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Between Resources, History, and Disputes: The Esequibo

South America is a relatively peaceful region, but some internal conflicts persist. Constant social crises accompany political instability, organized crime proliferates, and territorial disputes of colonial origin remain unresolved. In this article, I invite you to discuss the history and future significance surrounding the control of the Esequibo region.

Before starting, it's crucial to contextualize the realities of the two countries involved in the dispute. Venezuela, located in northern South America, boasts vast oil reserves and natural resources. However, recent years have seen a severe inflationary process leading to successive waves of migration and a discredited government under Nicolas Maduro, often labeled as a dictator.

Guiana, an ex-British colony, shares more cultural ties with the Caribbean islands than with the rest of the continent and currently controls the disputed region. While experiencing exponential GDP growth in the past year, Guyana historically holds one of the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) scores in the entire continent.

The Esequibo is a region of 160,000 km2, an area roughly equivalent to the entire size of Uruguay or Greece. But how did this dispute start?

In 1814, England purchased a portion of land from the Netherlands, naming it British Guiana. These lands bordered the Spanish-owned Captaincy of Venezuela. However, the problem started when a British explorer tasked with delineating the western boundary, upon discovering gold, continued expanding the frontier further westward. Later on that century, the United States mediated between Great Britain and the newly formed Venezuela, resulting in a decision favoring the European country. Years later, irregularities in the decision surfaced, prompting the Latin American country to reject the measure.

Throughout the 20th century, Venezuela maintained its claims through multilateral conflict resolution organizations, but Guyana retained sovereignty over the region. 

The conflict has resurfaced in the last five years due to the discovery of one of the world's largest conventional oil reserves on the northern coast of the region. This development opens up two possible interpretations:

The Venezuelan government aims to divert attention from its poor economic performance by stimulating nationalist sentiment through a territorial dispute. Additionally, it believes that the vast oil reserves can bolster its weak public finances and strengthen Nicolas Maduro's government.

As for the second interpretation, Guiana sees Esequibo as an opportunity to lift itself out of poverty, which has plagued the country since its inception. Despite recognizing military weakness against Venezuela, Guyana has managed necessary alliances, primarily with the U.S., to counterbalance its military capabilities. Guyanese President Irfan Ali declared, "Our country is not alone, and our friends will not allow it to be attacked."

In conclusion, it is possible that strategic and military tensions will intensify in the medium term, with both countries mobilizing troops. However, due to international legal constraints, it appears challenging for Venezuela to be in a position to effectively take control of the region.

Editor: Sanjana Srinivasan


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