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An overwhelming majority of Venezuelan voters who took part in a referendum regarding most of the territory of neighboring Guyana voted in favor of claiming sovereignty over it.
Per the Venezuelan government, as much as 95% of voters supported the claim, with 10.5 million votes counted, Reuters reported.
The referendum took part despite the fact that the disputed territory—an oil-rich region called Essequibo—is part of an active case at the International Court of Justice, where Guyana is suing Venezuela for trying to take away most of its territory.
Essequibo lies between Guyana and Venezuela, with both claiming sovereignty over the territory.
The 61,000+ square mile territory equates to two-thirds of Guyana’s territory and is also close to the site of a string of huge offshore oil discoveries by Exxon. Those discoveries, the first of which was announced in 2015, have re-invigorated Venezuela’s claim on the territory.
Last month, Guyana asked the International Court of Justice to stop the referendum but the government in Venezuela said they will not recognize the authority of the court. The Essequibo dispute is not new, to put it mildly.
In fact, it dates back to the late 19th century when an arbitration court gave control of the territory to Guyana. The dispute flared up as the U.S. lifted oil sanctions on Caracas temporarily in a bid to increase the supply of heavy crude for Gulf Coast refineries.
Guyana’s government is worried that the referendum is the first step to an annexation of Essequibo by Venezuela. The International Court of Justice ordered Caracas to not take any steps regarding Essequibo but, as expected, the Venezuelan government did not comply.
In confirmation to Guyanese worries, the president of the ICJ said, as quoted by the AP, that “Venezuelan military officials announced that Venezuela is taking concrete measures to build an airstrip to serve as a ‘logistical support point for the integral development of the Essequibo.’”
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com