Ever since U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil reported a huge oil and gas find off Venezuela in early May, authorities in neighboring Venezuela have turned up the pressure on neighboring Guyana, laying claim to the concession area, ordering the company to quit work and telling other global firms not to bother to begin seismic offshore work.
In the past week, the administration of economically and politically embattled President Nicolas Maduro moved troops and heavy military equipment to the eastern part of the country in what Guyanese officials said were clear signs of an escalation of tensions over where their land and marine boundaries actually end.
Guyanese President David Granger, a retired army general who won general elections in May, said his long years of military training had prepared him to recognize what is behind the moves by Venezuela as he put his Caribbean trade group headquarter nation on alert to things Venezuelan.
The troop and military deployment that Venezuelan authorities dubbed as a routine and normal readiness exercise came a few days before Granger is scheduled to address the United Nations to press demands for the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to rule on the border demarcations once and for all.
This is inspite of an 1899 settlement by an international boundaries commission that had demarcated the land boundaries as a full and final dividing line.
Venezuelan appears to have been rattled by the fact that Exxon Mobil had not only ignored its edicts to cease work and quit the area like Anadarko of Texas did under gunboat pressure in 2013, but because Guyana could soon be a very wealthy country, perhaps rivaling Venezuela with oil and gas resources.
Officials have said that the Liza 1 well of Exxon is humungous in both oil and gas resources and the firm will drill five more in the new year.
But academics such as Guyanese political scientist Freddie Kissoon are of the strong view that Maduro, a former bus driver, is moving to whip up local nationalism because he is under tremendous political pressure from the U.S. and local opposition forces at home.
Kisson said Venezuela is short of basic items such as toilet paper, condoms, deodorant and American dollars so he “is trying to divert attention away from those problems he has.”
“He needs the breathing space. The Hugh Chavez economic model has collapsed on him. The only logical explanation for the situation with Guyana is to divert away from his situation at home. President Clinton did it. Maduro is now doing it with Guyana and to a lesser extent with Colombia.”
But politicians like Granger think otherwise, largely because the military aggression has been accompanied by some serious developments since May.
Observers say two issues come readily to mind. Venezuelan authorities turned back Guyanese vessels which had called for oil supplies since May and the cabinet has also ordered that Guyana should not send any more rice shipments to Caracas under the existing rice for oil deal. That has virtually collapsed.
Taking it seriously, Guyana has now turned to Trinidad for all its supplies. Since around 2005, the country has been buying half of its daily supplies of about 6000 barrels of oil from Venezuela, deliberately so, because authorities were ever mindful of the day when Venezuela would simply cut off supplies. That day has arrived they say.
Granger says he will raise the whole Venezuela issue at the UN before an international audience next week.
“We feel that Venezuela is treading a dangerous course at this point in time rather than seeking a peaceful resolution of the matter. Venezuela seems to be pursuing a very offensive and aggressive course. We have recently received reports that Venezuela has been making extraordinary military deployments in eastern Venezuela, that is western Guyana, which seem to be impacting on Guyana’s territorial defense,” he said.
Authorities have also warned Guyanese in border areas to be on alert and to use legal Venezuelan ports only if they need to visit the country to avoid unnecessary problems.