Wed Apr 24, 2024
April 24, 2024

On the Conflict Between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo Region

Out with the multinationals and imperialism in the Essequibo region! We reject Venezuela’s consultative referendum. We are in favor of the unity of Venezuelan and Guyanese workers.

By Unidad Socialista de los Trabajadores (UST), Venezuelan Section of the International Workers League (IWL-FI)

Today, the political scenario in Venezuela is marked by the debate over the Essequibo region and the referendum by the Maduro government. These two issues are closely linked.

The vast majority of Venezuela’s political actors, from the dictatorial, starvation, and corrupt government of Maduro, to the employers’ opposition in all its variants, to sectors of the left that oppose Maduro and question the government of the late former President Chávez, are today taking a “nationalist” and “patriotic” position in defense of the Essequibo region and in confrontation with Guyana. Although they have taken on different positions that range from unconditional to critical support to a rejection of the December 3 referendum called by the government. This chorus of voices is also joined by the Bolivarian and traditional bourgeoisie through their main business associations, including the pro-government FEDEINDUSTRIA, and the opposition association, which is increasingly allied to the government, FEDECAMARAS, which supports the referendum in “defense of national interests.”

From the Unidad Socialista de los Trabajadores (UST) we want to express our position on this situation from a Marxist, class, anti-imperialist, and internationalist perspective. We will also try to demonstrate the common interest of both the Venezuelan and Guyanese capitalists and their bourgeois governments in plundering their respective countries and acting as junior partners of imperialism. As expressed in the case of Venezuela, bourgeois unity has emerged via efforts to plunder the country, as the only differences over the regional dispute has been over who has the right to control the plunder: is it the Bolivarian bourgeoisie allied with Maduro and the Chavista regime, or the traditional bourgeoisie and opposition?

False Anti-imperialism and the False Defense of National Interests

In the current world situation, which is marked by the war in Ukraine and tensions in the Middle East and the rest of the Arab world, which have increased due to the current genocidal aggression of Zionist State of Israel against Palestine, imperialism is concerned about its sources of energy and hydrocarbon supplies. Hence it has made apparent its growing interest in a geographical area that has been revealed as one of the largest holders of oil and gas reserves in the world.

It is also a fact that the government of Guyana, since its constitution as an independent republic in 1966, has unilaterally broken the agreement known as the Geneva Agreement by which both parties had settled the territorial dispute.

However, the false anti-imperialism of Maduro’s dictatorial government, as well as both governments’ arguments for the “defense of national interests,” are nothing more than posturing designed to win followers who will support the interests of these bourgeois and capitalist governments. In reality, these governments and the capitalists who back them are enemies of the workers of both nations.

The Venezuelan government poses as anti-imperialist in its denunciations of ExxonMobil [1], as “…a powerful geopolitical instrument of the United States to ensure the control of all the available energy resources of the planet…”[2]. Yet, the Venezuelan government has signed an agreement with Chevron, a partner of Exxon Mobil, for oil exploitation in the Essequibo region [3]. These are agreements whereby Venezuelan oil resources and control over our oil industry is being handed over to a multinational company who is also exempt from paying taxes.

The government, which has tried to appear “nationalist and anti-imperialist,” is the same one that has prioritized the payment of foreign debt, handing over more than $86 billion between 2013 – 2018 to imperialist bankers and transnationals at the expense of the Venezuelan working people and the destruction of national production and public services. It is the same government that mortgaged the country’s assets abroad as guarantees for foreign debt payments. And it is the same government that has carried out a process of privatization and denationalization of the oil industry, selling assets and refineries abroad and within the country.

It is the same government that, in 2020, through the fraudulent National Constituent Assembly (ANC), passed the well-known Anti-Blockade Law to facilitate the surrender of the country to foreign capitalists. This legislation is in line with the 2017 Law on Foreign Investments and the July 2022 Law on Special Economic Zones, where favorable and exceptional conditions are granted to transnational corporations to better exploit Venezuelan workers. It is this “patriotic” government that, starting in 2016, signed the decree that created the Orinoco Mining Arc (AMO), which was implemented in a geographical area of 112,000 km2 (a few km2 less than the Essequibo), and is an extractivist and servile mining model for the benefit of imperialist transnationals in the industry including Gold Reserve and Barrick Gold. These recent deals are part of a trend that began during the Chávez era when vast zones of the Orinoco oil belt (FPO) were handed over to transnationals through the mechanism of mixed companies.

And to complete its policy of capitulation, Maduro’s government is applying a brutal package of capitalist adjustment that cuts wages and the rights established in collective bargaining agreements, in addition to restricting democratic freedoms, trade union rights, and criminalizing the right to protest. It does nothing but provide better guarantees for the exploitation of the North American, European, Chinese, Russian and other transnationals installed in the country, among others.

The Nationalism of the Bourgeois Opposition and the Bosses

The bourgeois opposition, in all its variants, and the national bosses, both the Bolivarian bourgeois and the traditional ones, are part of the “nationalist consensus.” The former seeks to gain a foothold among the popular sectors that consider the demands of the Venezuelan government legitimate and to hide their sell-out character by disguising their anti-national and pro-imperialist stance. While the latter pretend to make us believe that there is common cause between the bourgeoisie and the workers, of which this would be one example. Yet, they could also change their tune and call on us to “sacrifice ourselves in the name of national progress,” in addition to claiming their prize in the exploitation of a territory they have helped recover.

This is nothing more than a big lie told by these political and economic sectors, who, just a few years ago called for invasions and sanctions by the U.S. and European governments, and who supported U.S. interference, its coup attempts and interventionist attempts. These are the same ones who now say they will prioritize the payment of foreign debt, and who are asking for refinancing and restructuring under who knows what conditions. These are the same sectors who also supported the seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad and stole millions of dollars from the fraudulent management of these assets, which was approved by the U.S. government and other bourgeois governments in the Americas, including CITGO in the U.S. and Monómeros in Colombia. And lastly, it is these political sectors that intend to continue and accelerate the privatization of the country’s strategic companies (PDVSA, basic companies, electricity, water, telecommunications), and offer them to the imperialist transnationals at bargain-basement prices on the condition that they become managers and/or junior partners.

They are also the businessmen (who played the leading role) and politicians (who profited in their double role as politicians and businessmen) who, with the complicity of the Chavista regime, carried out the greatest flight of capital [4] in the country’s history. They were responsible for plunging the country into the greatest crisis in its recent history and subjecting thousands of workers and residents of the popular sectors to hunger and the greatest hardships ever known in the country they are currently defending with such fervor.

What is Happening in Guyana?

It is a historical and legally proven fact that the Essequibo territory was taken from Venezuela by British imperialism [5], which gives legitimacy to the Venezuelan claim. However, Guyana is neither the British Empire nor a part of it. Since its independence in 1966 it has become, like Venezuela, a semi-colonial country, which is dependent on the imperialist capitals, who plunder, loot, and exploit them. At present, it is a country of a little less than one million inhabitants, with a working class and an impoverished population, which is ruled and exploited by a bourgeois government that is in thrall to the imperialist governments and transnational corporations.

This government, like the Venezuelan government, has appealed to patriotic and nationalist elements to deceive its working class, when what it is really defending is the possibility of continuing to surrender to imperialism the resources available in an area under claim that represents 75% of its territory. This is a process of capitulation in which the Guyanese bourgeoisie and government act as minority partners, without this translating into prosperity for the working people of that country.

Actions by Guyanese government officials, such as the President’s visit to the Essequibo, the raising of the flag in the area, the Defense Minister’s tours of the villages in the zone, as well as declarations that “we will not give in to intimidation from Caracas” or that “there will be no more negotiations,” must be understood in terms of the above context.

The U.S. government supports such actions including the unilateral withdrawal from the Geneva Agreement, the granting of concessions to Exxon Mobil for oil exploitation in the disputed territories, the request to the UN to take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the request to the ICJ to rule on the case. Since the Guyanese government is more permeable than that of Maduro, the U.S. has taken advantage of the weakness of the government of Guyana and its extreme dependence in order to bleed the small South American country to its advantage, offering itself as an “ally” and logistical and military support and carrying out joint exercises of this nature. However, we affirm that this does not change the country’s semi-colonial condition.

A Reactionary Conflict: For the Unity of the Venezuelan and Guyanese Working Classes Against Imperialism and its Bourgeoisies

We at the UST understand the present conflict to be extremely reactionary, since it clearly follows the most petty interests of the bourgeoisies and governments of both countries, and has nothing to do with the interests, demands and needs, neither immediate nor historical, of the workers and peoples of both nations. In addition, it is a conflict in which U.S. and European imperialism position themselves according to political and geopolitical circumstances, without having any issue in modifying their agreements and alliances according to changing circumstances.

At the same time, both the increasingly capitulating government of Maduro and the extremely dependent government of Guyana, who are both allies and guarantors of the profits of the transnationals, are raising the temperature and exacerbating nationalist and patriotic sentiments in order to better position themselves in terms of what they are really fighting for: the right to be junior partners in the process of handing over the sovereignty, mineral, and hydrocarbon resources of the Essequibo to North American, European, Russian and Chinese transnationals. In order to achieve this, both governments have to present themselves to imperialism as the most reliable partner against the working classes of their countries.

In the case of the Venezuelan government, they can also take advantage of the referendum which occurred on December 3.

For this reason, we categorically reject the possibility of a military conflict between the two countries, which would mean a massacre of the working classes, who will be the ones who will die in defense of the interests and benefits of imperialism, its oil and mining transnationals, and their national bourgeoisies.

We call for the unity of and among the working classes and peoples of Venezuela and Guyana to confront imperialism, expel the transnationals from the Essequibo and the rest of the territories of both countries, confront their bourgeois governments, and their anti-worker and anti-popular measures until they are overthrown and workers’ and socialist governments are brought to power in both countries.

It is a fact that the national borders in the Americas have been drawn according to imperialist interests, just as it is a fact that only the Latin American working class can provide a progressive solution to our border differences, as well as to other problems in the economic and social sphere. This is why we are for the overthrow of capitalism in all countries of Latin America and for the formation of a Latin American socialist federation.

Different Positions in Response to the Same Political Maneuver

We have said above that the government of Nicolás Maduro is trying to make political gains by drumming up nationalist and patriotic sentiments around the territorial conflict of the Essequibo region. To this end, it organized a consultative referendum consisting of five questions that, in sum, ask the population whether it is willing to defend “by all means” Venezuela’s ownership of said territory.

For this purpose, it has developed a huge and very expensive campaign that has included marches, rallies, television spots, concerts, propaganda material, and other elements that have meant an obscene and disgusting waste of money. At the same time, it has claimed that it is unable to increase salaries or discuss the expired collective bargaining agreements due to the lack of resources caused by the effects of economic sanctions.

The slogans of this campaign, including “The Essequibo is Ours” and “Venezuela is all of Venezuela,” not only seek to “defend national interests,” but also call for unity around it. The organizers of the campaign have even called those who oppose the referendum “traitors to the motherland.” On the one hand, the government is trying to distract the public from the catastrophic national situation, poor salaries, hunger, and the disastrous state of public services, among other crises. In addition, it also trying to take measure of forces for a possible electoral dispute in 2024.

The government is trying to build a base of support among the popular sectors and the workers around the conflict in question in order to assess its room to maneuver and, if needed, to declare a state of national emergency and suspend an electoral process whose possible outcome is currently quite uncertain. The latter is a very risky step that could lead to a military confrontation with Guyana, with uncertain consequences for the workers and peoples of both countries.

Within Venezuela, different positions are being expressed on the government’s political maneuvering, but almost all of them are part of the “national consensus,” which echoes the patriotic and false idea that the “Essequibo is the common cause of all Venezuelans.”

This is why the bourgeois opposition, which is most affected by the Maduro regime, supports the call for the referendum, while other sectors of that opposition oppose it, arguing that it is unnecessary and that it introduces elements of doubt as to whether the Essequibo region belongs to Venezuela. Since this matter is already enshrined in the National Constitution, in their view, it only serves the political pretensions of Maduro. But for the sake of “national interest,” they have directed their members to participate in the referendum by voting critically or answering yes or no depending on the question, while some reformist sectors have encouraged their followers to do the same. Employers’ organizations such as FEDECAMARAS and FEDEINDUSTRIA, among others, also support the referendum as being in the “national interest.” Finally, some left sectors that claim to be anti-imperialist support the referendum, proposing only modifications to some of the questions and/or almost completely agreeing with the proposed content of some of them.

We at the UST, in line with our view that the ongoing conflict only responds to the interests of the bourgeoisies of the countries involved and is alien to the interests of the working peoples of those countries, we point out that the same thing is happening with the referendum called by Maduro. He is using the same trick to hide his responsibility for the disaster he has plunged the country into and is attempting to appear as the leader of the national cause and to obtain electoral support. Therefore, we affirm that the referendum must be categorically rejected, and we called for abstention.


[1] North American oil corporation, heir of Standard Oil, Esso, Creole, which has a whole history of outrages and interference in several countries of the world. For instance, on May 20, 2015, under the direction of Rex Tillerson, it made the announcement that caught the attention of the oil industry worldwide, revealing that in the Stabroek block, 120 miles off the coast of the Essequibo, it had found 1. 400 million barrels of high quality oil, with discoveries through 2021 (Uroek2 well) estimated reserves are close to 11 billion barrels of oil with initial explorations.


[3] On October 23, Chevron announced the purchase of Hess, one of the independent oil companies, for 53 billion dollars. Among the attractions of Hess is its activity in Guyana, the nation where oil production is growing at the fastest rate. With Hess, Chevron acquires a 30% participation in the project led by Exxon, another oil giant, in Guyana and whose third partner is China National Offshore Oil Corporation, CNOOC, the largest offshore oil and natural gas producer in China. The project is the Stabroek block, a vast expanse off the coast of Guyana with a wealth equivalent to 11 billion barrels of oil.

[4] Some studies, such as that of Luis Gavazut, estimate it at more than 500 billion dollars, while others put it at more than 700 billion dollars.

[5] In the Paris arbitration of 1899, Venezuela did not have its own representation, it was represented by American officials, and it was later proven that it was plagued by fraud and legal irregularities, this was even published in the memoirs of one of the English negotiators.

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