribbean Community observers…

Although observers characterized the 2020 polls as generally free, EU observers described GECOM as dysfunctional, polarized, opaque, and derelict in its duty to stop its officials from interfering with the results…

In terms of some other relevant aspects and details related to the integrity and impartiality of State institutions, the board of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority is appointed by the president, several of the most senior positions in the judiciary have not been filled for up to twenty years, while the appointment procedures for the ‘independent’ board established to monitor the recently created Natural Resource Fund (which has the task of monitoring the management of State income from natural resource exploitation, including the huge oil and gas revenues) – and the board’s functions and capabilities more generally – leave it susceptible to influence and manipulation by the government and by senior officials from the Ministry of Finance in particular. Usually, in political science these would be considered indications of a significant degree of vulnerability among key State institutions to obstruction, paralysis or capture by the ruling political/ corporate factions, their benefactors and other powerful vested interest groups.

Apart from unconditional ‘diplomatic’ backing and support, presumably the Guyanese government is also getting some additional pointers on press freedom from their democracy, freedom and liberty loving patrons and mentors in the US and UK; maybe their patrons have offered to make available some spare jail cells to house and interrogate troublesome journalists in Belmarsh Prison once Julian Assange is extradited to the US (or Guantanamo Bay)? Nonetheless, although the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority and several major media outlets in the country have been accused of chronic pro-government bias even in normal times, there is still a considerable degree of press freedom and critical coverage notwithstanding that on occasion government officials have filed defamation cases against journalists (with criminal defamation charges punishable by up to two years in prison).

Recent developments related to the territorial dispute with Venezuela

In terms of the territorial dispute with Venezuela, the Guyanese government has clearly placed complete confidence in the United States to threaten and bully Venezuela into submission, or in a worst case scenario to protect the country in the event of an armed conflict (perhaps even to protect and prop up ‘the regime’ and defend Exxon Mobil’s assets in the event of widespread social/ political protests or disturbances within Guyana itself). While President Irfaan Ali has also claimed in statements to the media that he is building a regional coalition to consolidate his government’s position against any possible threat from Venezuela, the United States, the United Kingdom and France are the only countries that have declared their full and unconditional support for Guyana’s claims and demands so far (which, as noted above, entails Guyana maintaining full and effective sovereignty over all contested areas until the International Court of Justice issues a ruling to decide the matter – the absolute insistence on this point raises the suspicion that the US has assured the Guyanese government that the ruling of the ICJ will be very favourable for Guyana – and Exxon Mobil).

A statement on the territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana issued by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States following a meeting with Guyanese Prime Minister (Brigadier) Mark Phillips in early November of this year is illustrative in this respect. The following quote is quite lengthy, but is included as a representative sample of the supposedly impartial role that is typical of the attitude of many international organizations long dominated by the US:

We have listened to the message of peace of the Prime Minister, and we expect Venezuela to do the same, and to stop provocations; to stop intimidation; and to stop the concentration of military forces in the border.

There should be no ambiguity concerning the facts of Venezuela’s contention with Guyana, and I wish to clear that the October 3rd, 1899 Arbitral Award, which has determined the boundaries between The Co-operative Republic of Guyana and The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, continues to be the legally-binding instrument that remains in effect today, while yet a decision is impending at the International Court of Justice to peacefully settle Venezuela’s boundary dispute with Guyana.

There has been no suspension or nullity of the aforementioned 1899 Arbitral Award while both countries await the ICJ’s decision, and therefore respect for Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereign rights must be exercised by Venezuela…

At all times, CARICOM has been fervent in their resounding support for Guyana and “remained unwavering in its determination to preserve Guyana’s territorial integrity.” In July 2016, recognizing that any discord in the Caribbean region affects not only one, but all, the “Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have taken a strong position in support of a juridical settlement for the peaceful resolution of the long standing claim on Guyana’s territory by Venezuela.”

And on September 22, 2023 and October 25, 2023, CARICOM further expressed its hope “that Venezuela will engage fully in the process before the International Court of Justice” as “the Court’s final decision will ensure a resolution that is peaceful, equitable and in accordance with international law.”

Therefore, it is disingenuous for the regime in Venezuela to call on CARICOM last month to facilitate talks between itself and Guyana, when the matter is presently before the courts. While parties can decide to settle matters outside of Court, there is a plethora of evidence that suggests that such a settlement outside of the juridical process will not be forthcoming after several years of failed negotiations between Venezuela and Guyana.

Guyana has made its position clear: the border dispute will be settled at the ICJ, and whatever the outcome of the Court’s decision will be, it will be respected and enforced.

Thus, it is my utmost belief that this request by the regime of Venezuela to suggest that CARICOM be the mediator in this ongoing border controversy is intentionally divisive and does not come in good faith, as it seeks to undermine CARICOM’s unity in its defense for Guyana’s sovereign rights and respect for international law.

However, if there is anything that I am certain of is that the Caribbean constituency, as it has been said today, remains united in the face of this territorial threat.

We ask why the Venezuelan regime is acting so desperately in its attempt to annex foreign territory, which is an action of extreme consequence due to its illegality, when it has sufficient issues to prioritize and rectify for the preservation of its own people…

The initiator of this territorial dispute is Venezuela, and at all times Venezuela has issued spurious and offensive claims against Guyana to suit a farcical and false narrative to discredit the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award. There is no coincidence that the propaganda machine has ramped up its efforts to discredit the 1899 Arbitral Award once oil resources were discovered in Guyana in 2015…

Additionally, “the OAS General Secretariat continues to support the Co-operative Republic of Guyana’s sovereign right to practice its franchise on its established and appurtenant maritime area, in accordance with international law and the principles of the United Nations…

I think it is clear that Venezuela can expect nothing but a hostile, disparaging and prejudiced hearing in such forums (for example, while a detailed examination of the matter is beyond the scope of this report, in terms of the so-called ‘farcical and false narrative to discredit the validity of the 1899 Arbitral Award’, apart from the fact that two of the four members of the ‘international tribunal’ were British it is worth noting that one of the legal counsels who participated in the proceedings later denounced them as contrived and fraudulent, some details of which were subsequently outlined in a posthumous memorandum published in the American Journal of International Law: Mallet Prevost, 1949).

Returning to political developments within Guyana, in response to the referendum held on the 3rd of December in Venezuela the National Assembly of Guyana unanimously passed a resolution denouncing the referendum purporting to claim all of the disputed territory within the new Venezuelan State of Guayana Esequiba, and affirming that all of the territory in ‘Essequibo belongs to Guyana’. The proceedings in the National Assembly also unanimously supported President Irfaan Ali’s posture that the boundary is not up for bilateral discussion and that the matter must be resolved by the International Court of Justice. (As noted above, the Venezuelan National Assembly has also unanimously supported the Maduro Government’s overall position and actions so far.)

While such a posture by the National Assembly is to be expected in the highly charged atmosphere of super-patriotism on both sides, in what could be a worrying development Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton recently noted with some alarm that according to government estimates there are over 21,000 Venezuelans residing in Guyana, calling on the government to ‘curb the influx’ and establish ‘a comprehensive screening and monitoring system for Venezuelans to ensure the safety of citizens in the hinterland communities’.

As noted in the first section of this report, in a somewhat surprising development numerous countries in South America and the Caribbean have taken the initiative, urging both sides to de-escalate the situation and commence negotiations to resolve the dispute, with CARICOM and Brazil taking a leading role in these diplomatic efforts. As a result of their rapid and determined action Irfaan Ali eventually agreed to meet with his counterpart Nicolas Maduro, however prior to the meeting he categorically ruled out discussing the border dispute in media statements, insisting that the International Court of Justice is the only agency with the authority to decide the matter and that there is therefore nothing to discuss. The bilateral meeting was held on the 14th of December between the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana, hosted by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (Ralph Gonsalves) and also attended by numerous other Heads of State and senior representatives of CARICOM and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), including a senior diplomat sent by veteran Brazilian President Lula de Silva.

As already noted Irfaan Ali refused outright to even discuss the territorial dispute prior to the meeting, leaving one to wonder what the two Heads of State and their many distinguished hosts and guests would talk about: the weather? Maybe the latest celebrity scandals or adventures and proclamations of the royal family? Sports are definitely out as a viable topic for conversation – Guyana doesn’t have a national soccer or baseball team worth mentioning, and Venezuelans don’t even know what cricket is.

As it turned out however and against all odds, as a result of the meeting the two presidents agreed to sign the ‘Joint Declaration of Argyle for Peace between Guyana and Venezuela’, which includes as general principles that that neither country will threaten the use of force against the other, that all controversies and disagreements will be resolved in accordance with international law, and that both sides will refrain from taking any steps that could escalate the conflict. They also agreed to establish a Joint Commission to examine relevant topics, and to meet in Brazil within three months to continue discussions. This was indisputably a major achievement for regional diplomacy, providing some crucial breathing space and an opportunity to conduct a thorough reappraisal of the situation in a calm and constructive setting.

Some additional comments on the geopolitical context

The disparaging tone adopted by the Guyanese president prior to the scheduled meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart suggests that he has total confidence that his servility to Washington and the enormous economic windfall gains and strategic value of the reserves that Exxon Mobile is exploiting guarantees him an unassailable position in the dispute. Apparently he has not followed developments in Ukraine, where similar unconditional support from the United States to the regime of the day and the latter’s supreme arrogance and assertiveness in its dealings with Russia has resulted in the utter devastation of the country (although Zelensky remains untouched by the conflagration he has contributed to in no small part, it is far from certain that he will emerge from the ruins unscathed to enjoy the reportedly many millions of dollars he has stashed away in offshore accounts).

Another rough parallel can be noted with the geopolitical context of the NATO-Russia War being waged in Ukraine – the US elite is so obsessed with destabilizing and ultimately ‘regime changing’ if not destroying the Russian Government and Russia itself that, while gleefully reporting and sensationalizing every real or alleged contradiction, disagreement and dispute within the ruling circles in Moscow and the regions as a certain sign that the Russian Government is on its last legs, they ignore or remain ignorant as to the extent to which the war is multiplying and deepening the contradictions and disputes within the Ukraine, NATO, and even within the US itself. Consequently, it cannot be ruled out that the US will continue to encourage the Guyanese Government to pursue a policy of ‘maximum confrontation’ at any cost and oblivious to the many risks involved, both in order to protect the extremely lucrative concession granted to Exxon Mobil (and block any attempt to review and modify the terms of the agreement) as well as to try to create additional openings to weaken, destabilize and overthrow the Venezuelan Government.

The Guyanese Government generally maintained a prudent distance from the hybrid warfare campaign being waged by the United States ‘regime’ to destabilize and overthrow the Venezuelan Government from 2002 until around 2020, refusing to become entangled in the devious and potentially disastrous plots to sow economic and social chaos in Venezuela and encourage and actively support widespread politically-motivated violence and conflict. However, more recently Guyana has significantly increased its bilateral relations and military cooperation with the United States at the same time as the tensions with Venezuela over the territorial dispute have intensified, playing host to a succession of high-ranking US officials from the Secretary of State to the commander of the US Southern Command as well as to a series of ever more extensive joint military exercises leading up to what has become a substantial US military/ intelligence presence in the country. In this respect, an editorial in a Guyanese newspaper (Kiaeteur News, 19 September 2020, “What did the Guyanese people get from Pompeo’s visit?”) following Mike Pompeo’s fly-by visit in 2020 commented:

Mr. Pompeo came and got all that he wanted. What did the Guyanese people get? What did we, as citizens, get? Let’s make this personal: what did you as Guyanese get from this visit? Absolutely nothing!

The US Secretary of State came and left with his maritime agreement. He left just the promise of a few pennies, some for Guyanese and some for the Venezuelan refugees coming into Guyana.

Once again, Guyanese got nothing, and are left empty-handed. Here we are, caught in the middle, between Exxon and Venezuela and we have nothing to show for it. We Guyanese don’t even know the full details regarding oil deals conducted on our behalf, by our political leaders with Exxon.

We could not even get a peep out of Mr. Pompeo about the oil-rich Canje and Kaieteur blocks, which are long shrouded in secrecy. Everybody benefits handsomely, except Guyanese who are forced, yet again, to be contented with poverty.

Look carefully post-Pompeo. America benefits. Exxon continues to benefit. Guyanese political leaders benefit because their deceptions are concealed. Only citizens come out poorer. We ask about Canje and Kaieteur and a wall goes up. We talk about oil and the man comes and talks about terrorism and drugs and the sea – the things that matter to America.

He protects his own, delivers to his own.

Meanwhile, Guyanese leaders in government will maintain silence about Canje and Kaieteur. What did you get? More falsehoods, foolishness and frauds that cheat you out of your birthright and future!

It is difficult to find a clear separation between the interests of Exxon Mobil and the US Government, with their respective relations and activities characterized by extensive personal and professional ties. Steve Coll (2012) has described how the company has become a “corporate state within the American state”, with senior executives typically maintaining close ties with senior figures in the US Government. For example, Coll notes that Exxon Mobil’s Chief Executive Officer from 1993 to 2005 (Lee Raymond) was a close personal friend of US Vice President Dick Cheney, while his successor (Rex Tillerson) left the company in 2017 to take up an appointment as Secretary of State in the administration of Donald Trump. Meanwhile: “In Guyana, it’s become hard to distinguish where the oil company ends and the government begins. Exxon executives join the Guyanese president in his suite at the cricket matches, and the vice president often holds press conferences to defend the oil company.” (Westervelt, 2023)

The people of Latin America and the Caribbean have a long history of these types of merged Imperial/ corporate projections and interventions from their neighbour to the North. The introductory comments to an online edition of Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket” describe that extra-ordinary American Patriot’s tireless efforts in the 1930s to expose and reform the United States’ militarized foreign policy which seems designed to justify and further expand a bloated and insatiable war machine whose primary purpose and objective is to increase the profits of US corporations in foreign countries:

But referring to Butler as ‘anti-war’ is not entirely accurate, as he saw himself as a crusader against war profiteers, and an isolationist in foreign policy, rather than a pacifist. He favored a defensive and accountable military, and suggested that the U.S. “build an ironclad defense a rat couldn’t crawl through.” Since his retirement from active service, Butler mainly invoked against capitalist greed:

“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested…”

Although the US shifted to a strategy based on covert subversion and intervention after World War II, the military invasions of Granada and Panama in the 1980s demonstrated once again to the people of the region the inherent risks associated with a substantial US military presence or deployment anywhere in the vicinity. While the Guyanese Government received a generally sympathetic hearing from CARICOM and some other States in the region at first, as the arrogance and intransigence of Guyana’s posture over the dispute becomes increasingly apparent (not to mention the gross corruption and procedural irregularities involved in the granting of the concession to Exxon Mobil, the not insignificant risk that the project could result in an environmental and economic catastrophe for the entire region at some point in the future, and the government’s naïve and reckless reliance on the US military to secure their unilateral territorial claims over the entire area in dispute along with their apparent willingness to be used as a base for provocations against Venezuela) it is possible that the initial expressions of support or sympathy that have been expressed in favour of Guyana from some regional quarters could evaporate.

Guyana: The Political Landscape and Major Social and Economic Factors

The system of government in The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is based on a sui generis presidential-parliamentary model. The President is the Head of State and is the leader of the political party that gains the most seats in the National Assembly. The President also appoints a Prime Minister (whose official title is the Head of Government) and the other members of the Cabinet. The position of prime minister is generally subordinate to that of the president.

The National Assembly is unicameral, comprised of between 69 and 72 members most of whom are elected pursuant to a mixed proportional voting system. Forty of the members are directly elected on a nation-wide proportional representation basis, while 25 are elected from ten separate geographically defined multi-member electorates. Several seats in the National Assembly are reserved for between two and four (unelected) Cabinet ministers, two parliamentary secretaries and the President of the Assembly, all of whom are appointed by the President of Guyana and do not take part in formal votes. In terms of local government there are 10 regional democratic councils each led by a council chairman.

A recent analytical report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS, 2023) states of the major social and cultural factors that have shaped and characterized political developments in Guyana since independence:

Political affiliations in Guyana often fall along ethnic lines. The ruling PPP/C, which traditionally has been supported by Indo-Guyanese, governed Guyana from 1992 to 2015. The largest party in the opposition APNU coalition is the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), which dominated the political system from independence until 1992 and draws support from an Afro-Guyanese base. The other main opposition party, AFC, identifies as a multiracial party…

The two main political coalitions referred to are the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic coalition (PPP/C) (which currently forms the government), and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)/ Alliance for Change coalition (the senior member of APNU being the People’s National Congress, which ruled from independence until 1992). As noted in the report by the CRS, the main support base of the APNU/ AFC coalition (which governed from 2015 to 2020) is among Guyanese of African descent (who make up approximately 30% of the population), while the main support base of the PPP/C coalition (which governed from 1992 to 2015 and again since 2020) is Guyanese of Indian descent (about 40% of the population). Guyanese of Indian descent also have a preponderant role in the economy and commerce. Around 20% of the population identify as being of mixed descent. The approximately 10% of Guyanese who are of Indigenous descent have no real representation in the political system and very little effective protection for their territorial and cultural rights. The recently formed Liberty and Justice Party, headed by Lenox Shuman, to some extent purports to represent the country’s Indigenous peoples, however without establishing this as an exclusive basis for the party’s policy platform, membership or agenda.

Summary and overview of key political factions and trends

While all of the national elections held since 2000 have been won by the narrowest of margins (by a coalition led by either the People’s Progressive Party or the People’s National Congress), those held in 2000 and 2020 were followed by widespread and in some cases violent protests amid claims of fraud (Commonwealth Governance, 2015). With respect to the most recent elections:

Current President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) coalition won the country’s March 2020 elections, defeating incumbent President David Granger, who led a coalition consisting of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC). In the National Assembly, Ali’s PPP/C took a majority of 33 seats, the APNU/AFC coalition won 31 seats, and a smaller party won the remaining seat. Marred by allegations of fraud, final elections results were delayed until August 2020 after a recount by a CARICOM team and multiple legal challenges by supporters of the previous Granger government…

After his inauguration (in 2020), President Ali appointed retired military leader Mark Phillips as prime minister and former President Bharrat Jagdeo (1999-2011) as vice president. Some observers contend that Jagdeo, who was constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term, plays a key role in policy decisions… (CRS, 2023)

As noted above, the assessment by ‘Freedom House’ commented that the organization and conduct of the voting process by the national election commission was “dysfunctional, polarized, opaque, and derelict in its duty to stop its officials from interfering with the results…” Meanwhile, the huge influx of oil and gas revenues, disbursed and received for the most part by a limited range of politically connected sectors, economic elites and foreign companies, could exacerbate existing social and ethnic tensions and polarization within the country as well as further fuelling the rampant corruption that characterizes many State institutions and financial/ economic sectors. In this context the government has been blocking the investigation of several high profile corruption allegations over the last year involving some of the most powerful figures in Guyana, which could have major consequences in terms of future developments (discussed below).

There is however another significant – it would not be an exaggeration to say on numerous occasions decisive – factor that has moulded and shaped the native political forces in Guyana since the formative period of the struggle for independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, one that is not even mentioned in the reports by the Congressional Research Service, Commonwealth Governance or Freedom House. That factor is the clandestine role of the CIA and MI6 as kingmakers – along with their multitude of analogues, corporate and NGO fronts or collaborators, agents, recruits and assets – among the rival political parties, factions and personalities in Guyana for much of the last sixty years. In this respect, in a detailed analysis of political change, democracy and human rights in Guyana political scientist Ivelaw Griffith surmises of the country’s first 30 years of post-independence rule:

The annals of Guyana’ s political history will surely record 1992 as an historic year, for that year was a milestone in the transition from authoritarian politics to democratic politics. Also significant was the emergence from the political wilderness of Cheddi Jagan. Having first entered politics in 1946, Jagan was ousted from power by the British in 1953, and again in 1964, in collusion with the USA, because of his communist orientation. Ironically, though, it was the USA itself that helped to engineer his return to power in 1992. The circumstances that led to the re-emergence of Jagan, and his re-emergence itself, have ushered in a new era in Guyanese politics, one which spotlights the triumphs and pitfalls of democracy and human rights in South America’ s only English-speaking republic…

Similarly, in a recent article for The Intercept Amy Westervelt (2023) notes that:

“(In the early 1990s) Guyana was just beginning to build an independent democracy. In 1992 the country had its first completely free elections, and Cheddi Jagan – the candidate the CIA had spent decades trying to defeat – was elected president. His government made two significant moves: it proposed major reforms to the constitution and passed a comprehensive Environmental Protection Act that established Guyana’s EPA…

(Prior to 1992, for several decades Guyana had been wracked by) political turmoil kicked off by U.S. and U.K. concerns that Guyana was becoming a ‘new Cuba’. Infiltrating various political groups and stoking racial tensions, the CIA and its allies in Britain successfully destabilized the country and installed a leader who suited them…”

The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency proved to be particularly significant step for recent developments, discussed in more detail below. More generally however, while the 1992 elections have been widely hailed as a major turning point in the country’s transition from an authoritarian State and socialist economy to a free and fair liberal democracy (and free market for the economic elite and ‘foreign investors’), some commentators have noted that many of the practices of political and economic patronage, cronyism and corruption continued in the subsequent period (including by Cheddi Jagan, who largely abandoned his calls for fundamental constitutional, political and economic reform once he achieved power and indiscriminately replaced many of the People’s National Congress ‘apparatchiks’ in the State apparatus with People’s Progressive Party apparatchiks; see for example Ivelaw, 1997).

Thus, apart from the persistent challenges posed by widespread corruption, cronyism and maladministration in a wider context of intense and mutually reinforcing polarization along political, social, economic and ethnic lines (leading to occasional outbreaks of politically and economically motivated violence), as well as chronic poverty and the abandonment of many communities and social sectors by the State, Guyana has something else in common with Venezuela – its political and economic leadership, State institutions and influential civil society organisations have also been in the cross-hairs of clandestine plots and operations carried out by the US (and in this instance the UK) to influence political developments in their favour since even before the country had attained formal independence.

The National Security Archives has published a set of declassified documents along with contextual analysis related to the United States’ successful espionage campaign set in motion to prevent Cheddi Jagan from becoming prime minister prior to and following the formal granting of independence. The documents demonstrate that the CIA, the Department of State and other relevant agencies dedicated substantial effort and resources over many years evaluating the nascent political situation in Guyana and the ideological and geopolitical tendencies and alignments of any individual or group considered likely to have some influence, showering favours, resources and major career-enhancing opportunities and support on candidates and groups considered sympathetic to US interests while at the same time doing everything possible to prevent those considered not to be sympathetic to US strategic interests from attaining positions of power in the Guyanese government.

These were not some (ostensibly) rogue operations conducted by the likes of Oliver North and a plausibly deniable ‘off-the shelf’ enterprise run by retired or redundant spooks, dodgey businessmen and a hodge-podge of other ‘cut-outs’ and corporate fronts – the detailed assessments and action plans involved in organising and managing the espionage activities against Guyana were regularly reviewed and subject to the approval of President John F Kennedy himself. The figure ultimately selected/ approved/ tolerated to head the Guyanese Government after its formal independence in 1966, Forbes Burnham, ended up governing the country until his death in 1985 as the leader of the People’s National Congress party, which as noted above ruled until 1992 when Jagan was finally elected president (presumably the CIA was satisfied that by then he was sufficiently mellowed by old age to not constitute the slightest threat or inconvenience to US strategic or corporate interests in the region).

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Cheddi Jagan (L) and Forbes Burnham (R) early in their careers

In this context, it is also noteworthy that several key government figures since 1992 (including at least one president and one prime minister) have been retired senior (very senior) military officers (including the Head of State from 2015 to 2020, Brigadier David Arthur Granger – of the then ruling A Partnership for National Unity/ Alliance for Change coalition – and the current Prime Minister Mark Phillips is also a retired Brigadier of the Armed Forces, in this instance appointed by the leader of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic coalition). Many of Guyana’s military officers receive intensive training (and indoctrination) at military academies in the United Kingdom as a matter of course. The United States has also been increasingly active in bilateral military programs, which potentially provides an ideal setting for screening, cultivating, promoting and/ or recruiting selected individuals considered sympathetic to UK and US strategic interests.

I should clarify that this is not to suggest that any particular individual has fallen into the trap involving the subtle cultivation of sympathies or loyalties that could be adverse to Guyana’s sovereignty, independence and national interests. Nor that senior military officers should be excluded from politics after their retirement – their education and training is among the most rigorous available and no doubt they have much knowledge and experience to offer. It is however imperative that all involved be aware of and on guard against such risks (of the cultivation of divided loyalties or even of active recruitment). The fact that two of the key political figures of successive government’s formed by both of the main rival political coalitions have been retired commanders of the armed forces suggests the possibility of something more than a casual occurrence (moreover, in a period when the Guyanese Government has taken transcendental decisions that overwhelmingly favoured the United States’ strategic and economic interests).

Other pertinent examples and case studies that warrant further study in this respect would include the long list of School of the Americas alumni who went on to play a leading role in coup d’états in many countries throughout Latin America (of which a representative database is maintained by School of the Americas Watch), and Kwame Nkrumah’s description of the same ploy being used by the United Kingdom to maintain influence over Ghana’s military leadership and officials after the country’s formal independence, one tragic outcome of which (apart from the military’s support of the coup that ousted Nkrumah several years later) is that it was ultimately troops from Ghana who detained Patrice Lumumba resulting in his assassination shortly thereafter (described in “Dark Days in Ghana” – another of Nkrumah’s books, “Neo-Colonialism: The last stage of Imperialism”, goes into much more detail on the elaborate strategies and methods adopted by the Imperial powers to maintain political, military and economic control over their former colonies after independence).

Following his ouster by a ‘UK-backed’ putsch Nkrumah commented that after going through a training course at Sandhurst, some of Ghana’s senior military officers became ‘more British than the British’. They certainly know how to put on a good show in the elite military academies, the pomp and ceremony, maybe followed by a medal or two for ‘services rendered to the Crown’ along with some lucrative consultancy work. And a successfully completed training course in the UK or the US, duly accompanied by a glowing reference from the academy, often provides a big advantage over rival candidates when promotions are being evaluated upon their return to their native country.

The plight of the original inhabitants of Guyana

With respect to Indigenous rights, the ‘Freedom House’ report on Guyana notes in passing that: “Indigenous peoples face unauthorized encroachment and resource exploitation by outsiders. In September 2021, President Ali announced that the Amerindian Act of 2006 would be revised with a view to bolstering Indigenous land rights, and the government allocated funding for the project in July 2022…” Neither the reports by ‘Commonwealth Governance’ (produced by British Commonwealth officials) or the Congressional Research Service include any analysis of prevailing political, social and economic conditions and ongoing developments from the perspective of Guyana’s Indigenous peoples.

Other reports by Cultural Survival and the Indigenous Work Group on Indigenous Affairs provide more details on the political, economic and human rights/ civil rights situation of the original inhabitants of Guyana. As a starting point, the international Indigenous Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), which publishes an annual report describing ongoing developments in Guyana, commented of the 2020 elections:

“The Indigenous 11% of the people, mostly living in the hinterland, were invisible spectators during what was essentially a coastlander election struggle. The Liberty and Justice Party convened by Lennox Shuman, a former elected Arawak village leader, could not break the Stalinist cell structures of the two major parties and garnered only 2,667 of 464,563 votes (0.6%). However, by combining with two other new minority parties (thus totalling 1.1% of the vote), the LJP leader gained the only independent set in the 65-member parliament. He was the first Indigenous Deputy Speaker elected to the National Assembly.”

Meanwhile, the report by Cultural Survival states of the bipartisan political/ bureaucratic/ corporate quagmire that controls all State institutions and policies:

“Partly because a political solution appears remote at this time, legal reform is high on the agenda (of Guyana’s Indigenous communities and organisations). Legal reform is urgently needed as Guyanese law relating to Indigenous peoples is based upon legislation passed in the early twentieth century, which is in turn based upon 18th and 19th century colonial law and policy. Indigenous proposals for reform, and most programmatic activities, focus on recognition of rights in three areas: 1) autonomy and self-government; 2) lands, territories and resources; and 3) political participation rights.”

There are nine distinct Indigenous peoples located in the territories claimed by Guyana. While most of the descendants of the colonial invaders, immigrants (‘settlers’), indentured labourers and slaves live in a relatively concentrated area on the coastal plains, most of the Indigenous peoples live in small communities scattered throughout the remaining 80-90% of the territory much of which is covered by largely inaccessible tropical forests and savannahs. Whereas they only constitute around 10% of the total population, in many of these remote regions they constitute well over half of the resident population.

Throughout their successive Imperial incursions into the region, the Dutch and the British refused to recognise the sovereignty and rights of the original inhabitants, invading and usurping their land and resources and forcibly displacing or absorbing their communities as the colonial enterprise expanded. Although most Indigenous communities remained beyond the permanently occupied colonial frontier until well into the twentieth century, the successive colonial regimes asserted that all rights to land stemmed from the Crown and that all areas not subject to a specific grant or concession from colonial authorities was unalienated Crown land, thereby denying and purporting to extinguish the sovereignty and all inherent rights and interests of the original inhabitants.

However, immediately prior to independence the UK stipulated that the new Guyanese State must recognise “the ownership of lands, rights of occupancy and other legal rights held by custom or tradition” by the Indigenous inhabitants, a condition that was duly included in the Independence Agreement of 1965. To this end an Amerindian Lands Commission was created in 1966 which held consultations with Indigenous communities throughout the territory claimed by Guyana before publishing a final report on the matter in 1969.

Among the Commission’s recommendations was that 128 Indigenous communities receive legal recognition and official land titles to approximately 24,000 square miles of their ancestral territories (the Indigenous peoples had requested recognition of their ownership of 43,000 square miles). Of this, as of the year 2000 land title had only been recognised to 6,000 square miles of these territories (in two tranches consisting of the recognition of legal title to 4,500 square miles in 1976 and another 1,500 square miles in 1991). There was also statutory recognition of a limited form of self-government within Indigenous territories and communities (made up of ‘village councils’ and a ‘Captain’ as a type of local mayor or governor), however they had very few resources and their powers and functions were subject to oversight, regulation and intervention by State officials or the government of the day.

Hence as of the year 2000 more than fifty Indigenous communities remained without any legal recognition of their ancestral territories at all, and the land titles that were issued were subject to statutory limitations and restrictions that left them vulnerable to encroachment, usurpation or expropriation by the government of the day. The government had effectively frozen the land titling process after 1991. Meanwhile, over the intervening period encroachments into their territories intensified dramatically and by the year 2000 gold and diamond mining concessions covered around 35% of the total territory claimed by Guyana while logging concessions covered over 40% of that territory.

Both ‘legal’ and illegal resource exploitation activities by non-Indigenous Guyanese individuals or companies (as well as by foreign corporations in some cases) had devastating environmental and social impacts in many regions, disrupting access to traditional areas and resources, resulting in the destruction or severe contamination and degradation of local ecosystems, water sources and fish stocks, and leading to the establishment of unruly and chaotic enclave communities of settlers dedicated to opportunistic and uncontrolled logging and mining activities. Between 1989 and 1994 it was estimated that small-scale gold miners dumped 50 tons of mercury into the environment, while the annual rate of gold production and the uncontrolled dumping of mercury and other waste products continued to increase over the years that followed.

After many years of delays and prevarications a Constitutional Reform Commission was created in 1999 comprising 10 political party representatives and 10 civil society representatives to report to a Parliamentary Select Committee. After determined lobbying it was eventually agreed that there would be one Indigenous representative on the Commission. While the new Constitution includes a brief statement recognising the country’s Indigenous peoples in the preamble, there are no substantive provisions to provide clear and unambiguous territorial and cultural rights and guarantees with appropriate administrative mechanisms and enforcement procedures.

The Amerindian Act was also amended in 2006 but its provisions continue to provide weak and ineffective protection for Indigenous rights and the governments that have since been formed by both major coalitions (led by the PPP and PNC respectively) have continued to delay and obstruct implementation and enforceability of most of the rights that have been recognised as a matter of routine (albeit unofficial) State policy and bureaucratic practice.

Although the number of villages that had received communal land title over their ancestral territory increased to 97 by 2015 no new Amerindian titles were issued between 2016-2018, and the titles that had been conferred generally only recognised a small portion of each community’s ancestral territory. There was however much more enthusiasm and alacrity demonstrated by the respective politicians and bureaucrats for the unimpeded granting of logging and mineral exploration licences and concessions in Indigenous territories:

“The lack of progress in the … (land title procedures) has allowed the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission to continue to issue mining concessions for prospecting and production over Amerindian customary lands even when applications have already been filed for statutory land title or extension of title. The cheaply acquired and cheaply retained mining concessions are treated legally as property interests, which then prevent the issuing of statutory land title to the Amerindian community…” (IWGIA, 2020)

Moreover, requests by some communities for a consolidated form of collective title in specific districts have been rejected by State officials, resulting in the fragmentation and dispersal of small Indigenous territories in the form of individual and isolated village titles.

Unresolved Corruption Cases – The plot thickens…

Notwithstanding the many reports noting the susceptibility of State institutions to corruption and undue influence or capture by specific political factions and other vested interest groups, it is clear that some State institutions and officials (and at least one member of the judiciary) in Guyana have performed – and are performing – their duties and responsibilities admirably, foremost among these being the Office of the Auditor-General. Meanwhile, the ‘Fourth Estate’ is also surprisingly alive and well in at least some instances, and would provide a wealth of lessons and examples for any Western government or ‘free press’ media agency.

In one notable case of supreme relevance to ongoing developments and specifically to the offshore oil and gas projects of Exxon Mobil, allegations of corruption concerning Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo surfaced following an undercover report by US-based Vice News in 2022 (as noted above, Jagdeo is probably one of the real powers behind the throne in the Guyanese Government). One year later an intrepid local media outlet reviewed key developments related to the allegations and their investigation/ cover-up by the current government (Kaieteur News, 2 July 2023, “One year later… VP Jagdeo yet to be investigated for corruption allegations in hydro deal, oil sector”):

“More than a year has passed since Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo was accused by his friend, Su Zhi Rong in an exclusive Vice News documentary of accepting bribes in the oil sector and for the planned Amaila hydro project, but to date an independent investigation is yet to be conducted…

(In the documentary produced in 2022 by Vice News), a New York based under cover reporting agency that exposes corruption by political leaders, Jagdeo was recorded in his home having a conversation with two Chinese; one was his friend Su and the other, an undercover reporter posing as an investor (‘Chan’)…

(Discussing a prospective business deal, Su assured the undercover reporter that Jagdeo could make all the necessary arrangements, claiming): “Other amounts of money we’ve handled before have been much bigger, like from the oil company…” (Su also) claimed to have brokered among other deals, the Amalia Falls Hydro project reportedly won through the payment of a massive bribe…

The Vice reporters were also told by a timber exporter that: “Everything in this country is under the table. The whole country is like that. It’d be more worrying if they weren’t corrupt. Basically as long as you have a good relationship with the Vice President, you are set. You don’t need the president, the Vice President. One phone call will take care of everything…”

The publisher of Kaieteur News (Mr. Glenn Lall) demanded an immediate and thorough investigation into the allegations by an independent commission, stating in part:

“It’s frightening that these allegations were made in the Vice News documentary in which the men are heard saying that they deal with the bribery money for oil companies along with the hydro project that Jagdeo is still pursuing. What else is happening behind closed doors with the gas to energy project and more so the energy sector? …

The President of Guyana should and must order an independent investigation into these revelations and do so quickly. Time is not on the Guyanese people’s side: our resources can be depleted in a jiffy with today’s technology…”

Lall also noted that while the former Minister for Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman who signed the lopsided oil contract with Exxon has said that the deal can be renegotiated, Jagdeo instead of embracing the development has chosen to mock the citizen who made the suggestion…

Shortly after the Vice News investigation was aired, Transparency International Guyana Inc. (TIGI) also demanded that a Commission of Inquiry be established to investigate the claims of bribery and corruption made against the vice president:

Jagdeo has denied the US-based Vice News investigative report and President Irfaan Ali has indicated that there should be an investigation. In a statement, TIGI said it does not know how such spectacular investigations could be allowed to fester for so long without action on the part of the government especially after both President Irfaan Ali and Vice President Jagdeo were recorded as having agreed that an investigation was necessary…

The report by the US Congressional Research Service alludes to the controversy over the terms of the concession to Exxon Mobil, however it fails to even mention the allegations of corruption or other irregularities in the tendering process:

ExxonMobil is also the operator in two other offshore oil blocks in Guyana. In February 2023, Vice President Jagdeo announced Guyana’s plans to reclaim 20% of Exxon’s oil block. Critics maintain that ExxonMobil’s current contract with Guyana is unfavorable, with the country receiving less than 15% of oil proceeds…

Notwithstanding the public outcry following the corruption allegations, the investigations have not advanced and the contracts with Exxon Mobil have remained untouchable. In several instances key terms and details of the concessions and agreements are not even publicly available. Presumably not coincidentally, over the last few years more tax and other concession and production-based revenues have been waived by the Guyanese government than have been collected (this starting from a very low base which has been widely criticized as being extremely favourable to the consortium and detrimental to Guyana). Once again, quoting that intrepid bastion of the Fourth Estate in Guyana (Kaieteur News 21 November 2023, “Guyana waived US$2.8B in taxes to oil companies: earned less than US$1B”):

Since production activities commenced in Guyana in December 2019 on Guyana’s first Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel – Liza Destiny – the country began losing massive resources to the oil companies. The Production Sharing Agreement states at Article 15.1 that the contractor (ExxonMobil Guyana Limited) as well as its affiliates shall not be subjected to tax, value-added tax, excise tax, duty, fee, charge or impost in respect of income derived from petroleum operations, property held or transactions except as specified under the agreement…

A legal suit brought against these abusive tax giveaways by the Publisher of this newspaper, Mr. Glen Lall was unsuccessful as the Court dismissed the case in February of this year. An analysis done by Kaieteur News of the tax exemptions granted between 2019 and 2021 utilizing the Auditor General’s reports show that a whopping US$2.3 billion in taxes were waived to Exxon and other oil companies operating here, while the country only earned US$932 million. This means that Guyana lost more than two times the revenue it earned in tax waivers…

(The report goes on to note that the IMF) in a 2023 report has urged countries to cut back on concessions granted to oil companies as fossil fuel subsidies (to oil, coal and natural gas producers) surged to a record US$7 trillion in 2022 … costing the equivalent 7.1% of global gross domestic product. That’s more than governments spend on education (4.3% of global GDP) and about two thirds of what they spend on health care (10.9%)…

Thus Guyana could theoretically enter into an amicable and mutually beneficial joint management arrangement with Venezuela and still end up ahead in pure financial terms if the government simply stopped waiving the lion’s share of its already meagre legal entitlements pursuant to the Production Sharing Agreement and made Exxon comply with its side of the original bargain. How much of the revenue that the government has actually collected from the offshore project has been allocated to purposes that really benefit the vast majority of the Guyanese people is yet another open question.

The articles quoted above and other investigative reports cite numerous industry experts (and even a report by the IMF) all of whom confirm that the Exxon Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) and other relevant legal provisions, contracts and administrative arrangements are extremely detrimental to Guyana’s national interests (for example: Prashad, 2021: Westervelt, 2023: Kaieteur News, 2023). For example, one detailed investigation (Kiaeteur News, 23 July 2019, “Guyana-Exxon PSA definitely in bottom pile of worst contracts – Consultants”) cites the opinions of two experts each of whom have decades of experience in the negotiation and revision of these types of contracts:

During an exclusive interview with this newspaper recently, the former Presidential Advisor (Jan Mangal) noted that Guyana’s contracts are from a colonial era. But what is of significance, he said, is the fact that Guyana is being ‘recolonised’. The transparency advocate asserted that the nation’s leaders in politics and some businesses are being used as the local army for the colonisers. Dr Mangal said that this is a common strategy of colonisers and exploiters, which is, to create local agents to subdue and control the local population.

In other words, Dr Mangal said that the concept can be surmised as follows: ‘Make a few local business people and politicians rich from oil so they will work for the exploiters and so they will not work for their country folk.’

Also sharing similar sentiments that Guyana’s PSA with Guyana does stand out among some of the worst was University of Houston professor Tom Mitro. In his over thirty years experience in the industry, Mitro said he has never come across a PSA with more troubling provisions than those continued in the Guyana ExxonMobil deal…

Mitro added: ‘Normally the only time you see a PSA with highly favourable terms for the companies is in a province where there has been no exploration done or where they have only had dry holes in the past. And even then, the PSA is usually not as favourable as the one for Exxon and its partners operating in Guyana.’ Based on the dozens of contracts he has reviewed, Mitro said that undoubtedly the Guyana-ExxonMobil PS stands out as the worst…”

As another example of the many ways in which the odds have been heavily stacked in Exxon’s favour from the outset (Heads we win. Tails, you lose…), amidst the furore provoked by the multiple scandals and calls for an investigation of the arrangements made between senior government officials and the company, the World Bank even hired one of Exxon Mobil’s consultants and lobbyists in the United States to conduct an ‘independent’ appraisal of Guyana’s oil and gas laws (the consulting firm involved, US-based law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, eventually withdrew from the contract after its close ties to Exxon became known).

An investigative report by Amy Westervelt (2023) describes other grave procedural irregularities and substantive defects that continue to mark the relations between Exxon Mobil and senior figures of the Guyanese government and bureaucracy:

Guyana’s High Court handed down a historic ruling in May against both the country’s Environmental Protection Agency and Exxon Mobil’s subsidiary in the region. If it sounds strange that the EPA and Exxon were co-defendants in a case, yes, that’s precisely the point.

The case was brought on behalf of two Guyanese citizens, Frederick Collins and Godfrey Whyte. They accused the EPA of failing to enforce the requirements of its own permits by never securing a guarantee from Exxon or its subsidiary (Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited) that the company would cover all costs related to a possible oil spill.

“Guyana taxpayers are currently exposed,” Tom Sanzillo, director of financial analysis for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said. “The potential consequences for Guyana are catastrophic.”

That’s because Exxon’s drilling project is the riskiest kind: deep-water offshore drilling, which involves intense pressure bearing down on complex equipment. The conditions are similar to those that preceded the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, which spewed oil and gas throughout the Gulf of Mexico, costing BP $69 billion.

Exxon’s own environmental impact statements indicate that such a disaster in Guyana could send oil to the beaches of 14 different Caribbean islands, most of which depend on fishing and tourism – and all of which could hold Guyana liable for damages. The costs would be astronomical, which is why the permits for offshore drilling in Guyana require not only an independent liability insurance policy from Esso, but also an unlimited financial guarantee from its parent company to cover costs that exceed those covered by insurance.

Esso joined the case with the EPA, arguing that the plaintiffs were misinterpreting the law, that a deal had been worked out between the company and the agency, and that Guyanese citizens didn’t have standing to bring these sorts of cases anyway. Justice Sandil Kissoon ruled in favour of Collins and Whyte across the board, concluding that the insurance and guarantee requirements were clearly stated in Esso’s permit, the EPA failed to secure those assurances, and Guyanese citizens had every reason to question that failure.

“The EPA has relegated itself to a state of laxity of enforcement … putting this nation and its people in grave potential danger of calamitous disaster,” Kissoon wrote in a blistering 56-page ruling that called Esso ‘disingenuous and deceptive’ and the EPA ‘derelict, pliant and submissive’. Taking aim at the government and Exxon Mobil at the same time is a bold move that has some in the country worried for Kissoon’s safety, but advocates point to the ruling as confirmation that Guyana’s courts, at least, have not been captured by the oil business.

Not surprisingly, Exxon Mobil has been outspoken, aggressive and condescending following the referendum that was held in Venezuela in early December. Company executives directly defied and goaded Venezuela, making veiled threats and expressing the company’s unconditional support for the full extent of Guyana’s territorial claims. A recent news item by the State-owned media outlet Guyana Chronicle reports that:

Global oil giant ExxonMobil has maintained that operations in Guyana will continue amid Venezuela’s aggression to assert claims to the country’s Essequibo region.

“We are not going anywhere, our focus remains on developing the resources efficiently and responsibly, per our agreement with the Guyanese government,” the oil giant said in a brief statement on Monday.

Last week, ExxonMobil’s Chief Executive Officer, Darren Woods said that Guyana isn’t standing alone. Woods, during an interview on CNBC, said while the controversy is between the two nations, Guyana is supported by many international partners and has engaged the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“I’m not sure Guyana is standing on its own. We have all seen what happens when nations’ sovereignties are challenged and unilateral actions are taken. The world and the outside communities have grown pretty sensitive to that, so my expectations are there is broader support in the international community to make sure that the right process is followed [to] resolve this dispute…”

As far as I have been able to determine, none of Exxon Mobil’s major institutional shareholders (who between them control the company and are by far the main protagonists and beneficiaries of the controversial project) have made a pronouncement on the dispute. Maybe a perusal of prevailing mainstream media and social media platforms could be used as a proxy guide in this respect (given that many of them have the same shareholders).

In case you consider this claim to be preposterous, let’s very briefly examine the ownership of some of these social media companies and tech companies that control and manage such a large proportion of the world’s mainstream media outlets and most-used social media platforms (let’s say Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) – while the data for this section was compiled a couple of years ago, most of the fundamental aspects and trends probably haven’t changed much.

Although the largest individual shareholders and senior executives of these corporate behemoths receive almost all of the media attention in terms of the company’s strategic decision-making and management, the largest institutional investors of Twitter, Inc. (in 2020) were Vanguard Group (10.6%), Blackrock (7%), Morgan Stanley (6.1%) and State Street Corporation (4.5%) – between them, around 28% directly. However, this is probably a considerable under-estimate as the list is of the twenty largest shareholders and therefore doesn’t include smaller shareholdings, nor does it include the holdings of other subsidiaries or controlled entities (for example, Vanguard, Blackrock and State Street are also among the 5 largest shareholders of Morgan Stanley). The same corporate groups are also among the largest mutual fund holders through a range of investment vehicles.

Facebook acquired the WhatsApp messaging and calling platform in 2014. It acquired Instagram in 2012, and has purchased a variety of other technology and data collection companies with a wide range of capabilities such as face recognition technology. The largest institutional investors of Facebook are Vanguard (7.4%), Capital Research & Management (6.9%), Fidelity Management & Research (5%), State Street (4%) and Blackrock (2.4%) – between them around 28.7%. while the largest institutional investors of Google are Vanguard (7.4%), Capital Research & Management (5%), Fidelity Management & Research (4%), State Street (3.9%) and Blackrock (2.4%) – between them around 22.8%. And who owns CNN, for that matter, supposedly one of the bastions of the Fourth Estate and the ‘free press’? Apparently, through one or two degrees of separation AT&T is the parent company (via Time Warner). So who are the largest shareholders of AT&T? Vanguard (7.8%), Capital Research & Management (4.8%), State Street (4%) and Blackrock is 6th with (2.4%) – between them around 19%.

Not convinced that there is a perplexing and disturbing trend here? How about Silicon Valley then? Just to take two examples, the four largest shareholders of Microsoft are Vanguard (7%), Blackrock (4%), State Street (4%) and Capital Research & Management (4%): the four largest shareholders of Apple are Vanguard (7%), Berkshire Hathway (5%), Blackrock (3%) and State Street (4%) – in both cases, for a total of around 19% between them. The same financial/ investment fund monsters also have large stakes if not between them a controlling interest in many of the most influential mass media companies, weapons producers, oil producers, among many, many other key economic, industrial and technology sectors. (I have said it before and I will say it again – whoever the hell they are: Edgar, 2018a).

The case for revision of the original concession and supervision of project management

It is safe to say that absolutely the last thing that either the incumbent president (and vice-president) of Guyana or the shareholders and directors of Exxon Mobil want is a detailed and transparent public inquiry into the terms and conditions of the original concessions and contracts or of how they compare with Production Sharing Agreements in other countries, much less an investigation into how they have been administered by the current government, their economic associates/ accomplices, and other contracted expert consultants (usually from the UK or the US).

The accelerated and defect-ridden approval process followed by an extraordinarily rapid development of the project raises many questions as to how many corners were cut along the way (noted oil industry expert Daniel Yergin has commented that the project “is the fastest offshore oil development in the history of the world”). The potential for an unprecedented ecological catastrophe in the event that an accident occurs at just one of the already well over one hundred exploration and production wells should be of grave concern to the leadership and citizens/ subjects of every country and colony in the region.

Project details – Major production fields and wells

In this respect it is worth revisiting some basic facts and figures concerning the scale of the project and the gravity of the risks involved (based on a brief summary of the geographic extent and known environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil and gas spill on the other side of the Caribbean). The three separate oil and gas production projects that are currently on line (Liza-1, Liza-2 and Payara) are located around 200 kilometres offshore at ocean depths of between 1,500-2,000 metres (all are located in the ‘Stabroek Block’), while the wells drilled to access the oil and gas deposits (most of which are contained in pockets of oil-bearing sandstone reservoirs) reach depths of up to 5,500 metres. However, the company’s project overview describes another ‘large high quality reservoir’ located directly below the Liza field without specifying the depth: the document states that the Liza-1 well “was safely drilled to 17,825 feet (5,433 metres) in 6,660 feet (1,743 metres) of water”.

There have been at least 31 major discoveries so far in the Stabroek block. Most of the planned and existing exploratory wells are located at ocean depths of between 1,000-2,000 metres (up to a maximum depth of 2,735m at the ‘Ranger-1 well’ – total well depth 6,450m), while most of the oil and gas reserves scheduled to be exploited are also located at total depths of around 5,000 metres (up to a maximum drilled well depth of over 6,400m).

While most of the hydrocarbon deposits are located in sandstone formations, the Ranger discovery is located in an oil-bearing carbonate reservoir, which the company’s project overview document claims “demonstrated our ultra deepwater and carbonate exploration capabilities and it proved a new play concept for the Starbroek Block”.

The Liza Phase 1 development includes a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel with a production capacity of around 200,000 “oil equivalent barrels” per day (bpd) and a storage capacity of 1.6 million barrels. The project consists of four drill centres with 17 wells altogether (eight oil producing wells, six water injection wells and three gas reinjection wells). The Liza Phase 2 project includes the deployment of a second Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel with a production capacity of at least 220,000bpd. The project consists of six drill centres with 30 wells altogether (15 oil producing wells, nine water injection wells and six gas injection wells).

The Payara field is exploited by a third FPSO vessel which is also projected to produce up to 220,000bpd from ten drill centres consisting of 41 wells (20 production wells and 21 water and gas injection wells). A fourth FPSO vessel is scheduled to begin production in 2025 at the ‘Yellowtail Project’ (also located in the Stabroek Block) with a projected production capacity of 250,000bpd. The field is expected to operate six drill centres with a total of 51 wells (26 for production and 25 water and gas injection wells).  A similar scale project is planned to commence production at the ‘Uaru Project’ by 2027.

A separate ‘Gas to Energy Project’ is expected to commence operations in 2024, involving a gas pipeline from the Liza Phase 1 and Phase 2 projects to onshore gas processing facilities (with a planned capacity of 50 million standard cubic feet per day of natural gas).

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Three Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessels are currently operating

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Three Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessels are currently operating

The ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil and gas spill

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig was built in South Korea by Hyundai Heavy Industries (construction was completed in 2001). The oil rig was registered in Panama from 2001 to 2004 and thereafter in Majuro (in the Marshall Islands, another ‘flag of convenience’). The oil rig was originally commissioned by R&B Falcon but was later acquired by Transocean subsidiary Triton Asset Leasing GmbH (based in Steinhausen, Switzerland) and was operated by BP. In 2009 the oil rig drilled the deepest exploration well that had ever been drilled up to that time reaching a vertical depth of 10,683 metres (in 1,259 metres of water).

The oil rig was operating about 66 kilometres off the coast of Louisiana (in 1,500 metres of water) when it caught fire and subsequently sank in April 2010. The explosion and fire killed 11 people and injured 17 others; the emergency capping mechanisms failed and it took almost three months to cap the well, during which time it was estimated that approximately 3.2 million barrels of oil and an unknown amount of methane were released into the Gulf of Mexico (the largest marine oil spill in history – other estimates range up to almost 5 million barrels) affecting marine ecosystems and animals from the sea floor to the surface and ultimately reaching the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. A consolidated environmental damages settlement was eventually concluded in 2016 before a Federal District court for $20.8 billion, the largest in US history.

Due in part to the possible consequences for legal and financial liability, many of the official scientific studies related to the spill and the nature and extent of its environmental impacts were conducted in secrecy, and the adequacy and accuracy of available information and knowledge about many of these aspects remains controversial and disputed (Skytruth, 2016).

Dispute Between Venezuela and Guyana: Diametrically Opposed Territorial Claims to be Decided by Force or by Common Sense and Goodwill?

Deepwater Horizon on fire

The urgent need for a detailed revision of the Exxon project and related technical studies

As a first step of utmost urgency, it is submitted that all environmental impact assessment studies and technical reports completed by Exxon Mobil must be subjected to a thorough review with participation by experts from all countries in the vicinity interested in participating, particularly to review the nature and adequacy of emergency and disaster response plans of the project associated with a potential accident. As noted above, even the company’s own environmental impact studies concluded that a major accident at any of the production sites could seriously affect up to fourteen Caribbean islands in the adjacent region.

In addition, a permanent independent monitoring mission must be deployed to all major exploration and production facilities. With respect to the latter point, the investigative report by Amy Westervelt (2023) includes an interview with the former head of the EPA in Guyana:

Vincent Adams, a Guyanese petroleum engineer and former head of the country’s EPA, has been one of the agency’s harshest critics. “When I was working in the United States, we always had people at the offshore site 24/7 with the oil companies,” said Adams, who spent decades at the U.S. Department of Energy. “Because 99 percent of the time what they tell you is happening out there is not what is happening.” When Adams was tapped to run Guyana’s EPA, he planned to have monitors on board Exxon’s floating production vessels. “That’s all been cancelled. Even Exxon’s files and permits, which used to be in the document centre with everyone else’s, are under lock and key in the director’s office,.. There’s no oversight happening because Exxon does not want oversight.”

In this respect it is submitted that there is every reason to immediately suspend all exploration and production-related activities in the disputed maritime zone pending the findings and recommendations of a comprehensive bilateral or international (regional) expert investigation into the adequacy and accuracy of all geological, technical, social and environmental impact studies conducted to date (most of which have been conducted exclusively by the project proponents). And there is no reason not to.

Beyond the astonishing and profoundly disturbing risks involved with the project, the immediate suspension of all major resource development projects and related activities in the disputed zones (excluding, for example, Guyanese and Venezuelan fisherman and other local economic activities, of course) would serve as an exemplary notice and warning to other foreign investors who attempt to get control over and exploit lucrative resources in disputed territories or conflict zones prior to the resolution of the dispute. Resources located in areas affected by armed conflicts or territorial disputes often attract the most predatory and exploitative ‘foreign investors’, many of whom seek to further cash in on the region’s troubles by demanding large discounts due to the inherent risks involved.

In search of possible solutions and remedies

Of course, at the moment a mutually acceptable and mutually beneficial negotiated agreement (with neither side subjected to external pressure or threats) seems most unlikely. Nonetheless, it behoves considering what might be some alternative compromises and arrangements that could be considered to at least try to reduce the insuperable chasm that currently exists between the two sides declared positions, objectives and ambitions and seek a constructive path forward. As wildly far-fetched and optimistic as the following suggestions and comments are, I will therefore proceed to canvas some not necessarily entirely impossible alternatives in the event that a sufficient reservoir of good will and common sense might still be found among the protagonists.

A conceptual framework based on the principle of joint or shared sovereignty

More generally, in terms of exploring possible principles and arrangements to resolve the territorial dispute, a series of studies and consultations could be initiated with the objective of exploring the viability of a series of alternative transitional schemes and projects based on the concept of what could be described as joint, shared or concurrent sovereignty in specific localities and zones (always without prejudice to the underlying rights, claims and aspirations of both sides).

With respect to the offshore hydrocarbon fields, for some time a ‘rule of capture’ was advocated as applying to the exploitation of oil or gas fields (or other mobile resources such as groundwater) straddling disputed borders, i.e. that the first to exploit the resources thereby also acquired legal possession. However, the rule was criticised from many quarters, among other reasons because it encouraged wasteful and inefficient extraction methods or overproduction of the resource as each side scrambled to maximise their own share in a zero sum ‘race to the bottom’ (which could also greatly increase the risk of potentially disastrous accidents or incidents). Moreover, as Dominic Roughton (2008) explains:

In the practical world, drilling activities of any kind in disputed territory will often be met with protest from the other side involved, if not a visit from its armed forces. Consequently, the view of leading jurists meeting in 1985 was that international law did not at that point recognise the rule of capture. They noted, somewhat pragmatically, that – ‘No international rule of capture exists – although as a practical matter nations will aggressively pursue resources and conflicts may arise.’ … (With respect to disputed maritime areas, Articles 74 and 83 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – UNCLOS – state in part:)

“Pending agreement (on the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone or Continental Shelf), the States concerned, in a spirit of understanding and cooperation, shall make every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature and during this transitional period, not to jeopardise or hamper the reaching of the final agreement. Such arrangements shall be without prejudice to the final determination.”

Twin duties of co-operation and mutual restraint were then said to be imposed upon States to UNCLOS in relation to disputed maritime delimitations… In the ruling on the dispute between Suriname and Guyana the Tribunal stated:

“Articles 74(3) and 83(3) of the Convention impose two obligations upon State parties in the context of a boundary dispute concerning the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. The two obligations simultaneously attempt to promote and limit activities in a disputed maritime area…

The first obligation is that, pending a final delimitation, States Parties are required to make every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature… The second is that the States Parties must, during that period, make every effort not to jeopardise or hamper the reaching of a final agreement…”

In particular, the Tribunal appeared to have in mind the encouragement of arrangements for the joint exploration or exploitation of maritime resources as between States. It found support in previously decided cases on the basis of which it opined that:

“Joint exploitation of resources that straddle maritime boundaries has been particularly encouraged by international courts and tribunals.”

These principles of understanding, cooperation, of making every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, and of joint management and exploitation of common or shared (or disputed) zones and resources has facilitated the resolution of numerous intractable maritime boundary disputes, and could (theoretically at least) be just as relevant and useful for the interim status and management of terrestrial areas and resources.

In such a case, ideally all significant public/ State programs and activities and major economic or resource development projects in any given zone would be subject to consent by both sides, as well as by residents in the affected area. This could include as a preliminary concept that residents and communities in the disputed regions may accept the nationality and public services offered by either Venezuela or Guyana (or both), and that any major development project or major strategic decision be approved by both countries (preferably with a separate stipulation that they also be approved by a majority of the residents in the region affected).

There is to some extent a precedent in this respect along Venezuela’s north-western border with Colombia. The Wayuu people (the most numerous of the approximately one hundred Indigenous peoples in Colombia), having survived countless waves of European incursions and invasions over five hundred years and having retained effective sovereignty over significant tracts of their ancestral territory into the twentieth century before being overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers, are currently located on both sides of the border between the two countries. Following the signing of a bilateral accord between Venezuela and Colombia, it was agreed that the Wayuu may have both Venezuelan and Colombian citizenship, and may also move freely across the border.

Irrespective of the overall nature and specific terms of any agreement that might be reached between the Venezuelan and Guyanese governments, security arrangements would of course be crucial. A preliminary observation in this respect is that overall the residents in the region have managed to survive up to now without a significant military contingent to protect (or to prey upon) them, and their active and informed participation in all relevant consultation, planning and management procedures would be a necessary first step.

For example, with respect to the Indigenous communities located in the disputed regions, while I would never presume to speak on their behalf, going from a brief review of the available information it seems clear that the original inhabitants of Guyana owe no favours or obligations to the political and economic elite of Georgetown and beyond (Washington DC, London, New York, Geneva, etc. – I have no idea where the real owners of Vanguard and Blackrock reside). It might be that for many of the Indigenous communities in the disputed regions it doesn’t really matter much whether the centre of the native ‘metropole’ is in Georgetown or Caracas.

However, going by their own statements (some of which are cited above) the main concerns and most urgent priorities include: clear and unambiguous legal recognition of, and effective guarantees to be able to exercise, their fundamental rights to self-determination and territorial autonomy within their own communities and ancestral territories; protecting their territories against encroachment, invasion or usurpation by outsiders; suspending all logging, mining and other resource extraction/ ‘development’ activities that are taking place in their ancestral territories without their free, informed and prior consent as well as opportunities to participate in and regulate all economic and infrastructure projects that are taking place; assistance to guard against all other types of illegal activities, contamination and usurpations of their territories, natural resources and cultural heritage by outsiders, and to prevent the entry of any uninvited armed intruders into their territories and communities.

A brief overview of possible institutional and procedural reforms

In terms of possible institutional and procedural reforms related to individual resource development project assessment, one of many examples that could be studied as prototypes or models to adapt and modify to local contexts is the Resource Assessment Commission established in Australia in the early 1990s to conduct an independent expert investigation and evaluation of the respective economic, social and environmental benefits and costs of a proposed mining project at Coronation Hill.

This was and remains the only time a potentially commercially lucrative but environmentally and socially devastating mining project has been denied approval in Australia. As elsewhere, usually the Environmental Impact Assessment and related technical studies are conducted by the project proponent. I have never heard of a case where an EIA conducted by a proponent and their hired consultants concluded that the environmental and social costs outweighed the commercial benefits and that therefore the project should not proceed.

Although an independent Petroleum Commission has been proposed in Guyana for some time, it is submitted that a broader mandate and composition would be preferable to provide for participation by members and experts from other countries in the region in the case of major offshore development proposals at least (given that all countries in the immediate region could be severely affected in the event of a major accident). This would also greatly enhance the resources and expertise potentially available, the benefits that could be realised, and might facilitate and encourage other joint and cooperative research, development and environmental management programs and projects throughout the region.

An independent Environmental Research Institute

In terms of possible long term steps that could be considered, one would be the initiation of consultations and studies with the objective of establishing a permanent bilateral/ regional maritime environmental research institute (again, together with as many of the CARICOM countries as would like to participate, given that major offshore developments could affect them as well). Ideally such an institute would be capable of conducting all relevant scientific and technical investigations and studies related to the impacts of resource development projects as well as for the conduct or coordination and oversight of regular environmental monitoring and management studies and programs more generally. The legal and administrative arrangements and objectives of the institute could be loosely based on the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist established in Kakadu National Park in the 1970s (in the Northern Territory of Australia) to monitor the environmental impacts of a uranium mining project, for example.

This could be accompanied by the promotion of professional and research exchanges among scientific and technical institutes and universities in the region. To reinforce and provide strategic direction and continuity to such efforts, a joint request for certain areas to be listed under the World Heritage Convention and other relevant international agreements (such as the Ramsar Convention) could be made, possibly including or along with separate requests relating to the Amazon region and other areas of high environmental and cultural values.

Another relevant development that could be incorporated and built upon in some way is the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (TCA), signed in 1978 by Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The basic scope and objective of the TCA is to promote the harmonious development of the Amazon in order to facilitate an equitable distribution of the benefits, to improve the quality of living of its peoples, and to achieve the full incorporation of the Amazon territories into the respective countries’ domestic economies. In 1995, the member countries of the TCA created the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) to strengthen the implementation of the Treaty.

These steps could also explicitly incorporate the Accord of Escazú (Acuerdo de Escazú), an international treaty that guarantees the right of all people and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean to a healthy environment based on access to public information, public participation and access to justice in relation to environmental matters. Somewhat astoundingly, this is the first international Accord to be adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean that establishes clear principles, rights and obligations related to environmental protection and social justice (the Accord formally entered into effect in 2021).

The current crisis could in this way be used to demonstrate that the politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists and merchants of the region have finally accepted the urgent need to protect and carefully manage what remains of the ecosystems in each country for the posterity of future generations before it is too late, and to take clear steps to put this into effect – up until now such actions in Latin America have generally been limited to an occasional environmentally friendly speech, a few isolated environmental ‘Potemkin projects’ (usually financed by NGOs or international organisations), and the declaration of nature reserves in areas where no commercially valuable resources have been discovered (and which are often subsequently subject to widespread usurpation and illegal resource exploitation).

The prioritization of ‘economic development’ at all costs is understandable given that Latin America has one of the highest rates of extreme poverty and wealth inequality in the world. Nonetheless, the present situation could be used to test the viability of initiating a fundamental paradigm shift that recognises the vital importance of all ecosystems and of integrated environmental management not just to our quality of life but to our very existence, rather than simply perceiving forests, mangroves and other crucial ecological life support systems through the prism of how much timber, minerals and other natural resources can be plundered to prop up the next budget and make vast fortunes for a few politically-connected individuals and corporations.

This could be complemented by, for example, initiating a series of pilot projects among local communities and regions for diversified and integrated agricultural and sustainable forest resource production emphasizing support for local ownership, participation and value-adding production and marketing networks, by capitalizing on the enormous potential for ecotourism and ‘cultural tourism’, and by formulating a regional response to confront ‘biopiracy’ by companies and research institutes from ‘the North’ together with a strategic program to systematically build institutional, technological and marketing capacity in all of the countries in the region where most biodiversity remains.

Joint management of national parks and conservation reserves

As another example, one aspect could involve the elaboration of fundamental principles, purposes and objectives for the joint management of national parks and conservation reserves based on full recognition of the rights of the respective Indigenous peoples and other local communities (particularly rural and remote/ traditional Afro-American communities) residing in the area, including the right to grant (or withhold) consent for any proposed projects or activities within their traditional territories.

This could involve for example, in the case of national parks: a Joint Management Board and the appointment of senior executive managers and staff prioritizing local residents; joint participation in the elaboration and review of environmental, social and economic development plans and projects on the basis of equality and consensus; joint participation in the granting of commercial licences with preferential consideration given to local cooperative associations and ventures; joint participation in the approval and oversight of all environmental studies and research to consolidate baseline data, monitor processes of ecological change and conduct environmental and social impact assessments associated with major projects (in cooperation with relevant government agencies, scientific institutes and universities). The establishment and operational management of previously contested national parks in the Northern Territory of Australia (where the respective ownership and management rights and responsibilities of the Traditional Owners and the government were disputed for many years) provide numerous case studies and prototypes for how such arrangements can be planned and implemented.


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what that hell kind of article is this? i need 8 minutes just to scroll to the end.

should have been segmented in 48 parts. article could have been titled “guyana: a path to peace or a path to pieces?”

sadly, somtin, no nrgy left…


it’s a great essay including a list with credentials only thing lacking is the name of the author


if you see any double commenting from me, it means the orange text “awaiting approval” disappeared.

“karate buryat”


author is named, look again.


“written by daniel edgar exclusively for south front” says this at the beginning. =)


“karate buryat”


copy it and take your time to read it


will work on it friend.


re “unknown to the rest of latin america” it seems a common thing for brazilian youtube vloggers on moto-tours to take a day trip into guyana and also venezuela for a look about and some selfies with the border flags, and i think spanish and portuguese are quite well understood by many in guyana, especially on the borders.

stapo gestapo

amerikan intervene—only feces sense


in academics they say ” if you don’t have anything to say then say a lot, like say and say and say..”


anglo fascists try to instigate conflict everywhere they can steal resource


what an article for more fool worthy of a communist. how the people of guyana are going to give up prosperity, they have an average income of 15 thousand dollars and they were the second fastest growing country in the world. while venezuela has 90% of the population in poverty with a minimum salary of 5 dollars a month


they could, all venezuelans would live in guyana, venezuela and bolivia, the poorest countries in south america. venezuela, the most corrupt country in latin america, a dictatorship. but well, from moscow they encourage these dictatorships and their armed wings like this media. another one created to destabilize latin america