The Venezuelan government has taken advantage of its ongoing dispute with Guyana to maneuver on its internal fronts, where it is once again raising the flag of international conspiracy. The foreign ministers of both countries spoke Wednesday to maintain channels of communication but at the same time the law for the creation of Essequibo State was presented in the National Assembly. On Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office — the judicial arm that operates in favor of President Nicolás Maduro — issued a series of arrest warrants against opposition leaders and former Chavista officials, alleging links with ExxonMobil, one of the oil companies that is exploiting the demarcated territorial waters of the disputed territory of Essequibo amid a diplomatic wrangle that it is in the hands of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Venezuela claimed Essequibo as its own after a referendum held last Sunday.
Among those named are several close allies of the opposition candidate María Corina Machado: Henry Alviárez, the national coordinator of Machado’s party, Vente Venezuela, communications chief Claudia Macero, Roberto Abdul, Pedro Urruchutu, David Smolanksy and Yon Goicochea. The list also included the main enemies of the government on social networks; the former Minister of Communications and Tourism under Hugo Chávez and Maduro, Andres Izarra, and Rafael Ramirez, a former Minister of Energy and Petroleum and ex-president of state-owned oil company PDVSA, who has been a vocal critic of Madurismo.
Prosecutor Tarek William Saab has denounced an alleged conspiracy surrounding the oil company to sabotage the referendum in which the annexation of Essequibo was approved. According to Saab’s version, the Venezuelan police arrested a U.S. citizen who allegedly used cryptocurrencies to evade financial controls to conspire against the holding of the referendum. The electoral authorities announced an “overwhelming victory” with 10.4 million votes cast, although the polling stations looked almost deserted and the disaggregated results have not been presented. The funds to attempt to disrupt the referendum would have been sourced, according to Saab, from money-laundering through foreign organizations and companies, among them ExxonMobil. “We are waiting to be formally notified about an alleged arrest warrant for crimes revolving around treason,” said Perkins Rocha, a lawyer for Vente Venezuela.
From the opposition, Machado is the leader who has most raised the flag for the defense of Essequibo. A plan similar to the one that Maduro presented this week — to install identification offices and deploy services to care for the population living in the 160,000-square-kilometer jungle territory — was proposed by the then-deputy during the presidency of Hugo Chávez. Machado asked to question then-Foreign Minister Maduro, because Guyana said that it had notified Venezuela that it would expand its continental shelf. She also proposed creating a navy outpost on the Cuyuní River. But this took place in 2011, the case was not yet in the International Court of Justice, and Diosdado Cabello, as president of the National Assembly, turned off the microphone during the debate to halt Machado’s intervention, declaring her out of order.
At that time, Chávez’s policy was to neglect territorial claims in exchange for securing the political support of the Caribbean countries in the construction of his petro-diplomacy. Now, as Maduro makes his play for control of Essequibo, Machado has categorically rejected the holding of the referendum, warning that it places Venezuela’s arguments in the ICJ at risk.
On Wednesday, Cabello presented the bill for the creation of Essequibo State under the Venezuelan flag. “Until elections are held, the government and administration of the state will be exercised by a head of government designated by Nicolás Maduro,” he announced during the debate in the National Assembly.
Essequibo crisis reaches the United Nations
The Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil responded to the declarations made by Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali this week. In Venezuela’s view, Ali “has given the green light for the presence of the U.S. Southern Command in the territory of the Guayana Esequiba.” Gil protested before the international institutions and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that the possibility of installing military bases is being opened to “an imperial power,” by supposed mandate of the transnational ExxonMobil, which has been granted oil exploitation rights in the waters to be delimited. During the presentation of what he called “the new map of Venezuela,” Maduro has given a deadline of three months to the companies that have received concessions in Guyana to withdraw from the territory and to dialogue with his government. This communiqué was followed by a telephone conversation between foreign ministers.
In the space of a few days, the territorial conflict has grown into a regional crisis. Guyana described Venezuela’s appointment of authorities in Essequibo and the annexation of the territory by means of a special law as an “imminent threat,” adding that its armed forces are on “maximum alert.” Brazil has mobilized military personnel and armored vehicles to the border with Venezuela and Guyana in the state of Roraima. Ali has stated that he is preparing to take Guyana’s case to the United Nations Security Council.
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