While the recent panic over the risk of a Venezuela invasion of its neighbor Guyana may have come and gone, some (former) global superpowers are not taking any chances, and according to the FT, the UK will deploy a naval patrol ship off the coast of the tiny but rich Latin American nation in a show of support for the former British colony as it faces a territorial claim from its more powerful if insolvent communist neighbor.
The deployment follows moves by Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s socialist president, to claim the vast, mineral-rich Essequibo region, which borders his country but has been part of Guyana - a member of the British Commonwealth and the only English-speaking nation in South America - for more than a century.
Britain’s decision to dispatch HMS Trent later this month is a significant show of support for the government in Guyana’s capital Georgetown.
The decision comes just days after the UK's new foreign secretary, David Cameron, fresh from career exile after his catastrophic handling of Brexit, said the UK would “continue to work with partners in the region to ensure the territorial integrity of Guyana is upheld and prevent escalation”.
Meanwhile, UK foreign office minister David Rutley, visited Guyana last week to meet President Irfaan Ali and stress the UK government’s “unequivocal backing” for Guyana’s territorial integrity after the Venezuelan claim.
Yván Gil, Venezuela’s foreign minister, responded angrily on social media platform X to that visit, saying: “The former invading and enslaving empire, which illegally occupied the territory of [Essequibo] and acted in an skilful and sneaky manner against the interests of Venezuela, insists on intervening in a territorial controversy that they themselves generated.
“This controversy will be resolved directly between the parties . . . We will stop the new filibustering that seeks to destabilise the region.”
As reported earlier this month, Maduro held a referendum at the start of December, in which Caracas claimed that more than 95% supported proposals including that Essequibo, which makes up two-thirds of Guyana, should become a Venezuelan state.
Caracas subsequently authorised Venezuelan state-run companies to grant licences for exploration and exploitation in Essequibo and ordered new official maps including the territory, although the presidents of both countries agreed in a December 15 meeting not to use force in the dispute.
HMS Trent, which is armed with a cannon and machine guns, has a crew of 65 and a contingent of Royal Marines, and can deploy Merlin helicopters.
The vessel, which is mostly used for counter-terrorism exercises and tackling piracy and smuggling, is usually based around the Mediterranean. However, in early December it was deployed west to Barbados to clamp down on drug runners in the Caribbean.
UK officials told the FT that the ship would anchor off the coast of Georgetown and carry out visits, training and joint activities with the country’s navy.
Guyana’s defence force, with only 4,070 active personnel and reserves, is dwarfed by Venezuela’s 351,000-strong military which feels especially powerful now that Biden will do anything to appease dictator Maduro if it means a buffer of oil supply heading into the critical 2024 election year.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “HMS Trent will visit regional ally and Commonwealth partner Guyana later this month as part of a series of engagements in the region during her Atlantic patrol task deployment.”
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