“Cinco Veces Sí,” said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in a TikTok video, referring to his referendum campaign over the Venezuela-Guyana land conflict. The phrase roughly translates to “Yes five times,” encouraging Venezuelan citizens to opt yes on the vote that occurred on Sunday, December 3rd, 2023. The current region of Esequibo is claimed by Venezuela but ruled and governed by Guyana. The 61,600 sq mi (159,500 km2) that lies west of the Essequibo River is rich in oil and other minerals.
The dispute over this territory has been going on for over a century. Great Britain ruled Guyana in the 19th century. In 1835, the Schomburgk Line was set by surveyor and naturalist Robert Schomburgk. This was to be the border between Guyana (British Guiana) and Venezuela. In 1841, Venezuela protested and claimed territorial delineations. To avoid further conflict both Venezuela and Great Britain agreed to arbitration. The outcome of the border dispute, pronounced on October 3rd, 1899, was that the border would follow the Schomburgk Line
The Geneva Agreement occurred in 1966 and established that the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana must be settled with a viable approach. The dispute was brought up in 2015 when oil was discovered in the offshore waters of Essequibo. Three years later, Guyana brought the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ will take years to come to a decision, but on Friday, December 1st, they ordered Venezuela to not proceed with any action towards this dispute. However, although Guyana asked to stop the referendum from being carried out by President Nicolás Maduro, the judges at ICJ did not state that the country could carry out the vote.
Nicolás Maduro has been the president of Venezuela since 2013. He has actively pushed for the land of Essequibo during his presidency, including handing out altered maps, presenting state-wide televised history lessons, and intervening classes to encourage school children to openly support Essequibo's territorial claim. President Maduro has put his government to throw their full weight into this event, creating murals, rallies, Essequibo-themed music, and social media content.
More than 10.5 million votes were accounted for by The National Electoral Council. However, it needs to be clarified whether the number of votes was the sum of each answer or if it was equal to the number of voters. Few people were seen at the polling sites during the voting period. Yet, the results show that the majority support this referendum.
It is still not clear how President Maduro will move forward with the voting results. The citizens of Guyana are uneasy after witnessing the tension brought in by the referendum. The country believes this vote is one step closer to annexation.
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