DR VISHNU BISRAM
WILL VENEZUELA invade Guyana and annex territory it claims? It will be suicidal to risk an invasion when one is not certain of the regional response to such action. The claimed territory is being litigated at the World Court in The Hague, awaiting a judgement from the 14-judge panel. A ruling is expected by mid next year. Guyana is not engaged in any provocative action. It will win global sympathy were Venezuela to invade.
Venezuela claims nearly two-thirds of Guyana’s territory that has been administered by Georgetown over the last couple hundred years. Venezuela has reportedly stationed 35,000 troops, built a military base and an airstrip on the border.
The Nicolás Maduro regime threatened military action to annex the claimed land and held an advisory referendum on December 3 that it said was overwhelmingly supported by participants. Independent observers said the turnout was relatively low. Long lines were not observed.
Venezuela’s economy has been crumbling and goods have been scarce; over four million Venezuelans live in border nations and tens of thousands migrated to Guyana with hundreds coming across the border daily in search of work and food. When people are struggling for food, they don’t have time for a referendum or war.
The Venezuelan people seek peace with Guyana and good-neighbourly relations.
Maduro’s political opponents said the referendum was a sidetrack to real issues affecting the country; the economy is in the doldrums thanks to US sanctions. The political opposition did not encourage participation in the referendum and Maduro’s main presidential opponent had called for its cancellation.
There’s huge resistance in Venezuela to Maduro; a large majority want him out. Clearly, support for the referendum was not overwhelming, suggesting Maduro faces serious problems were he to take military action to seize Guyana’s territory. Jingoistic, nationalistic, bravado action will not win allies from among Venezuela's opposition.
The Venezuelan army can walk over Guyana any time it wants and annex it’s territory because the army is well equipped and resourced, and Guyana lacks strong resistance forces to hold back the troops of the powerful neighbour to the west.
The problem with any such contemplated action is that Venezuela must be concerned, as it should, about the reaction or united response of the global community, the OAS in particular. The OAS will intervene immediately. Most of the members don’t have any sympathy for Maduro.
The OAS, influenced by the powerful voice and might of the US, will not stand by helplessly as the territorial integrity of a fellow member state is annexed. Guyana is of economic and geostrategic interest to the US and Western allies.
An invasion and annexation of Guyana, when a matter is before the International Court of Justice, prompting more crippling economic sanctions followed by a military pushback from the OAS, read the US, could result in a quick and massive defeat of Venezuela and perhaps the removal of Maduro from office.
A huge American military aircraft landed in Guyana last week to offer symbolic support. Military agreements were signed. No rational, wise leader who has been viewed over the last two decades as an enemy of powerful Western geostrategic interests will risk the survival of his regime to invade a helpless non-threatening neighbour.
Venezuela does not have many friends at the OAS and almost all of the countries, save Brazil and a couple of left wing anti-American regimes, will support regime change. Brazil sent a representative to Caracas to tone down the rhetoric and pursue a peaceful settlement of the claimed territory. Venezuela did not reject the good advice of Brasilia, although it did say it will not give up its claim to Essequibo.
Brazil has border issues with Guyana on the south and would not like to see Venezuela walk over and annex neighbouring territory. Venezuela would not want to anger or provoke the Brazilians when friends are very scarce. Also, Venezuela’s army is no match for Brazil, which has the largest armed forces after the US in the Americas – a disciplined force though never tested in battle. Venezuela’s armed forces were also never tested in battle and their equipment is old American and Russian-made that is no match for a modern military force.
Venezuela's military is not battle-hardened or combat-ready. Maduro knows that. And any confrontation with OAS troops will be disastrous for Venezuela, as well as the region. It will lead to a massive humanitarian crisis, the need for shelter and food, mass migration, among other issues.
The Americans, Brazilians, the OAS and the UN would prefer not to deal with a crisis over an invasion when Haiti has been a major challenge. It will be very costly to address another humanitarian crisis on top of the current ones in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine. Venezuela's neighbours and the US and Canada would prefer not to deal with a headache in the south. They would act swiftly to rein in Maduro.
Maduro knows the limitations he faces. Military action against Guyana and annexation of Guyana’s land will be resisted by the international community and could lead to his downfall.