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UN to hold emergency meeting at Guyana’s request on Venezuelan claim to a vast oil-rich region

by Andrew Wright
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Territorial Dispute

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled an emergency closed meeting at the request of Guyana in response to Venezuela’s recent referendum claiming ownership of the vast and resource-rich Essequibo region, which constitutes a significant portion of Guyana’s territory.

In a formal communication addressed to the President of the Security Council, Guyana’s Foreign Minister, Hugh Hilton Todd, has accused Venezuela of violating the principles outlined in the U.N. Charter by encroaching upon Guyana’s territorial integrity. Todd’s letter provides historical context, citing the arbitration process between what was then British Guiana and Venezuela in 1899, as well as the formal delineation of their border through a 1905 agreement. Venezuela had acknowledged this boundary for over six decades, but in 1962, it contested the 1899 arbitration that established the border.

The dispute over the Essequibo region has persisted over the years, with heightened tensions since 2015, when ExxonMobil announced significant oil reserves off Guyana’s coast. The situation escalated further when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro conducted a referendum in which Venezuelans approved his claim to sovereignty over Essequibo. Maduro subsequently instructed Venezuela’s state-owned enterprises to commence exploration activities in the disputed area.

This 61,600-square-mile region, which accounts for two-thirds of Guyana’s territory, has been a point of contention, as Venezuela, endowed with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has consistently asserted its historical ownership due to its presence during the Spanish colonial era.

In a recent interview with Big Big News, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali accused Venezuela of disregarding a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands. The court had instructed Venezuela not to take any unilateral actions until a final resolution was reached regarding the competing territorial claims—a process expected to span several years.

Venezuela’s government criticized Ali’s statements, alleging that Guyana’s conduct was irresponsible and suggesting that it had given the U.S. military’s Southern Command tacit permission to enter Essequibo. Venezuela has called for a resumption of dialogue and a cessation of what it perceives as erratic and provocative behavior on Guyana’s part.

In his communication to the Security Council, Guyana’s Foreign Minister emphasized that Maduro’s recent directives to commence immediate exploration and exploitation of oil, gas, and mineral resources in Essequibo constituted clear violations of the International Court of Justice’s binding order. Under Article 94 of the U.N. Charter, Todd argued that if any party to a dispute fails to fulfill its obligations, the other party—in this case, Guyana—may bring the matter before the Security Council.

Todd concluded by asserting that Venezuela’s actions constituted a direct threat to Guyana’s peace and security, with broader implications for regional stability. He called upon the Security Council, during Friday’s meeting, to assess whether the situation had the potential to endanger international peace and security.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Territorial Dispute

What is the background of the Guyana-Venezuela dispute over the Essequibo region?

The dispute traces its origins back to the late 19th century when an arbitration process in 1899 and a subsequent border agreement in 1905 defined the boundaries. Venezuela accepted these boundaries for over 60 years until it contested the 1899 arbitration in 1962, leading to ongoing tensions.

Why has the dispute escalated recently?

In 2015, ExxonMobil’s discovery of significant oil reserves off Guyana’s coast intensified the dispute, as both countries covet the oil-rich Essequibo region.

What triggered the recent emergency meeting at the UN?

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting at Guyana’s request following Venezuela’s referendum claiming sovereignty over Essequibo. Guyana accused Venezuela of violating the UN Charter by attempting to seize its territory.

What was the International Court of Justice’s role in this dispute?

The International Court of Justice recently issued a ruling instructing Venezuela not to take any action in the disputed area until a final resolution is reached. Guyana has accused Venezuela of disregarding this ruling.

What are the potential consequences of this dispute?

The dispute has raised concerns about regional stability, as it involves a vast territory with significant oil reserves. It could also have implications for international peace and security, which is a point of discussion at the UN Security Council.

More about Territorial Dispute

  • UN Security Council: Official website of the United Nations Security Council.
  • International Court of Justice: The official website of the International Court of Justice, where rulings and information on the dispute can be found.
  • ExxonMobil: The official website of ExxonMobil, providing information on their exploration activities in the region.
  • Guyana: Official website of the government of Guyana.
  • Venezuela: Official website of the Embassy of Venezuela in the United States.

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