Venezuela has deployed troops and launched military exercises this week in response to the arrival of a British naval ship in Guyanese waters, escalating long-simmering tensions over the disputed Essequibo territory.
British Warship Arrives in Guyana
The Royal Navy patrol vessel HMS Trent sailed into Guyana’s capital Georgetown on Thursday, December 29th, amid rising tensions over the mineral-rich Essequibo region claimed by both Guyana and Venezuela.
The UK government said the month-long deployment aims to “support partners in the region” and “demonstrate the UK’s commitment to a secure, prosperous and resilient Guyana.” However, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blasted the move as a “hostile act” and accused the UK of “an act of aggression by bringing a warship to our peaceful regions.”
The Essequibo border dispute dates back to the 19th century, when the region encompassing two-thirds of Guyana’s territory was initially claimed by Venezuela. An 1899 international arbitration tribunal awarded the bulk of the disputed land to then-British Guiana, but Venezuela has never accepted the ruling.
Tensions reignited in recent years after ExxonMobil discovered over 11 billion barrels of oil off Guyana’s coast, with some deposits lying in maritime areas also claimed by Venezuela. Maduro sought to reassert his country’s claim to Essequibo when Guyana began developing the offshore oil fields, accusing Georgetown of “stealing” Venezuela’s natural resources.
Venezuela Launches Military Exercises, Troop Deployments
In response to the HMS Trent’s arrival on December 29th, Venezuela’s armed forces chief Vladimir Padrino Lopez announced the country would undertake “defensive military exercises” along the maritime and land border with Guyana “as an expression of sovereignty.”
|Military Assets Deployed by Venezuela
|SU-30 and F-16 jets
|Naiguata CG-23 and Kariña PG-01
|5th Infantry Battalion and 4th Armored Battalion
Venezuela has positioned army battalions, patrol vessels and fighter jets in the border state of Bolivar, with Maduro vowing troops will remain until the British warship departs from Guyanese waters. Sources indicate up to 3,200 Venezuelan soldiers may take part in the exercises.
General Padrino Lopez stated the exercises aim to “demonstrate the operational readiness of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces” and “defend every inch of this sacred land.” However, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira called on both sides to resolve the dispute through diplomacy and dialogue.
International Reactions: Support for Guyana, Calls for Restraint
The growing standoff has drawn reactions from regional powers and global stakeholders. The US State Department expressed concern over “Bellicose rhetoric and military exercises,” while calling for a peaceful resolution to the century-old border controversy.
Russia’s ambassador in Caracas Vladimir Zaemskiy declared “unwavering” support for Venezuela, accusing NATO countries of inflaming tensions. China also backed its Venezuelan ally, urging outside powers not to “do things that could escalate tensions in the region.”
Meanwhile, Guyana’s eastern neighbor Brazil warned against “acts that could increase the volatility of the conflict,” appealing for calm and engagement between Georgetown and Caracas.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also appealed to both governments to avoid escalatory steps, while Canada said it supports Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Spain, the former colonial ruler of Venezuela, endorsed Guyana’s case to be heard at the International Court of Justice.
What’s Next? Risk of Border Clashes as Rhetoric Heats Up
While the UK, US and regional allies firmly back Guyana’s position, President Maduro remains defiant, mobilizing forces to signal Venezuela’s resolve. As military assets congregate around the disputed border, observers warn of growing dangers of accidental conflict.
However, most analysts doubt either side desires military confrontation, expecting the saber-rattling to remain largely symbolic. Both countries face pressing domestic troubles – Venezuela mired in a socio-economic crisis and Guyana still developing its nascent oil industry.
Nonetheless, the latest flare-up demonstrates the urgent need to finally resolve the 120-year-old dispute over Essequibo through international adjudication. Unless a diplomatic solution is found, the unsettled border issue will continue destabilizing regional relations and impeding economic progress for Guyana and Venezuela alike.
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