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Venezuela wants two-thirds of the neighboring country

Updated 14.36 | Published on 04.58

Most of neighboring Guyana belongs to Venezuela, according to a disputed referendum this weekend. The result raises concerns in South America about the plans of Maduro’s authoritarian regime.

Despite international protests, Venezuela held a referendum on Sunday, on the question of whether the Essequibo region (also spelled Esquipa) in neighboring Guyana should actually belong to Venezuela. According to the Venezuelan authorities, 10.5 million out of 20.7 million eligible voters in the country participated, and 95% of them voted yes.

– We have taken the first steps in a new historical phase in the struggle for what is ours, to restore what the liberators left us, says President Nicolas Maduro, according to media in the capital, Caracas.

Does not recognize the court

The conflict dates back to the 19th century, when the young state of Venezuela argued with European colonial powers over waterways and gold deposits in the region. Great Britain, then master of colonial Guyana, was right in the 1899 arbitration award, but Venezuela later objected, saying that the decision was due to the collusion of the great powers.

Later, oil and various minerals found in the ground increased Essequibo’s attractiveness.

As of Friday, the International Court of Justice in The Hague had ruled that Venezuela should not act in any way that could change its control over the region. But Venezuela does not recognize the role of the UN court in the conflict, and therefore held the referendum as planned.

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Half of Norway

Now concerns are growing, both in Guyana and the rest of South America, about how Maduro will continue to pursue this case. Next year is the time for presidential elections, and in the face of an accelerating economic crisis, it is feared that Maduro will want to paint external threats to push voters to rally around him.

Guyana is one of the smallest countries in South America and consists largely of rainforests and inaccessible mountains. Essequibo is about half the size of Norway and has a population of a quarter of a million.