Venezuela is expanding military bases near its border with Guyana and deploying forces to the jungle frontier as President Nicolás Maduro ramps up his threats to annex the country’s oil-rich neighbour, satellite images have revealed.
Maduro pledged at mediation talks in December not to take military action against his neighbour but images shared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington today suggest a buildup of forces.
Christopher Hernandez-Roy, deputy director of CSIS’s Americas programme, said: “The same day that the Venezuelan foreign minister is meeting with Guyanese diplomats, the Venezuelan military is conducting tank drills just a stone’s throw from Guyana. All of this tells us Maduro is pursuing a duplicitous policy.”
Venezuela has long laid claim to the resource-rich Essequibo region, which makes up two-thirds of Guyana, but Maduro has ramped up the country’s claim to the disputed territory in recent months.
After months of campaigning, the country held a vote in December in which Maduro said the Venezuelan people backed the country to take the vast swathe of jungle by force.
The aerial shots show that while Venezuelan diplomats subsequently met their Guyanese counterparts to calm simmering regional tensions, the Venezuelan military sent tanks and missile-equipped patrol boats to the border.
“This escalatory behavior on the part of Venezuela creates opportunities for miscalculation and loss of control over events on the ground,” CSIS warns in its report on the escalating dispute.
The dispute is being arbitrated in the international court of justice in The Hague but Maduro wants to disregard the UN court and negotiate directly with Guyana.
Analysts had seen Maduro’s sabre-rattling as a means to build support ahead of elections expected this year but have suggested it could also be an attempt to pressure Guayana into sharing revenue from recent oil discoveries.
Venezuela’s economy has collapsed in the last decade despite having some of the largest deposits in the world.
“All of this suggests that Maduro may have originally had domestic reasons for what he is doing, but now the strategy is to compel the Guyanese into some sort of concessions,” Hernandez-Roy said.
Brazil deployed more troops to its border with Guyana and Venezuela this week amid the growing regional tensions and the US agreed to bolster Guyana’s defence with new aircraft, helicopters, military drones and radar technology.
Guyanese officials are to meet with heads of the Caricom political union to discuss their response with their Caribbean allies.