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Houthi-Style Piracy Is Exportable.Venezuelan violating Guyana’s maritime boundary. – Mary Anastasia O’Grady/WSJ

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a government event in Caracas, Venezuela, June 13, 2023.
Venezuelan ocean patrols are already violating Guyana’s maritime boundary. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a government event in Caracas, Venezuela, June 13, 2023. (Zuma)

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Continued Houthi attacks on global shipping assets in the Red Sea have damaged Middle Eastern economies like Egypt’s. But they also may have increased threats to U.S. national security and international trade in other parts of the world.

Military-intelligence analysts I have spoken to believe that enemies of the West are looking to export the Houthi model of aggression—a kind of 21st-century piracy—to other jurisdictions. These analysts are worried that Guyanese waters could become a prime target. The role of the Houthis will be played by Venezuela.

This is speculative. But it comes from specialists who spend their days tracking the activities of nondemocratic actors out to destabilize the Americas. It isn’t the only explanation for recent shipments of military aid to Venezuela from Russia and Iran, complementing earlier deliveries from those countries and from China. But it’s a logical one and is supported by recent developments. If successful, the strategy would crimp global oil supplies, strengthen the narrative that Washington is impotent, and empower a U.S. adversary close to home.

The socialist wave in Venezuela that the late Hugo Chávez rode to authoritarianism has crashed. Dictator Nicolás Maduro is clinging to power through repression. According to polls, if given the chance to vote him out of office, most Venezuelans would take it.

The top choice for a new Venezuelan president is Maria Corina Machado. She’s backed by a coalition of opposition parties and won an opposition primary in October with more than 90% of the vote. She’s the first politician to overcome the problem of fragmentation among the antigovernment electorate, which makes her a giant threat to Mr. Maduro.

Unlike the anti-Chavistas who came before her, she’s a hero to working and poor Venezuelans and especially women. Their families have been torn apart by emigration as hyperinflation, poverty and crime have ballooned under the corrupt police state. This is why the regime has barred her from running in the July 28 election and has arrested members of her team. But Mr. Maduro is also looking for ways to recharge his base. Enter Guyana.

Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s Essequibo region goes back to when the smaller, English-speaking country was still a British colony. Venezuela never accepted the 1899 ruling of a Paris tribunal that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana. In the 1966 Geneva Agreement the matter wasn’t resolved but was put aside. As provided for in that agreement, the case is now before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. A ruling is expected this spring.

Venezuelan schoolchildren are raised on the narrative that the Essequibo was stolen from them. Railing against Guyana has long been a winning issue for Venezuelan politicians.

Yet playing the nationalism card in the face of dire unpopularity at home isn’t the only motivation that Mr. Maduro has to try to seize the Essequibo. He wants a piece of the action in the vast oil resources under the sea off the coast of Guyana.

A Venezuelan military operation to take and hold the Essequibo region’s rugged terrain would be challenging. As has been noted by at least one unnamed U.S. national-security official, Mr. Maduro doesn’t seem to have the necessary armaments. Most importantly, such a dramatic undertaking wouldn’t secure his ultimate goal of controlling the waters off Guyana.

On the other hand, a Houthi strategy of sporadically attacking commercial assets could undermine oil exploration and, Mr. Maduro has reason to hope, force a negotiation about rights to the sea.

Maduro military harassment of Guyana dates back to at least 2018. But it spiked in September when Caracas flew Russian Suhkoi jets low across Guyanese airspace. And at the same time, Venezuela began ramping up its political rhetoric and pushing military assets toward the border—including the maritime boundary—with Guyana. Venezuelan ocean-patrol vessels have long breached Guyanese waters, but in recent months they have sailed well into their neighbor’s domain.

Mr. Maduro may be blowing smoke. But the buildup of a working inventory of arms is troubling. In a forthcoming report, the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society says that thanks to Iran, Venezuela today has “an extensive range of military hardware.” This includes “swift Zolfaghar patrol boats, alongside a diversified drone fleet” outfitted with rocket launchers and smart bombs. Iran has also sent antiship cruise missiles, which China has supplied in the past.

Two analysts have independently told me that they’ve seen intelligence indicating that Russia recently sent weapons to Venezuela that could be used to hit Guyana or its allies hard if there is any attempt to defend against acts of piracy.

Deterring the use of the Houthi model in the Caribbean won’t be easy. But a first step requires choking off the external sources of weaponry, which the U.S. and its allies can do if they find the political will.

____________________________________________________________

Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes «The Americas,» a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis­-based Liberty Fund.  EnergiesNet.com does not necessarily share these views.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on April 01, 2024. All comments posted and published on EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of EnergiesNet or Petroleumworld.

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EnergiesNet.com 04 01 2024

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