Venezuela creates a new map including disputed territory as Guyana prepares for an incursion

Venezuela's National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez presents a new map of Venezuela during a session at the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela. Credit: AP

Venezuela's president has ordered the creation of a new map of the country, which will include the disputed territory of Guyana's Essequibo region.

President Nicolás Maduro said all residents in the area would be given Venezuelan nationality and the new map would be distributed across all schools and public buildings in the country, CNN reported.

Maduro also signed a “presidential decree” creating the “High Commission for the Defense of Guayana Esequiba.

Oil, gas and mining exploration licenses will also be approved, while legislators have been asked to draw up a law that will ban the hiring of any companies that have worked with Guyana in areas of disputed water. Companies will be given three months to leave the area.

A man carries the new map of Venezuela with the Essequibo territory. Credit: AP

Venezuela had already ordered state-owned companies to explore and exploit oil and minerals in Guyana's Essequibo region.

Guyana prepares to protect itself

Guyana is preparing to protect itself from Venezuela after the country voted to approve a territorial claim over its oil-rich neighbour.

The Guyanese president has said he has reached out to allies and regional partners to protect the region which makes up two-thirds of the country.

“We take this threat very seriously, and we have initiated a number of precautionary measures to ensure the peace and stability of this region,” President Irfann Ali said.

He noted Guyana’s Defence Force is also speaking with counterparts in other countries but didn't say which ones.

Why does Venezuela believe it has a territorial claim on Guyana's Essequibo region?

  • The row over the region has flared over the years, but intensified in 2015 after ExxonMobil announced it had found vast amounts of oil off its coast

  • Venezuela insists the region belongs to it because Essequibo was within its boundaries during the Spanish colonial period

  • Venezuela rejects the border that international arbitrators drew in 1899, when Guyana was still under British rule

The dispute escalated after Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro held a referendum on Sunday in which Venezuelans approved his claim of sovereignty over Essequibo.

Ali called the referendum a “failure” and said Guyana is preparing for any eventuality.

“Should Venezuela proceed to act in this reckless and adventurous manner, the region will have to respond,” he said. “And that is what we’re building. We’re building a regional response.”

The area west of the Essequibo River, marked by the dotted line running through Guyana, is the disputed Guyana Esequiba region. Credit: Google Maps

Ali spoke a day after Maduro said he would “immediately” grant operating licenses for exploration and exploitation in Essequibo and ordered the creation of local subsidiaries of Venezuelan public companies, including oil giant PDVSA and mining conglomerate Corporación Venezolana de Guayana.

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but years of mismanagement and economic sanctions imposed by the US against Maduro’s government have hurt PDVSA and subsidiaries.

Maduro also announced the creation of a Comprehensive Defence Operational Zone for the territory in dispute. It would be similar to special military commands that operate in certain regions of Venezuela.

“The announcements by Venezuela are in full defiance of international law,” Ali said.

“And any country that so openly defies important international bodies should be of concern not only for Guyana but for all of the world."

He said Venezuela's actions can severely disrupt the region's stability and peaceful coexistence.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to his supporters after Sunday's referendum. Credit: AP

Guyana expects to bring up the issue at Wednesday’s UN Security Council meeting.

The president said in a statement late on Tuesday that his administration has reached out to the US, neighbouring Brazil, the UK, France, the UN secretary general and the US Southern Command, which oversees military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Ali also accused Venezuela of defying a ruling that the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands issued last week.

It ordered Venezuela not to take any action until the court rules on the countries’ competing claims, a process expected to take years.

Venezuela’s government condemned Ali's statement, accusing Guyana of acting irresponsibly and allegedly giving the US Southern Command the green light to enter the Essequibo region.

Venezuela called on Guyana to resume dialogue and leave aside its “erratic, threatening and risky conduct.”

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