CARACAS/GEORGETOWN (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday he would allow oil exploration in a disputed area with Guyana, which said it would inform the United Nations and the International Court of Justice of his comments. international justice Court).
Maduro’s pledge to allow development around the Esquibo River came after his government held a referendum over the weekend in which voters rejected the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over the dispute and supported the creation of a new state in the territory.
Although Maduro has repeatedly said the referendum is binding, the International Court of Justice – whose comprehensive ruling in the case could take years – last week blocked Venezuela from taking any action that changes the status quo in the oil-rich region.
Maduro said state oil company PDVSA and state iron and steel company CVG would establish sections of the disputed area.
He said on state television that the state companies “will immediately proceed to establish the division of PDVSA Esequibo and CVG Esequibo and we will immediately proceed to grant operating licenses for the exploration, exploitation of oil and gas and mines in our Guayana Esequiba.”
Maduro also said he had proposed a law to the government-controlled legislature to create the new state, and companies already operating in the waters in the region would have three months to leave the country.
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali said in remarks later on Tuesday that Maduro was showing “flagrant disregard” for the ICJ ruling.
“Guyana will report this matter early in the morning. We will write to the UN Security Council and the court,” Ali said in a national television broadcast. “The Guyana Defense Forces are on high alert… Venezuela has clearly declared itself an outlaw state,” he added.
Ali said he had already spoken with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Venezuela has reactivated its claim to the 160,000 square kilometers (61,776 square miles) of territory in recent years, following the discovery of offshore oil and gas. The maritime borders between the two countries are also disputed.
A consortium led by ExxonMobil began oil production off the coast of Guyana in late 2019 and exports began in 2020.
Guyana, which currently produces about 400,000 barrels per day of oil and gas, this year received offers to build new shallow water and deep water areas from local and foreign companies in its first international bidding round. No exploration licenses were signed in those areas.
Ali said investors in Guyana have nothing to worry about.
“Our message is very clear: your investments are safe,” he said. He added, “Our international partners and the international community are ready and have assured us of their support.”
An Exxon spokesman said in response to questions: “Border issues must be addressed by competent governments and international organizations.”
Analysts said the vote was an attempt by Maduro to gauge support for his government ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.
(Reporting by Maila Armas and Daisy Buitrago in Caracas and Kiana Wilburg in Georgetown), Additional reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston, Writing by Julia Sims Cobb; Edited by Sonali Paul
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