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Trump’s New Weapon Against Venezuela: Oil-Rich Essequibo?

  • An state-owned oil well in Venezuela.

    An state-owned oil well in Venezuela. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 February 2017

The sparsely-populated region is estimated to have between 800 million and 1.4 billion barrels of high-quality crude, worth at least US$44 billion.

An oil-rich region disputed between Venezuela and Guyana, Essequibo, might soon become the United States’ base of operations in their war against Venezuela.

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And for President Donald Trump, who is already on the offensive against the Bolivarian Revolution, oil extraction may become a useful weapon.

On Friday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez expressed her country’s commitment to peaceful settlement of the dispute with Guyana over Essequibo. She made the remarks on the 51st anniversary of the Geneva Agreement, which granted Guyana temporary political authority over the region until the situation is resolved. The agreement was signed by Venezuela and the United Kingdom, Guyana’s colonizer, in 1966. 

A 2010 map of Essequiba's disputed territories. | Photo: Reuters

“Here we are showing the international community the true soul of the Venezuelan people, who are a people of peace, seeking a resolution in a peaceful, negotiated, political and acceptable way for both parties, a resolution on the controversy of the Essequibo territory,” Rodriguez said, Sputnik International reports.

The dispute over Essequibo reemerged in January when U.S. multinational giants ExxonMobil and Hess discovered a massive amount of oil in the territory. The companies estimate that there is anywhere between 800 million and 1.4 billion barrels of high-quality crude, worth at least US$44 billion at current prices, Foreign Affairs reports. 

Since the discovery, ExxonMobil and Hess have expressed interest in constructing petroleum extraction and processing centers in Essequibo. They want to spend roughly US$475 million to develop the centers, the National Interest reports. Guyanese President David Granger is expected to approve construction, Jamaica Gleamer reports. 

An 1840 map of Gran Colombia, which features Essequibo as a Venezuelan territory. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This doesn’t bode well with Venezuela, which has claimed the region since 1821, the year it won independence from Spain. The country has always regarded the entire area west of the Essequibo River, which forms Essequibo’s eastern border, as its land. But in 1966, prior to the discovery of the oil, Venezuela conceded and decided to postpone settlement of the disputed territory.

Now that Granger and the U.S.-based oil companies are moving in on the disputed region, Venezuela’s sovereignty is under attack once again. Especially since U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who worked for ExxonMobil’s parent company for over 42 years, is overseeing the proposed construction of extraction and processing centers in the region. 

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Tillerson, who is said to be one of Trump’s most loyal cabinet members, has called for renewed sanctions on Venezuela for alleged “human rights violators.” He has also expressed interest in working alongside Venezuela’s right-wing opposition to privatize its nationalized oil resources if they were to gain political power. 

It’s no surprise he’s targeting Venezuela. In 2007, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez nationalized ExxonMobil's US$10 billion assets in the country. The loss struck a blow to Tillerson, who reportedly took the seizure as a personal affront, the Washington Post reports. 

But now that Tillerson is overseeing the Essequibo project that his former company is spearheading, he may seek revenge against Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. 

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