The United States will hold a series of joint air exercises with the Guyana Defense Forces on Thursday to enhance security cooperation between the two countries, the US Southern Command announced. This announcement comes amid escalating tensions between Georgetown and Caracas, following the referendum held in Venezuela on sovereignty in the Essequibo region, an area belonging to the neighboring country that occupies two-thirds of its area.
The Southern Command statement stressed that the maneuvers are routine in nature and seek, in addition to enhancing cooperation between the two forces, to enhance regional cooperation. In addition to Thursday’s exercises, the United States “will continue its cooperation with the Air Defense Force in the areas of disaster preparedness, air and maritime security, and combating transnational criminal organizations.” The United States, which has regularly conducted joint military exercises with the South American country for years, “will continue its commitment as a trusted partner for Guyana’s security and enhancing regional cooperation and coordination,” Southern Command adds.
The maneuvers come a day after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken assured Guyanese President Muhammad Irfaan Ali of Washington’s “unconditional support” for his sovereignty after the Venezuelan referendum. The head of US diplomacy reiterated the call for a peaceful solution to the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo region, a forest and sparsely populated area of 160,000 square kilometers, but rich in oil, wood and minerals and located at the base of the Essequibo River. The significant economic growth that Guyana has experienced in recent years.
Venezuela on Wednesday criticized Guyana for giving the “green light for the presence” of Southern Command in Essequibo. According to President Nicolas Maduro, this position opens “the possibility of the presence of American military bases” in the region, something that “threatens the zone of peace that has been defined in this region.”
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Caracas says the Essequibo ship was owned by it during the Spanish colonial period, and that the judicial decision granting it to Guyana in the nineteenth century is invalid. In 2020, the dispute reached the United Nations International Court of Justice, where it was not resolved. Maduro, in any case, rejects this court having jurisdiction over the dispute.
Sunday’s consultations, held after the court urged Venezuela on Friday not to take measures that would change Guyana’s control of Essequibo, but did not ban the referendum, gave 10.4 million Venezuelan voters the support of his government’s thesis. The immediate consequences of this vote contributed to increased tensions. Hugo Chavez’s successor announced the imminent introduction of a law annexing disputed territories, appointed a temporary authority to administer the region, mobilized the army in the border area and took advantage of the escalation to accuse some of the leader’s collaborators of conspiracy. Corinna Machado raises the specter of the external enemy.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ivan Gil on Wednesday attributed Washington’s interest to the American oil company ExxonMobil, to which Guyana granted the rights to exploit crude oil in Essequibo waters. During an event to showcase what he called “the new map of Venezuela,” Maduro also gave companies that received concessions from Guyana a period of three months to stop operating and negotiate again with Caracas. This change in direction occurs less than two months after the Joe Biden administration lifted sanctions on Venezuelan oil, gas and gold following agreements between Chavismo and the opposition to hold presidential elections in 2024.
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