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Latam Brief: Venezuela threatens Guyana territory (December 1, 2023)


Latin America Daily Briefing

Venezuelans vote in a controversial referendum on Sunday: Nicolás Maduro’s government is asking citizens whether Venezuela should invade Guyana, part a long-term territorial dispute made more relevant after Guyana discovered significant amounts of oil there.

Sunday’s five-part referendum would, among other things, grant Maduro special powers to invade Guyana and create a new Venezuelan state encompassing 74% of English-speaking Guyana’s current landmass.

The practical and legal implications of a yes vote remain unclear — it is widely seen as a ploy for Maduro to drum up support ahead of next year’s presidential elections. But many residents are on edge, reports the Associated Press. “Many Guyanese see the threat as real and fear, among other things, the loss of their citizenship,” reports the Miami Herald.

And “there are growing concerns that Maduro could push the country into war as he uses the century-old dispute to whip up patriotic fervour,” reports the Guardian.

“The potential for Venezuela, an ally of Russia, to follow the referendum with an incursion into Western-leaning Guyana has raised concerns in the region,” reports the Financial Times.

Brazil’s defense ministry said it “has intensified defensive actions” along its northern border this week as it monitors the territorial dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, reports Reuters.

In 2018, Guyana asked the international court of justice to settle the centuries-old territorial dispute matter, but the decision remains years away and Venezuela contests the court’s authority.

Guyana sees the referendum as a case of annexation and asked the International Court of Justice on Nov. 14 to halt parts of the vote. Today the court barred Venezuela from altering Guyana’s control over disputed territory, but didn’t specifically ban referendum, reports the Associated Press.

“Venezuela has consistently embarked on a pattern of subversion, threats, and intimidation to fulfill its territorial ambitions and/or force concession by Guyana,” claims Guyanese foreign secretary Robert Persaud in Americas Quarterly.

Regional Relations

  • “COP28, the United Nations climate conference, just kicked off in Dubai, and several Latin American countries have arrived with a renewed swagger,” writes Catherine Osborn in the Latin America Brief. However, “Latin American countries’ high interest rates and lack of accessible finance are holding them back from receiving the investments needed to reach their renewable energy goals.”

  • Brazil will join the cooperation charter of the OPEC+ oil alliance next year, a move that won’t bind it to making production cuts, reports Bloomberg.

  • Argentina will not join the BRICS grouping of developing nations, the country’s incoming foreign minister Diana Mondino said yesterday. (Politico)


  • Opposition candidates barred from public office in Venezuela will be able to appear before the country’s top tribunal, which will rule on their bans, reports Reuters. The Maduro government’s move came “on the day of a United States deadline for the government of President Nicolas Maduro to take steps to remove the bans or risk the renewal of recently relaxed sanctions.”


  • The Nation explores Argentina’s youth vote in favor of Milei: “The combination of hard and soft imperial technologies can encourage many young Argentines to want to be anything but. Indeed, 70 percent of young Argentines say they want to emigrate. Milei embraced this dejection and offered an anti-patriotic nationalism.”

  • Milei has moderated many of his more radical policy proposals since winning Argentina’s presidential election. Does a more pragmatic Milei emerging? A”nd if that is the case, what are the circumstances he will face once in office — what are his key tests ahead” asks the Americas Quarterly podcast in conversation with Eduardo Levy Yeyati.


  • “Given Latin America’s history of local and international terrorism and the renewed fighting in the Middle East, there is a clear need for greater hemispheric cooperation to combat terrorism in the region,” writes Celina B. Realuyo in the Wilson Center’s Weekly Asado. “Without greater US support, it is not clear that Latin America’s law enforcement and intelligence efforts have the capacity to detect, detain, dismantle, and deter terrorist networks like Hezbollah. Yet the U.S. national security focus remains tilted toward great power competition with China and Russia.”


  • “The region of the Moskitia on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua is one of Central America’s last great wildernesses, a paradise of pristine ecosystems and biodiversity. But today, the jungle of the Moskitia is dying. And it is organized crime that is killing it,” reports InSight Crime.

  • “Police bullets were found lodged in the bodies of some of the 46 inmates killed in a Honduras women’s prison riot in June, raising questions about potential police collusion with organized crime,” reports Reuters.

  • The president of Honduras’ main opposition party fled an international airport Tuesday breaking through a parking gate with his pickup truck after immigration agents stopped him for carrying two passports before he boarded a flight to the United States, authorities said. (Associated Press)

El Salvador

  • El Salvador’s Congress granted President Nayib Bukele leave for six months yesterday to allow him to campaign for reelection. Lawmakers then voted to approve Bukele’s selection of Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara, his private secretary, to fill in until his current term ends in May of next year, reports the Associated Press.


  • U.S. authorities deported Guy Philippe to Haiti, yesterday. Phillip, a former Haitian police commander, politician and rebel who staged a coup against Haiti’s then-president in 2004, is a potentially disruptive force in the country, already in turmoil, reports the New York Times.

  • “It wasn’t clear what role, if any, Philippe expected to play upon his return to Haiti, which is under siege by gangs that grew extremely powerful in the political vacuum created by the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse,” reports the Associated Press.

  • Philippe has an outstanding warrant stemming from a 2016 fatal attack on a police station in the southern coastal city of Les Cayes, reports the Associated Press.


  • Young political activists helped Guatemala’s Movimiento Semilla cinch electoral victory this year with a campaign aimed at Gen Z using TikTok. Indigenous leaders were then critical in defending Bernardo Arévalo’s victory when the political establishment sought to overturn the results, reports the Washington Post.


  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has urged the Peruvian government to not free ex-President Alberto Fujimori after the country’s top constitutional court ruled to restore his pardon, reports Reuters.


  • Ecuador’s National Assembly impeached former President Guillermo Lasso and declared him responsible for the crime of embezzlement, reports EFE.


  • A Paraguayan government official was ousted after it was revealed that he signed a “proclamation” with representatives of the United States of Kailasa — a fugitive Indian guru’s fictional country, who also appear to have duped several other Paraguayan officials, reports the Guardian.


  • “Henry Kissinger’s death has brought out some bitter epitaphs from Latin America where the legacy of US intervention helped saddle the region with some of the most brutal military regimes of the 20th century,” reports the Guardian. (See yesterday’s briefs.)

  • “Henry Kissinger helped orchestrate the demise of Chilean democracy in 1970. His legacy reflects a ruthless prioritization of U.S. hegemony over democratic principles,” writes Andre Pagliarini in NACLA.

  • The Black Atlantic exhibit in Cambridge University “goes beyond exposing tales of exploitation, embracing those of resilience and liberation. It illuminates the genesis of colonialism and new cultures that persistently shape our contemporary world,” writes Kenneth Mohamned in the Guardian.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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