Venezuela says will hold ‘high-level’ talks with Guyana on crisis
CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP)— Venezuela said Saturday it would hold a “high-level meeting” with Guyana to discuss their growing dispute over the oil-rich region of Essequibo, amid mounting international warnings against escalating the row.
The Venezuelan government said President Nicolas Maduro had agreed to the meeting during phone conversations with Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the president of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Lula’s office said he had proposed CELAC contact both sides about setting up talks, and that he had also warned Maduro against any “unilateral measures” that would worsen the crisis.
Maduro’s government said in a statement the meeting “will be announced in the coming days, with a goal of preserving our aspiration to maintain Latin America and the Caribbean as a region of peace, without interference by external actors.”
Venezuelan Communications Minister Freddy Nanez said Guyana had agreed to the meeting, though the Guyanese government did not immediately confirm.
Tension has soared over Essequibo, which has historically been controlled by Guyana, since Maduro’s government held a controversial referendum last weekend in which 95 percent of voters supported declaring Venezuela its rightful owner, according to official results.
The United States, Britain, Russia and South American countries have all urged de-escalation and a peaceful solution in recent days.
The United Nations Security Council held a closed-door meeting Friday on the spiraling dispute, which is also the subject of litigation before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Venezuela said Maduro had also spoken by phone with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Guterres “promised to work for direct talks between the parties… to help find a solution to the controversy,” the Venezuelan statement said.
Guyana has administered Essequibo, which makes up more than two-thirds of its territory, for more than a century.
The decades-old dispute with Venezuela intensified after ExxonMobil discovered oil in Essequibo in 2015, helping give Guyana — population 800,000 — the world’s biggest crude reserves per capita.
Since last Sunday’s referendum, Maduro has started legal maneuvers to create a Venezuelan province in Essequibo and ordered the state oil company to issue licenses for extracting crude in the region.
The United States meanwhile announced joint military exercises with Guyana, which Venezuela condemned as a “provocation.”
The row has caused growing concern in South America, historically a relatively peaceful region.
On Thursday, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay issued a joint declaration calling for “both parties to negotiate to seek a peaceful solution.”
Besides calling for talks in his phone call with Maduro, Lula “emphasised the importance of avoiding unilateral measures that could escalate the situation,” the Brazilian presidency said.
Veteran leftist Lula has so far kept friendly ties with Maduro, inviting the socialist president to a South American summit in May even as other regional leaders criticised the Venezuelan government’s human rights record.
But the Essequibo dispute is rife with risk for Brazil, which has sent army reinforcements to its northern borders with Guyana and Venezuela amid the surge in tension.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro also warned the situation was potentially explosive.
“The biggest misfortune that could hit South America would be a war,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“Reproducing a local version of the NATO/Russia conflict in the Amazon rainforest would just make us lose vital time, progress and life… Venezuela and Guyana need to de-escalate the conflict.”