The presidents of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, and Guyana, Irfaan Ali, will meet on December 14 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines over their dispute over Essequibo, the oil-rich Guyanese territory claimed by Caracas, the presidency of the Lesser Antilles archipelago announced on Saturday.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is trying to mediate, will be present "at the request" of both sides. Presidents Maduro and Ali are "both (...) agreed that this meeting would be held under the auspices of CELAC," the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, of which St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves holds the rotating presidency, "and CARICOM," the Caribbean Community, according to a statement from the archipelago.
There is an urgent need to de-escalate the conflict and establish an appropriate, face-to-face dialogue," the letter signed by Ralph Gonsalves said. "You have both subscribed to this commitment to peaceful coexistence, the application of and respect for international law and the absence of the threat or use of force," he said. "Let us all resolve to make this historic meeting a success," concluded the Prime Minister of the host archipelago, the modalities of which are still to be determined.
Read alsoGuyana-Venezuela crisis: the crash of a Guyanese helicopter is a sign of the "afterlife", according to Maduro
Caracas had earlier announced a "high-level" meeting, after talks between Presidents Maduro and Lula. On Saturday morning, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva asked his Venezuelan counterpart not to take "unilateral measures" that would escalate the border conflict. The president of Brazil, whose government has sent military reinforcements to its northern border, also reiterated the "growing concern" of other South American countries, which, in a joint statement on Thursday evening, had invited "both sides to dialogue and seek a peaceful solution".
If there's one thing we don't want, it's a war in South America," Lula made clear at the time. On Saturday, Colombian President Gustavo Petro followed suit, saying on the X network that "the greatest misfortune that could befall South America would be a war."
"NATO-Russia in the Amazon rainforest"
The discovery of vast oil deposits by the US company ExxonMobil in 2015 and Guyana's tenders for exploitation in the area have revived the long-standing conflict over Essequibo, a 160,000-square-kilometre territory administered by Guyana but which Venezuela claims by arguing that the real border is the one dating back to the Spanish empire in 2.
The dispute is being referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN's highest court, which Venezuela does not recognize. Guyana believes that the borders were established in 1899, when the United Kingdom was the colonial power of the Territory. The two countries have been exchanging sharp statements for several days, and the UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Friday night but no comment was received.
Russia, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who has supported his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since the first hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, called for "peaceful solutions acceptable to all". Washington, an ally of Georgetown, affirmed its "unwavering support for Guyana's sovereignty." The Venezuelan defense minister has called the U.S. air military exercises in Guyana a "provocation." "Replicating a local version of the NATO/Russia conflict in the Amazon rainforest would only waste our vital time, progress and lives.... Venezuela and Guyana must de-escalate the conflict," Colombian President Petro said on Saturday.
However, analysts believe that the Venezuelan government's nationalist rhetoric on the Essequibo, and the referendum held on Sunday calling for 95% of the union to join Venezuela, according to disputed official figures, are an attempt to manipulate Nicolas Maduro's political politics less than a year before the 2024 presidential election in which he is seeking a third term. Some 3,125 people, or one-fifth of Guyana's population, live in Essequibo, which covers two-thirds of the country's land area.