Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has asked the country’s state-owned companies to “immediately” begin exploring and exploiting oil, gas and mines in Guyana’s Essequibo region, an area larger than Greece and rich in oil and minerals that Venezuela covers.
The announcement came a day after Maduro achieved the victory he sought in a weekend referendum on whether or not to claim sovereignty over the region.
Maduro said he would “immediately” begin “granting operating licenses for exploration, exploitation of oil, gas and mines in the entire Essequibo region.” He also ordered the creation of local subsidiaries of Venezuelan public companies, including oil giant PDVSA and mining conglomerate Corporación Venezolana de Guayana.
It is not clear how the Maduro administration intends to implement the idea of exercising jurisdiction over the territory once it is officially declared part of Venezuela through a law that the ruling party-controlled National Assembly is scheduled to discuss soon.
In addition to the announcement regarding the exploitation of resources in Essequibo, Maduro announced on Tuesday the creation of a new comprehensive defensive operations area, “zode” in Spanish, for the disputed sector, similar to the special military commands that conduct operations in different regions of the country. .
The area of 61,600 square miles (159,500 square km) represents two-thirds of Guyana’s area. However, Venezuela has always considered Essequibo its property because the region was within its borders during the Spanish colonial period, and it had long opposed the borders decided by international arbitrators in 1899, when Guyana was still a British colony.
Venezuela’s commitment to pursuing its territorial claim has fluctuated over the years. Interest spiked again in 2015 when ExxonMobil announced it had found oil in commercial quantities off the coast of Essequibo.
Guyana denounced Venezuela’s actions and the referendum held on Sunday as a pretext for annexing the territories. It appealed to the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, which on Friday ordered Venezuela not to take any action to change the status quo until the panel can rule on the two countries’ competing claims, which could take years.
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