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What happens after Venezuelans approve the annexation of part of Guyana

Through a referendum, Venezuelans approved this Sunday (03), the annexation of an oil-rich region, which today belongs to Guyana. The area is the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between the two countries, fueled by the recent discovery of vast energy resources. The result was released by the government of Nicolás Maduro.

The area in question, the heavily forested Essequibo region, is equivalent to about two-thirds of Guyana’s national territory and is approximately the size of the US state of Florida.

This Sunday’s referendum (03), largely symbolic, asked voters if they agreed with the creation of a Venezuelan state in the Essequibo region, “incorporating this state into the map of Venezuelan territory.”

In a press conference, which announced the preliminary results of the first tranche of votes counted, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela said that 95% of voters chose “yes” for annexation.

However, it is unclear what steps Venezuela’s government would take to assert its claim.

Venezuela has long claimed the territory and argued it was within its borders during the Spanish colonial period.

The Venezuelan government, however, rejects an 1899 decision by international arbitrators that established the current borders when Guyana was still a British colony.

President Nicolás Maduro launched the referendum on social media.

Guyana called the move a step towards annexation and an “existential threat.”

Last week, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali visited troops in Essequibo and raised a Guyanese flag on a mountain overlooking the border with Venezuela.

The International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, ruled before the vote that “Venezuela must refrain from taking any action that would modify the situation that currently prevails in the disputed territory.”

The court plans to hold a trial on the issue, after years of review and decades of failed negotiations. However, Venezuela does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

What happens now?

The vote’s outcome was widely expected in Venezuela, although its practical implications are likely to be minimal, analysts say. Experts say the creation of a Venezuelan state within Essequibo is a remote possibility.

It is unclear what steps the Venezuelan government would take to follow through on the result, and any attempt to assert a claim would certainly be met with international resistance.

Still, the escalating rhetoric has led to troop movements in the region. The international community compared the case to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Many residents in the predominantly indigenous region are on edge.

“The long-running dispute over the border between Guyana and Venezuela has risen to an unprecedented level of tension in relations between our countries,” wrote Guyana’s Foreign Minister Robert Persaud.

Even without implementing the referendum, which would require more constitutional measures and the likely use of force, Maduro could gain politically from the vote amid a challenging re-election campaign.

In October, the Venezuelan opposition again attacked Maduro due to food shortages and high inflation.

“An authoritarian government facing a difficult political situation is always tempted to look for a patriotic issue so that it can wrap itself in the flag and rally support, and I think that’s a big part of what Maduro is doing,” said Phil Gunson of the International Crisis Group.

Source: CNN Brasil

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