US, UK back Guyana in border dispute with Venezuela

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Antony J Blinken –

THE US and UK Governments on Thursday sent clear messages of support for Guyana, amid Venezuela’s threat to annex the Essequibo region.

“Secretary of State Antony J Blinken spoke with Guyanese president Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali to reaffirm the United States’ unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty,” said a statement, posted on the US Department of State website.

Blinken reiterated the United States’ call for a peaceful resolution to the dispute, and for all parties to respect the 1899 arbitral award setting the Venezuela/Guyana border, unless/until the parties reach a new agreement or a competent legal body decides otherwise.

“Secretary Blinken and President Ali noted the International Court of Justice order issued on December 1, which called for parties to refrain from any action that might aggravate or extend the dispute.

“The secretary reiterated that the United States looks forward to working closely with Guyana once it assumes its non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in January 2024. The two leaders concluded the call by agreeing upon the importance of maintaining a peaceful and democratic Western Hemisphere.”

The United Kingdom condemned Venezuela’s intended grab for Guyana’s Essequibo region, in a statement on Thursday by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“The UK is concerned by the recent steps taken by Venezuela, with respect to the Essequibo region of Guyana.

“We believe this is unjustified and should cease. We are clear that the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration.”

The UK was the former colonial power controlling Guyana which before its independence in 1966 was known as British Guiana.

UK High Commissioner to TT Harriet Cross on Thursday via WhatsApp told Newsday, “The UK is clear that the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration and we continue to support this decision. We urge the parties to resolve this issue peacefully.”

The UK position was later elaborated by Foreign Secretary David Cameron, at a news conference with Blinken in Washington DC, which focussed mainly on the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

David Cameron –

Cameron said the two men had discussed the Essequibo situation.

“These borders were settled in 1899. I see absolutely no case for unilateral action by Venezuela. It should cease. It is wrong.”

He said he was delighted by the earlier announcement by the US on the matter.

“I hope to be having some telephone calls later on with the President of Guyana and others in the region to try and make sure that this very retrograde step that has been taken does not lead any further.”

The US and UK pledges of support came after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday announced several steps to take control of the Essequibo, including declaring it to be part of Venezuela, naming a military governor, telling Venezuelan companies to take charge of oil exploration there, and promising a census of locals to whom he promised Venezuelan ID cards.

Claiming a ten million turnout in last Sunday’s referendum, but which global media houses criticised as poorly attended, Maduro ordered Venezuela’s National Assembly to draft a law to establish “Guayana Esequiba” as Venezuela’s 24th state, portrayed as a part of his new map of an enlarged Venezuela.

Ahead of the referendum, Venezuelan troops were reportedly clearing jungle to build an airstrip near the Venezuela/Guyana border, even as Maduro has since vowed to administer the Essequibo from the Venezuelan town of Tumeremo.

US military flies over Guyana

The US military’s Southern Command said on Thursday it would conduct flights over Guyana as a security partner, in a statement posted on the Facebook page of the US Embassy in Guyana.

“In collaboration with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the US Southern Command will conduct flight operations within Guyana on December 7.

“This exercise builds upon routine engagement and operations to enhance security partnership between the United States and Guyana, and to strengthen regional co-operation.”

Dr Irfaan Ali –

The US Southern Command also promised to continue its collaboration with the GDF for disaster preparedness, aerial and maritime security, and countering transnational criminal organisations.

“The US will continue its commitment as Guyana’s trusted security partner and promoting regional co-operation and interoperability.”

Colombia and Brazil also each have a significant military capability in the area, as Venezuela’s neighbours, and have been training with the US Southern Command.

The US Southern Command Facebook page had two posts on Wednesday indicating a visit by head of the Colombian Military Forces (Fuerzas Militares de Colombia), General Helder Giraldo, to the command’s headquarters in Florida.

He met with senior leaders to discuss US-Colombia defense co-operation, said one post. Another post titled, Strengthening our partnership with Colombia, portrayed Giraldo and command vice admiral Alvin Holsey shaking hands and posing with a document, described as an Engagement and Co-operation Framework to strengthen bi-lateral co-operation in the areas of national defence and security.

The command’s website showed photos of heavily camouflaged US and Brazilian troops engaged in a training exercise from November 6-16 in Belem, Macapa, and Oiapoque in Brazil.

Titled Southern Vanguard 2024, the exercise was said to have involved 300 US Army and National Guard soldiers training alongside more than 1,000 Brazilian soldiers.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported Brazil’s Ministry of Defence saying its military was reinforcing its northern border due to rising tensions between Venezuela and Guyana after the referendum to annex the Essequibo. “The Brazilian army is moving armoured vehicles and more troops to Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state that borders both Venezuela and Guyana,” Reuters said.

On Thursday in a tweet on Twitter/X, Venezuela Minister of Defence Vladimir Padrino publicly introduced Major General Alexis Rodriguez Cabello (and another army official) as being named administrator of “Guayana Esequiba”. The trio ended by clenching their fists in the air and declaring in Spanish that the sun in Venezuela rises in the Esequiba.

Telesur gave an account of Padrino’s speech.

“Through collaborative work, the sole authority and the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will deploy all their logistical and human potential in the sector.

“We are already co-ordinating to promptly fulfill the mandate of the people with all the social policies towards the territory of Guayana Esequiba. There is no rest, no break, and we work for our Esequibo.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva told the Mercosur summit in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday of his growing concern at the Essequibo row, reported the DW news agency. “If there’s one thing we don’t want here in South America it’s war.

“We don’t need conflict. We need to build peace.”