Venezuela orders state companies to exploit oil and gas in disputed territory in Guyana

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the country’s state-owned companies on Tuesday to immediately grant operating licenses for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mines in Guyana’s Essequibo region, an area rich in oil and minerals that Venezuela claims as its own.Maduro also presented a new Venezuelan map in which the annexed Essequibo appears as part of the country. Hours earlier, he sent a military contingent to Puerto Barima near the limits of the disputed territory and announced a new military zone.

He also ordered that the more than 125,000 Guyanese living in the area be granted Venezuelan citizenship.The series of announcements came a day after Maduro won a referendum in which more than 95% of the people supported Venezuelan sovereignty over the 160,000-square-kilometer (61,776-square-mile) territory, which caused concern in Guyana. The country’s Attorney General Anil Nandlall said Tuesday that he would ask the UN Security Council for help if Venezuela took any action.

Guyana and Venezuela have been engaged in a years-long dispute over their borders that intensified after ExxonMobil’s first oil discovery in the territory eight years ago. While Guyana says its border with Venezuela was fixed by an arbitration tribunal in 1899, Venezuela says the Essequibo River forms a natural frontier recognized at the time of independence from Spain.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April ruled it had jurisdiction over the issue, which could determine which country has rights to the territory. On Friday, the ICJ ordered the Venezuelan government to “refrain from any action that modifies the situation currently in force” in Essequibo and both parties “to refrain from any action that could aggravate or extend the dispute.” However, Maduro rejects the court’s injunction.

Nandlall said that Guyana would appeal to Articles 41 and 42 of the United Nations Charter, which empower the Security Council to take military action and sanctions.On Sunday, thousands of Guyanese took to the streets wearing T-shirts with phrases such as “Essequibo belongs to Guyana” and waved the country’s flag. ​​​​​​​