Guyana Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has rejected Venezuela’s consultative referendum on the fate of the Essequibo region, saying it was a “disastrous” outcome for the country’s leader, Nicolas Maduro.
The referendum, which was held on Sunday, sought to determine whether Venezuelans were in support of incorporating the oil and mineral-rich Essequibo region into Venezuela.
Venezuela has asserted that the region, which makes up two-thirds of Guyana, was taken from their country when the borders were drawn over 100 years ago.
Figures from the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) suggest that 10 million people voted in the referendum and there was a 95 per cent vote in favour of annexation.
Speaking with Guardian Media during the COP28 Summit in Dubai yesterday, however, Jagdeo challenged the figures and suggested the low turnout of voters for the referendum revealed that the majority of Venezuelans did not support a reclamation of the Essequibo region.
Referring to some reports which suggested there was a 50 per cent turnout of voters, Jagdeo said he felt these numbers were deliberately falsified.
“Even if that was a real number, it’s about half of the eligible voters and not all of the people who turned out voted ‘yes,’ so when you look at the yes vote compared to the total eligible population, it’s less than half, that can’t be seen as a mandate,” Jagdeo said.
“And especially in a country where from childhood people were told that Essequibo belonged to them, so we think it’s a rejection of Maduro’s referendum and the people of Venezuela saw through it as a distraction from his electoral woes.”
Yesterday, it was reported that some Venezuelans did not participate in the referendum, with one woman describing it as a “trap” to suspend their 2024 elections.
Last Friday, a ruling from the International Court of Justice ordered Venezuela to refrain from taking any action that would alter the situation in Essequibo. Despite this, however, Venezuela went ahead with the referendum.
Yesterday, Jagdeo said while Guyana did not believe Venezuela would take military action, they were quite prepared to defend themselves if necessary.
“Maduro has been telling many of the leaders around the world he has no aggressive intent towards Guyana,” he said.
“His lawyer to the ICJ said that they don’t plan to invade but we are not letting our guards down and that’s why we are very vigilant now and have been working with several partners to enhance defence cooperation that should there be any adventurous intent to have an incursion into our territory, that we are prepared to use whatever means necessary to defend our country.”
In addition to this, he felt Guyana has also been getting the necessary support it needs.
“The international community has been very vocal in favour of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana,” he noted.
Addressing the issue of support from T&T specifically, the Jagdeo said communication had taken place through the mechanism of Caricom.
“Caricom has been very robust in their support for Guyana. They have some of the strongest statements that have emanated from around the world,” he said.
He said there was no doubt that all the member states of Caricom supported his country in the impasse.
He made it clear that Guyana and T&T still have strong bilateral relations and even emphasised the point that it (T&T) subscribed to all the Caricom statements on the issue.