Why Maduro sparked a crisis: three opinions on Venezuela’s war with Guyana

Almost no one knew about the existence of Guyana a week ago. And now this country is on everyone’s lips because of Caracas’ officially announced intention to annex the lion’s share of its territory.

Venezuelan authorities announced that more than 10.4 million of 20.7 million eligible voters turned out in a consultative referendum on Sunday, December 3, and voted to take the oil-rich Essequibo region, which covers about 74% of the country's territory, from neighboring Guyana. , home to 125,000 of its 800,000 population.

Following the referendum, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro posted several videos of himself celebrating his victory surrounded by scores of supporters, while Guyanese President Irfaan Ali reassured the population with assurances that state borders “will remain intact” and that Guyanese “have nothing to fear in the next hours, days and months.»

Tensions between Venezuela and Guyana rose sharply on Wednesday, December 6, after Nicolas Maduro declared Essequibo a state of Venezuela, unveiled a new map of the country to include the region, and ordered state oil company PDVSA to «urgently begin» issuing oil production licenses. , gas and minerals in Essequibo.

Meanwhile, experts are debating what Nicolas Maduro's next move will be.. Is he preparing a military invasion of Guyana? Or is he just distracting the Venezuelan population from internal problems? offers to find out three main versions of what is happening.

Maduro divided the opposition

Venezuela's leader is stoking nationalist sentiment not for war, but to win the 2024 presidential election. So says Oliver Stünkel, a German-Brazilian political scientist, writer and associate professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of International Relations in São Paulo.

“Most analysts agree that the Venezuelan government's increasingly bellicose rhetoric towards Guyana should not be considered a prelude to real conflict.. Any violation of Guyana's sovereignty will lead to almost complete diplomatic isolation of Venezuela and the resumption of US sanctions against it.. President Ifran Ali will be able to receive assistance from the United States to open a military base in the Essequibo region,” writes Oliver Stünkel.

According to him, Maduro decided to create a diplomatic crisis after opposition parties in Venezuela were able to organize and conduct primary elections in October 2023 without state assistance, receiving a phenomenally high turnout of 2.3 million people. In response, Maduro held a referendum on the Essequibo issue and showed that he was able to mobilize more people. In addition, by inciting nationalist sentiments, he managed to divert the population's attention from economic problems and divided the opposition.

“Some Maduro opponents have called for a boycott of the referendum, but others have defended it, perhaps out of fear of being labeled enemies of the homeland… Maduro can be expected to use the referendum outcome to make the Essequibo issue dominate the public debate. He is likely to undertake a variety of political stunts, ranging from troop movements to the Guyana border to announcements about the purchase of modern weapons from Russia,” predicts Oliver Stünkel.

Maduro creates emergency to cancel elections

Socialist Maduro is unpopular. Classic liberal Maria Corina Machado won 93% of the vote in October's opposition-sponsored primary and is threatening to take the presidency from him in 2024.. Therefore, Maduro is escalating the situation to cancel the elections, the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, believes.

“Maduro seems to be hoping to annex most of Guyana after the referendum under the cynical pretext of “anti-imperialism” and returning lost lands to Venezuela. More importantly, the state of war could allow Maduro to declare a state of emergency and delay or completely cancel the presidential elections. He may even cynically point to Ukraine, which recently did the same thing, but the significant difference is that Ukraine is not an invader, but a victim of invasion,” writes the Cato Institute.

Military analysts call Venezuela a “paper tiger”, considering its army poorly armed. Yet Nicolas Maduro's armed forces, with 123,000 active-duty troops, dwarf Guyana's 3,400-strong army.

Despite the enormous numerical superiority, the invasion will be problematic due to the fact that much of the 800-kilometer Venezuela-Essequibo border is covered in dense jungle, which will create impenetrable cover for small groups and impenetrable barriers for armored vehicles.

“The most logical option for dictator Nicolas Maduro would be a combination of air attacks on the few urban areas of Essequibo with amphibious landings,” writes the Cato Institute.

Researchers emphasize that military actions are always unpredictable and risky, but Venezuela can clearly count on help from China and Russia. Although Beijing is an investor in Guyana, it will not deter an invasion as it is more interested in making the US uncomfortable in a region where US corporations have made far greater investments.. Russia's interest is even more obvious.

Maduro exploits Biden's weakness

The Venezuelan dictator, not satisfied with the subjugation and plunder of his own people, decided to appropriate the oil fields of Guyana. This is stated in an editorial article by the American political magazine Washington Examiner.

With the resources of the Essequibo region, where huge oil deposits were discovered in 2015, Maduro plans to pay for a way out of the crisis that Venezuela was mired in years ago due to excessive government spending, inflation, corruption and mismanagement of its own oil fields.. Regional military heavyweights, the United States and Brazil, can stop the dictator, but both countries have fallen under the control of indecisive leaders.

Biden administration eases sanctions imposed on Venezuela during Trump's presidency. Maduro could see this as the White House's desperate need for a stable supply of Venezuelan oil to world markets.. In this regard, the Venezuelan dictator may think that by seizing Guyana's large fields he will only tighten his grip on Washington's neck.

“Maduro apparently believes Biden is distracted by the crisis in the Middle East or is simply weak. The dictator feels that he can make threats without significant risk of provoking a response that he would have to worry about.. Biden could share responsibility with Brazilian far-left President Lula da Silva, who often talks about human rights and anti-imperialism but is unlikely to send the military to defend Guyana,” writes the Washington Examiner.

The Washington Examiner blamed Biden for refusing to provide Ukraine with needed weapons, for the chaotic handover of Afghanistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and for minimal response to recent attacks by Iranian satellites in the Middle East, which have fired mortars, rockets and exploding drones at US military bases and ships. .

“The president's timidity gives Iran the belief that it can act with impunity.. This increases rather than decreases the likelihood of large-scale war. This makes Maduro more confident that his threats will pay him dividends. Maduro seeks opportunity in American indecision. Biden shouldn't let him behave like this.. It undermines security and democratic stability in the Americas, it emboldens Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to pursue their imperial designs more violently, and it makes the world a more dangerous place,” concludes the Washington Examiner.