The UK has condemned what it has termed as the "unjustified" actions of Venezuela after Caracas sent more than 5,600 armed forces personnel to participate in a military exercise in response to the UK sending a warship near the border with Guyana.
On Thursday, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro announced he was launching "a joint action of a defensive nature in response to the provocation and threat of the United Kingdom, which he said are against peace and the sovereignty of Venezuela.
Britain had, a few days earlier, announced it would divert its patrol vessel HMS Trent to Guyana, a former British colony, as tensions and territorial disputes continue to heat up between Guyana and Venezuela over the oil-rich Essequibo region, which Maduro has claimed following a referendum in early December.
Essequibo makes up about two-thirds of Guyana's territory.
"The border between both countries was settled in 1899 through international arbitration and we continue to support the territorial integrity of Guyana –- an important regional ally and Commonwealth partner," a UK spokesperson has said.
Venezuela, however, does not share the UK’s views, with Maduro recently claiming that Essequibo is actually Venezuelan land. The decades-old territorial dispute that has flared ever since U.S. oil and gas producer, ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM) and its partners discovered massive oil deposits more than a decade ago. ExxonMobil estimates the basin holds almost 11 billion barrels of oil in a single section.Maduro is facing the prospect of elections in 2024, and the referendum and subsequent actions against Guyana are potentially intended to create an international incident that could justify a state-of-emergency declaration in Venezuela, which in turn would give cause to indefinitely postpone elections.
Earlier in December, Maduro met with Guyana’s leadership, with both vowing to avoid violence.