Venezuela: Maduro is looking for a casus belli to seek a popular consensus that has now disappeared?

(To Maria Grazia Labellarte)

In 2015, major oil fields were discovered for the first time off the coast of Essequibo by a consortium led by ExxonMobil, sparking interest from Venezuela, whose commitment to pursuing the territorial claim has fluctuated over the past few years.

Today, oil operations generate about $1 billion a year for Guyana, a poor country of nearly 800.000 people that saw its economy expand nearly 60 percent just in the first half of this year.

While Guyana's oil industry continues to thrive, Venezuela's has completely collapsed. Even though Venezuela has the largest crude oil reserves in the world, its oil industry was crippled by years of mismanagement and economic sanctions imposed on the state oil company following Maduro's re-election in 2018, “widely considered fraudulent”.

Today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says that in the last elections on December 3, around 10,5 million people – just over half of those entitled to vote – would have voted in the Venezuelan consultative referendum. The referendum was approved by the Venezuelan National Assembly, under the leadership of Maduro himself, to know the opinion of the Venezuelan population on the issue of Guayana Esequiba precisely, territory claimed by Venezuela but currently governed and internationally recognized as part of the Republic of Guyana.

The voters, the government would claim, would have demonstrated their rejection "by all means" of the 1899 border, conferring sovereignty on Essequibo and giving the residents of the area Venezuelan citizenship, thus rejecting the jurisdiction of the United Nations court over the dispute.

THEAssociated Press reported that “the long lines typical of Venezuelan elections” on this occasion they would not have been formed and that only a minority of the country could have voted*.

The Venezuelan president's consensus, according to a recent poll, fell to 30,2% in September, compared to 35,4% in July, in a context of ongoing economic crisis which has affected his popularity. Other surveys halve these values.

Image: ExxonMobil