THE Venezuelan government is now telling energy companies which got permission from Guyana to explore its oil-rich maritime area that such permission is "absolutely null and void." This follows rapidly increasing tensions over a territorial dispute which goes as far back as the 1800s.
Over the last few weeks, the two countries have been in a tit-for-tat over Guyana's Essequibo region – a matter which is currently before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The disputed area is rich in gold, diamonds, timber and other natural resources.
The Venezuelan government will host a referendum on December 3 on this
, which Guyana sees as a kickstarter to "annexing" two-thirds of it.
Both countries have since warned the other that continued tensions can incite violence, and Caricom has indicated it supports Guyana.
On Thursday, the Guyanese government announced the companies that won bids for its offshore exploration. One Guyanese company – Sispro Inc – was awarded two blocks: S3 and D2.
Others included TotalEnergies, Qatar Energy, and Petronas (S4), International Group Investment Inc and Montego Energy (S5), Liberty Petroleum Corporation and Cybele Energy (S7), ExxonMobil, Hess, and CNOOC (S8), International Group Investment Inc. and Montego Energy (S10) and Delcorp Inc, Watad Energy and Arabian Drilling Company (D1).
Sispro was the lone individual bidder.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, the Venezuelan government told transnational energy companies "that have received, illegally, from the Government of Guyana, authorisations to explore and exploit hydrocarbons in a vast undelimited maritime space, that such actions are absolutely null and void and contrary to public international law and the principles enshrined in Venezuela's Constitution."
Because of this, it urged all such companies to "avoid any incursion" into the area "as it constitutes a violation of (our) sovereign rights, constitutional order..."
It added that it believes the Guyanese government has assumed a "reckless policy of association" with the US Southern Command for the "unauthorised deployment of military exercises in the area, which today constitutes the greatest threat to the peace and stability of the Caribbean region, aggravating these actions and generating important risks..."
The statement said Venezuela maintained a doctrine of peace and called on Guyana's government to have "direct dialogue...
"That may allow for seeking paths towards the re-establishment of international law, broken by the granting of oil licenses in a maritime space to date and announces to the international community that it will continue with its diplomatic efforts in defence of its historical rights."
Meanwhile, Guyana's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Todd met with Cuban ambassador Jorge Francisco Soberon Luis and Russian ambassador Alexander Kurmaz on Thursday and Friday.
In a statement, the ministry said, "During the meeting, Minister Todd provided an update on the recent actions by Venezuela.
"The Minister reiterated that the Government of Guyana is committed to a peaceful resolution of the case before the ICJ and the region being a zone of peace."
Also on Friday, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro said he supported Caricom's stance on the issue.
"We condemn any act that constitutes a breach of peace and an attempt to encroach on a country's sovereign borders.
"This is an irrefutable violation of Guyana's territorial rights."