Caricom heads to discuss Essequibo dispute, Venezuela ramps up military action along border

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Guyanaese president Dr Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro greet during a meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines on December 14, 2023. – From President Dr Irfaan Ali’s Facebook

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne says the Essequibo dispute will be part of discussions at the Caribbean Community (Caricom) 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in Georgetown, which takes place from February 25-28.

This comes as international reports emerge that Venezuela is ramping up military operations along the border.

In a statement to Newsday, on Saturday, Browne said diplomatic actions by Caricom, including TT are ongoing.

“(The actions) remain geared toward the avoidance of any increase in tensions regarding the Essequibo region of Guyana. Much of these actions occur behind the scenes which is where a significant portion of diplomacy and dialogue normally occurs. Caricom Heads will be engaging further on this matter in the last week of February during the 46th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in Georgetown,” he said.

Satellite imagery by the Washington DC-based Center For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) taken between October 2023 and January shows what appears to be expansion works at a Venezuelan military base on Ankoko Island. The island was awarded to Guyana as part of an 1899 arbitral award but was seized by Venezuela in 1966 and remains under its control.

The CSIS said Maxar satellite imagery of the area from January 13 also shows armoured personnel carriers, construction materials, a heavy river ferry and the clearing of a new area to the north of the base, “likely where Venezuelan military engineers intend to build a Mabey Compact 200 bridge to the island.”

Furthermore, it said that while the foreign ministers of both countries were meeting in Brasilia, Brazil on January 25 to negotiate peace, videos from Venezuelan channels showed its military conducting an exercise on the island simultaneously. The news released by the US-based entity came just two days after US oil company ExxonMobil said it plans to explore for oil and gas in the waters off of the disputed territory, which is also contested.

The Essequibo region, currently belonging to Guyana, has long been disputed by Venezuela. In December 2023, tensions mounted as Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro put forth a non-binding referendum to his citizens to annex the territory.

The referendum, according to Venezuela, was resoundingly supported by the population.

Amidst the mounting tensions of war in the region, Maduro and Guyana’s president Irfaan Ali signed the Argyle Accord on December 14 at a meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines convened by its Prime Minister Ralph Gonzalves as head of the Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC). This accord was an agreement between both parties to withhold on escalating the conflict until an international adjudicator could settle the dispute.