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Latam Brief: Maduro leans in on Essequibo (December 7, 2023)

Venezuelan mlitary (Federico Parra/AFP)

Latin America Daily Briefing

Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro is increasingly leaning into his claim on an oil-rich chunk of neighboring Guyana.

This week he presented a map on television that showed Guyana’s Esequibo region as under the jurisdiction of Caracas and told a crowd of cheering supporters that he would create a Venezuelan state known as Guyana Esequibo; grant Venezuelan citizenship to Guyanese residents there; give licenses to state oil company PDVSA and state metal conglomerate CVG to search for oil in the area; and require energy companies already there, such as ExxonMobil, to leave in three months, reports the Washington Post.

On Tuesday, Maduro directed the country’s state-owned companies to “immediately” begin to explore and exploit the oil, gas and mines in Guyana’s Essequibo region. He also ordered the creation of local subsidiaries of Venezuelan public companies, reports the Associated Press.

The moves follow a referendum in Venezuela in which a disputed number of citizens voted to annex nearly 75% of Guyana. (See Tuesday’s post.)

Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali told the Associated Press that he was taking all necessary steps to defend his country.

Guyana said it would approach the UN Security Council for help if Venezuela makes any moves following the referendum, which Guyana had sought to stop with an urgent application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, reports AFP.

The United States says it is fully backing Guyana against Venezuela’s threat to annex its oil-rich western territory as tensions soar over their border dispute, reports Al Jazeera.

Brazil rejects any use of force by Venezuela to occupy the Essequibo, and will urge the Caracas government not to threaten its neighbor, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s top foreign policy advisor, Celso Amorim, told Reuters.

“The war of narratives has begun. A few weeks ago, Guyana raised a flag on a small hill in Essequibo. On the day of the referendum, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication released a video in which Indigenous people lowered the Guyanese flag and raised the Venezuelan flag,” reports El País.

Despite the intense saber-rattling, an actual invasion would be a death sentence for Maduro, argued James Bosworth in World Politics Review earlier this week.

Yesterday, Venezuela’s top prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, accused several top opposition figures of treason and ordered their arrest. He said Maduro opponents had accepted money from ExxonMobil to sabotage the Guyana annexation referendum. The attacks on opposition leaders “is the latest blow to prospects for credible elections that the government has agreed to hold next year in exchange for the lifting of crippling U.S. economic sanctions,” reports the New York Times.

Roberto Abdul, a member of the opposition commission which planned a primary election earlier this year, was detained yesterday. Abdul had previously been interviewed by authorities in connection with a criminal investigation into the primary, which the opposition has said was transparent and fair, reports Reuters.

More Venezuela

  • A Guyanese military helicopter carrying seven people vanished yesterday near the country’s border with Venezuela. Authorities referenced bad weather in the area and stressed there was no indication it may have been hit by hostile fire, reports the Associated Press.

  • Experts say Venezuela “would be in no condition to take advantage of the recently found oil in Guyana,” reports the Miami Herald.

Fujimori released from prison

Former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori was released from jail yesterday, where he was serving a 25-year-sentence for human rights violations. “Looking frail and wearing a face mask, the 85-year-old was received by his lawyer, two of his children Kenji and Keiko Fujimori – his political heiress and three-time presidential candidate – and helped into a waiting vehicle amid cheers from his supporters, who waved banners, honked horns and chanted “Fujimori Libertad”, or “Fujimori freedom,” reports the Guardian.

Earlier this week, Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal, reaffirmed its decision to reinstate a 2017 presidential pardon to Fujimiori, which was revoked by the Supreme Court two years later. The new ruling is counter to an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that found the pardon violated the rights of Fujimori’s victims. (Deustche Welle)

The country’s highest court ruled that an appeal to restore a 2017 pardon for the ailing Fujimori on humanitarian grounds was “founded,” reports Reuters.

President Dina Boluarte’s center-right government is expected to abide by the decision of the Peruvian court, reports the New York Times.

Fujimori was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison on charges of human rights abuses. He had been accused of being the mastermind behind the slayings of 25 Peruvians by a military death squad during his administration from 1990 to 2000, reports the Associated Press. Fujimori was also investigated over the forced sterilization of over 200,000 non-Spanish speaking Indigenous women during his tenure.


  • Joseph Vincent, “a former confidential informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration has pleaded guilty to conspiring to assassinate President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti,” who was killed in 2021, reports the Associated Press.


  • Cuba’s public sector — including education and health — is suffering an unprecedented brain drain as a result of “maximum pressure” U.S. sanctions, which have created massive shortages and stoked runaway inflation, combined with record-rates of emigration and a resurgent private sector, reports the Guardian.

  • Juanita Castro, the sister of the Cuban rulers Fidel and Raúl Castro who worked with the U.S. against their government, has died in Miami at 90. (Associated Press)

Culture Corner

  • The Amazon’s first floating film festival brings Indigenous stories to the big screen, reports the Guardian.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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