Caracas is reportedly moving to claim the Essequibo territory of neighboring Guyana

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has sent troops to the border with Guyana in preparation for claiming 160,000 square kilometers of territory known as Essequibo, according to the Spanish daily El Pais.

An unknown number of Venezuelan troops has been dispatched to Puerto Barima, in the state of Delta Amacuro, the Spanish outlet said. Meanwhile, Maduro has unveiled a new map of Venezuela incorporating the territory, dubbed ‘Guyana Essequiba,’ after 10.4 million Venezuelan voters approved such a move in a referendum on Sunday. 

“We want the peaceful rescue of the Guayana Esequiba,” Maduro said on Tuesday. “Our Guayana Esequiba has been de facto occupied by the British Empire and its heirs and they have destroyed the area.”

Maduro also appointed Major-General Alexis Rodriguez Cabello as the region’s new governor. His seat at the moment is in Tumeremo, a mining town in the state of Bolivar.

Following Maduro’s announcement, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali gave a televised address, accusing Venezuela of attempting to annex more than two thirds of his country.

“This is a direct threat to Guyana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence, and a violation of fundamental principles of international law,” said Ali, adding he will “intensify precautionary measures” to safeguard its territory.

In 1899, the US assigned the disputed territory to what was then the British colony of Guiana, accepting London’s arguments while exercising the Monroe Doctrine, under which the US considered the Americas its sphere of influence. Venezuela has never accepted the decision as legitimate, however, and in 2018 referred the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The dispute has been exacerbated by the discovery of major oil reserves in the Atlantic Ocean, in the coastal zone claimed by both countries. Exxon Mobil already has an oil drilling platform in the area. 

On Tuesday, Maduro said that foreign companies exploiting resources in the area without the permission of Caracas have three months to “comply with the law.”

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