Venezuela has fallen on very hard times, with crude oil down to around $50 a barrel. Annual inflation is the highest in the world, and the country’s largest bank note, 100 “strong bolivars,” is now worth a mere 17 U.S. cents.

Now, following the discovery of a potentially rich oil deposit in the contentious Essequibo region in Guyana, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro appears intent on exploiting his neighbor’s land to revive the ailing economy.

The Washington Post observes:

For the past several days, Maduro has been assuring Venezuelans, many of whom are busy queuing up for groceries and basic goods, that his government is working to achieve a “great victory” and take control of the disputed Essequibo, an area equal to two-thirds of Guyanese territory.

Possession of the Essequibo — named for the big jungle river flowing through it — was granted to Guyana, then a British colony, by an arbitration judge in 1899. Venezuela challenged the ruling as unfair in 1962, and the dispute has been quietly simmering ever since.

“We are going to take back what our grandparents left for us,” Maduro told his country last week. He asked U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon to provide a new round of international arbitration, while promising “a great victory” over Guyana “by peaceful means.”

Maduro has assigned a retired army colonel, Pompeyo Torrealba, to lead a newly formed government agency, the “Essequibo Rescue Office,” whose plans include issuing 200,000 Venezuelan identification cards to the Guyanese living in the area.

Torrealba said it would devise an advertising campaign for Guyanese families living in the jungle aimed at “approaching them, getting to know them, winning them over and earning their love.”

Setting aside for a moment the matter of political and economic priorities, the attempt to take control of two-thirds of Guyana is a somewhat strange one in light of the hard-earned reputation of Maduro’s political mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, as a big-hearted, tireless advocate for the world’s poor.

After all, tiny Guyana is one of the most impoverished countries in South America, while Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Guyana was seemingly intent on closing this petro-gap and cashing in on its geography when it signed an offshore drilling agreement with ExxonMobil. In May, the company announced a “significant find” 120 miles off the Guyanese coast adjacent to the disputed Essequibo.

Read more here.

–Posted by Roisin Davis


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