World in View: Guyana in Venezuela’s gun sights

December 23, 2023

Poster denouncing Maduro’s authoritarian rule. Photo: NoonIcarus, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro recently rekindled a long-standing territorial dispute with its neighbor Guyana, formerly a British colony. He has claimed for Venezuela an area in Guyana known as Essequibo—an oil-rich region nearly the size of Florida, that comprises two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.

The struggle over Essequibo actually began during the Cold War when Venezuela, under anti-Communist President Rómulo Betancourt, was afraid of Cuban influence in what was then British Guiana, where the population was demanding independence. Betancourt resurrected a longstanding claim to more than half the territory. The original claim originated some two centuries earlier.

Why, under totally different circumstances, has Maduro raised the issue now, including holding a referendum supporting Venezuela? Not so much to start a mobilization to actually take possession of the territory, but rather to create an issue of patriotic Venezuelan sovereignty to use in his upcoming 2024 re-election campaign.

Maduro is quite unpopular after driving the economy to the bottom of the ocean, with widespread poverty and mass exodus from the country. Of course, the U.S., with its long-term economic sanctions, bears significant responsibility for Venezuela’s economic situation. However, Venezuela’s revolutionary process—21st Century Socialism begun under Hugo Chavez—quickly veered in a state-capitalist direction rather than toward authentic socialism. After Chavez’s death, Maduro, with a heavy authoritarian hand, smothered any movement from below seeking to practice ideas toward socialism.

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