Mon Jul 22, 2024
July 22, 2024

Venezuela: Referendum on Esequibo Region Marks an Important Setback for the Government

By: Socialist Workers Unity (UST), the Venezuelan Section of the International Workers League (IWL)

A few weeks have passed since December 3 consultative referendum on the territorial dispute over the Esequibo region with the Republic of Guyana, which was organized by the government of Nicolás Maduro. The dispute continues to be open, as well as the debate around it, which has motivated political statements and actions by political leaders across the continent who are evidently “concerned” about the political “stability” of the region. In their eyes, stability is the necessary precondition for the good development of the business of transnational corporations: mainly oil and mining companies in which the national bourgeoisies are represented as minority partners.

The truth is that, for various reasons, the conflict has continued to mark the debate in the national and continental political arena. This is why we consider it important to express our opinion based on the situation that has opened up after the electoral event and its results.

The Government’s Defeat and its Attempt to Make Up For It

By the end of Sunday evening on December 3, the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Elvis Amoroso, announced the preliminary results. He stated that a total of 10,554,320 votes had been cast, a fact that was far from the reality observed at the polling stations on that day, where the prevailing trend was a clear absence of voters.

The characteristics of said announcement caused a lot of confusion as it did not include details such as the rate of abstentions or if the number cited referred to real voters or if it referred to the votes cast by each participant since the referendum contained five questions. The numbers cited, in comparison to other elections, led many to the conclusion that the head of the CNE was multiplying each one of the answers to the five questions contained in the consultation by the real number of voters, which in this case would be slightly more than 2,100,000 voters. In other words, the latter number would be the actual number of voters who went to the polls. In that case, it barely represents 10% participation out of a national electoral registry that exceeds 20 million voters,  which means approximately 90% of voters abstained from participating in the referendum.

Subsequently, in a political event with Nicolás Maduro, Elvis Amoroso announced on December 4 that a total of 10,431,907 Venezuelans gave a majority of ‘Yes’ votes on each of the questions in the referendum. The curious thing is that once all the ballots had been counted, the number of voters decreased compared to the initial announcement that was made when there were still ballots to be counted. Any way you look at it, this is totally inexplicable.

Again, the announcement lacked details on the total number of precincts counted, abstention figures, a breakdown of participation by state, and other details usually mentioned in other elections.

What is certain is that the images of empty polling stations throughout the day, the absence of queues and crowds characteristic of such a massive turnout as announced, and even the testimonies of polling station workers, make clear the government’s attempts to stage the elections. The government was clearly attempting to hide the very low participation in the referendum, in which they had tried to drum up support with a huge and expensive campaign that included concerts and television commercials that featured well-known sports and show business personalities, as well as mobilizations, rallies, and the printing of an enormous amount of propaganda material.

It also included the use of public resources to mobilize people to vote, false promises, vote buying, and above all blackmail, threats, and all kinds of coercion that was mainly directed against public officials as well as people from the popular sectors to force them to vote.

In spite of this, the government suffered a very serious political defeat, which was expressed in the low voter turnout, and the fact that people recognized the referendum as a political maneuver to drum up nationalist and patriotic sentiments and make electoral gains ahead of the 2024 elections, despite the justice of Venezuela’s territorial claim.

It is this defeat that the government is trying to hide by not recognizing the very low turnout and by inventing figures that are outright lies.

The Continuity of Maduro’s Political Maneuver

In order to “comply with the mandate of the people,” Nicolás Maduro has declared he will create a “plan to continue the defense of the Esequibo territory and to recover Venezuela’s historical rights to it.” He has justified these efforts via the supposed significant participation in the referendum, and has further argued that the National Constitution grants a “binding” character to the vote in that the answers which received the majority vote must be applied.

He gave details about the above “plan” on December 5, during the General Assembly of the Federal Council of Government at the Military Academy of the Bolivarian Army in Caracas. As part of the plan, he announced the creation of a High Commission for the Defense of Guayana Esequiba, and introduced the Organic Law for the creation of the State of Guayana Esequiba for debate and approval, as well as the creation of the Zone of Integral Defense (ZODI) of Guayana Esequiba [1], and the designation of a Unified Authority of Guayana Esequiba [2] who would be Alexis Rodríguez Cabello. In addition, he created the administrations of PDVSA Esequibo [3] and CVG Esequibo [4], and endowed them “with all administrative and operational powers for the exploitation of the resources of the Esequibo region,” and planned for the distribution of a “complete map” of Venezuela that includes Guayana Esequiba to the country’s elementary schools, high schools, and universities. He also presented a comprehensive social plan for the inhabitants of Guayana Esequiba, which would primarily include the issuance of identity cards. While he also proposed the National Assembly’s approval of a special law for the protection of the Esequibo region, and established a deadline of three months for the “withdrawal of unilateral companies/concessions in Guayana Esequiba,” in addition to announcing the “immediate” granting of licenses for the exploitation of oil, gas, and mines in the disputed territory.

Following these announcements, in the ordinary session on December 6, the National Assembly unanimously approved the Organic Law for the Defense of Guayana Esequiba in the first debate with a large pro-government majority. The speed of this approval makes it clear that said law was already drafted by the ruling party before the consultation and was prepared without waiting for the results of the referendum. Likewise, news has been circulating in the national public and private media that in the city of Tumeremo (adjacent to the Esequibo region), identity cards have been issued to citizens who are  to be residents of Guayana Esequiba.

We believe that the national government’s announcements and actions, as well as its affiliated parliament, are nothing more than a sign of the intention to continue stirring up the territorial conflict as a political maneuver to gain some kind of electoral advantage. That is to say that they are encouraging “nationalist” and “patriotic” animosity in the context of a possible presidential election in 2024 in order to create a base of support should they decide to suspend elections by declaring a state of emergency in case they do not obtain the necessary advantage and find it necessary to appeal to this resource to remain in power. Likewise, we believe that they are also trying to position themselves advantageously should they enter a negotiation process over who will be the minority partner that is able to manage the delivery of the oil, gas, mining, and biodiversity resources present in the Esequibo to the North American, European, Russian, and Chinese transnationals.

It is a fact that the bourgeois and dictatorial government of Maduro intends to be a direct administrator of the imperialist plunder of Guyana’s Esequibo region in order to obtain the crumbs of the cake for the bourgeois sectors it represents and for its military and civil bureaucracy. It is already doing this with the oil concessions and those of the Orinoco Mining Arc (AMO).

Similar objectives are being pursued by the bourgeois sectors grouped in FEDECAMARAS and other  employers’ unions in the opposition (although they too are increasingly allied with Maduro), hence their hypocritical discourse of the “defense of national integrity”.

The December 14 Meeting and its Objectives

In this sense, it seems to us that the main objective of the “high level” meeting between the presidents of Venezuela and Guyana that was scheduled for December 14 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, at the request of the Brazilian government (headed by Lula), with the support of the CELAC Council and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, is to negotiate the distribution of resources to the transnationals and the percentages of participation in the companies as junior partners. This seems to be confirmed by the statements of different actors involved in the conflict.

An example can be found in last Tuesday’s statements by Guyanese President Irfaan Ali, who denied that the December 14 meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart will address the territorial dispute, insisting that the case will be resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“…We have already made it clear that the ICJ will decide the controversy regarding the borders of Guyana and Venezuela. We are firm on this matter, and it is not open for discussion…”[5].

So what will they discuss if not the territorial dispute? The answer to this question can seemingly be found in the statements made by CEO of Chevron Corporation, Mike Wirth, who dismissed the possibility of a military confrontation between the two countries: “…the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the defense of the Esequibo region will not end in war…”; “…these things are much more often resolved through discussion, negotiation, and compromise than through military action…”[6].

Chevron Corporation is a transnational company with interests in both countries, and already has existing agreements with the Maduro government that allow it to plunder Venezuelan oil under extremely favorable conditions, wherein it is exempt from paying taxes and royalties. It recently became a partner with Exxon Mobil in exploiting the 26,000 km2 Stabroek oil block, which is located in a disputed area in the Atlantic Ocean. It did this by acquiring the U. S. energy company Hess Corporation for $53 billion, and Chevron now controls 30% of the exploitation of this block. It is clear that when they talk about negotiations, they are referring to their own interests.

But the Venezuelan Foreign Minister himself, Yvan Gil, has made it even clearer in stating that “…the Venezuelan government maintains its plan to grant licenses for oil exploitation in the area disputed with Guyana, where companies authorized by Georgetown… are already operating….” He also stated that “PDVSA and the Venezuelan Corporation of Guyana are working on the preparation of the dossier, the maps, everything that has to do with the terms of reference of what a concession entails and the technical work that is underway… the oil issue will be one of those discussed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Thursday…”[7].

Despite the fact that the meeting’s objective is to negotiate and distribute the oil supply, the zeal of imperialism and the bourgeois governments of both countries—in the midst of an acute economic crisis which has been aggravated by energy inflation and the convulsions of the world order—does not let us completely rule out the possibility of an eventual military confrontation. Whatever happens at the meeting on December 14 will set the dynamic which follows.

We, the Unidad Socialista de los Trabajadores (UST), believe that the workers of Venezuela, as well as their Guyanese counterparts, cannot have high expectations about his meeting because the agreements that may emerge from it will always be to privilege the interests of imperialism, its transnationals, and the national bourgeoisies of both countries as aspiring minority partners in the plunder.

We reject the imperialist interference in the region and demand the withdrawal of the oil, gas, and mining transnationals, as well as North American, European, Russian, and Chinese interests from the Esequibo region and from both countries. We demand that imperialism withdrawal from the December 14 meeting and reject its interference in said meeting.

In addition, we want to make clear our strong rejection of the warmongering positions of Guyanese President Irfaan Ali, which have been encouraged by imperialism, his threats and statements on his alliances with the Southern Command of the U.S. Armed Forces and with the United Kingdom, and his requests to the Southern Command to be the guarantor of the Guyana policy. We also reject the joint exercises that were carried out on December 7 by the Southern Command with the Guyana Defense Force (GDF)[8], as well as other previous actions in the same tenor. Just as we have opposed the warmongering postures of the Maduro dictatorship, we reject any pretensions to warmongering that may exist on the part of both governments. We say no to imperialist intervention in the region.

On the Venezuelan side, we insist on rejecting the political maneuvers that the government of Nicolás Maduro intends to carry out around the present the conflict. We reiterate the call for the unity of and between the working classes and peoples of Venezuela and Guyana to confront imperialism, to expel the transnationals from the Esequibo region and from both countries, and to confront their bourgeois governments and their anti-worker and anti-popular measures until they are overthrown, and workers’ and socialist governments are established in both countries.

Notes:

[1] With administrative and military headquarters in the Tumeremo region, adjacent to the Esequibo.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., Venezuela’s main state-owned oil company.

[4] Corporación Venezolana de Guyana, which includes Guyana’s basic steel, metallurgical and mining companies.

[5] https://www.france24.com/es/minuto-a-minuto/20231213-presidente-guyan%C3%A9s-niega-que-abordar%C3%A1-controversia-territoral-en-reuni%C3%B3n-con-maduro

[6] https://revistadiplomatica.com/2023/12/director-de-chevron-asegura-que-no-habra-guerra-entre-venezuela-y-guyana-por-el-esequibo/

[7] https://efectococuyo.com/politica/venezuela-tiene-en-marcha-su-plan-de-licencias-petroleras-en-el-esequibo/

[8] Guyana Armed Forces

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