The ongoing border dispute between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its eastern neighbor Guyana is no simple disagreement over an arbitrary line on a map. Actually, it is a conflict of significant political and economic dimensions, one which will have deep and far-reaching geopolitical implications in the near and long term.
The area in question is known as Guayana Esequiba (Essequibo), a region with competing territorial claims going back more than a century to a time when British imperial interests dominated the contours of the political map of much of the world, including Latin America. Since 1966, when Guyana became a nominally independent country, this territory has been under dispute by the interested parties; Venezuela has claimed the territory as part of its sovereign authority going back to an odious 1899 decision in favor of Britain. However, that has not stopped Guyana from seeking to undermine the stability of the region by claiming de facto sovereignty over the whole of the territory, selling highly valued oil and gas exploration concessions to key North American corporate energy interests. These actions have led to an intensification of the conflict, forcing Venezuela to respond with diplomatic and political pressure.
But of course, as with all things pertaining to Venezuela on the international stage, there is a hidden agenda rooted in the imperial politics of Washington. In its attempt to stifle Venezuela’s political and economic development as an independent regional actor, the US is using its influence to destabilize the region. The goals are distinct, but intimately connected: enrich US energy corporations at the expense of Venezuela and, simultaneously, both position military assets and shape propaganda that paints Venezuela as an aggressor, thereby providing the pretext for US escalation. In this way, Washington is attempting to reassert by stealth the hegemony it once maintained with brute force.
The Economics and Politics of Esequiba
At the heart of this border dispute is energy and the billions of dollars in profits likely to be extracted from the offshore territory. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), “The Guyana Suriname Basin [is] 2nd in the world for prospectivity among the world’s unexplored basins and 12th for oil among all the world’s basins – explored and unexplored.” The basin, which stretches from eastern Venezuela to the shores of northern Brazil, is one of the major prizes in the world for energy corporations and governments alike.
Indeed, the USGS estimates that roughly 15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves lie under the basin, just waiting to be extracted. Such staggering economic potential has made the territorial waters off Venezuela and Guyana highly sought after, especially since the contesting border claims make the legal obstacles to exploration far more surmountable as they allow companies to deal with a compliant government in Georgetown, rather than an independent one Caracas.