Venezuela maintains its referendum on the future of Essequibo, despite summons from the International Court of Justice

The highest court of the United Nations ordered Venezuela on Friday, December 1, to refrain from any action that would change the status quo in Essequibo, on the eve of a referendum on the region of Guyana, which is very rich in oil that Georgetown fears will be annexed by its neighbor

Venezuela maintains its referendum on the future of Essequibo, despite summons from the International Court of Justice

The highest court of the United Nations ordered Venezuela on Friday, December 1, to refrain from any action that would change the status quo in Essequibo, on the eve of a referendum on the region of Guyana, which is very rich in oil that Georgetown fears will be annexed by its neighbor.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which sits in The Hague, has ordered Caracas to “refrain from taking any action which would modify the situation prevailing in the disputed territory”, without mentioning the imminent Venezuelan consultation.

The ICJ rules on disputes between states, but while its decisions are legally binding, it does not have the power to enforce them.

Venezuela nevertheless immediately confirmed the holding of a referendum on Sunday. “Nothing in international law allows the court to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela, nor to claim to prohibit or modify a sovereign act,” Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said at a conference Press. Venezuela “will continue all preparations for holding the consultative referendum,” she added.

An “existential threat” to Guyana

Caracas has for decades claimed this 160,000 square kilometer area representing more than two thirds of Guyana's territory and where around a fifth of the country's population lives, or some 125,000 people.

The December 3 referendum is supposed to be about the rejection of a court decision dating back to 1899 which fixes the country's border with Guyana, a former colony of Great Britain and the Netherlands. In hearings earlier this month before the court, Guyana said the consultation constituted an “existential threat.”

The country thus asked the court to force Venezuela to “urgently” stop the referendum “in its current form” and to refrain from any action aimed at taking control of the territory. “The court rejected this unprecedented and unfounded request in its entirety,” said Rodriguez, who considered the ruling a victory. “Guyana went after money and got fleeced. »

Guyanese President Irfaan Ali noted that the ICJ states that “Venezuela has no right to annex or invade Guyanese territory or take other measures, regardless of the outcome of the referendum of December 3.”

Gigantic oil reserves

Venezuela's claim has become more heated since the discovery of oil in the Essequibo by ExxonMobil in 2015. A new and significant discovery of black gold was made last month in the region, adding to Guyana's reserves at least ten billion of barrels, which are at the same level as those of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Guyana has the largest oil reserves per capita in the world. Venezuela, for its part, has the largest proven reserves on the planet.

Venezuelans must decide on Sunday whether to reject the 1899 agreement which was allegedly “fraudulently imposed” on them. The consultation is also supposed to focus on the question of maintaining the Venezuelan position of rejecting any jurisdiction of the ICJ over the dispute and on the attribution of Venezuelan citizenship to the inhabitants of the territory.

Guyana believes that this referendum would allow Venezuela to seize the Essequibo region and annex it in a “unilateral and illegal” manner, causing “irreparable harm”. Georgetown has accused Venezuela of launching military preparations for annexation, which Caracas denies.

Brazil declared itself “concerned” by the “climate of tension between two neighboring and friendly countries” and announced “an increased military presence” on its northern border.