Venezuela Is Suddenly Intent on Annexing Two-Thirds of Neighboring Guyana

Venezuela has fallen on hard times, as its economy collapses amid a crippling shortage of goods and the world's highest inflation rate. In what may seem a sign of increasing desperation, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has revived a territorial dispute with neighboring Guyana over a stretch of territory that makes up approximately two-thirds of the tiny South American country.

A long-simmering disagreement over the Essequibo region, as the territory is known, has lain dormant for more than 15 years, Maduro appears to have been prompted to extend his country's claim after the discovery of a potentially rich oil deposit in the area.

In 1899, Guyana won possession of the 95,000 thousand miles of territory in an arbitration court ruling while it was still a British colony known as British Guiana. Venezuela contested this decision in 1962, and four years later a treaty was signed by Great Britain, Venezuela, and British Guiana on the understanding that the parties work toward a peaceful resolution to the disagreement. Guyana won independence just months later.

Venezuela's government recently sent a letter revisiting this issue to ExxonMobil, which Guyana has contracted to undertake offshore drilling in the area — and which reported making a significant oil discovery in May. Maduro's critics have decried the revival of the territorial claim as a farce that is meant to distract Venezuelans from their country's economic crisis while shoring up flagging support for the embattled president.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro points to the area of Guyana's territory that his government would like to claim as his country's own. (Photo via EPA/Miraflores Press)

Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state and former opposition presidential candidate,


 whether Maduro actually has a real interest in recovering the Essequibo, suggesting that it was merely a stunt for improving Maduro's popularity rating, which recently fell to a near-record low of 25 in May.