Roberto Cisneros Agence France-Presse An aerial view of the Essequibo taken from Guyana. A territory of 160,000 km2 rich in oil and natural resources, Essequibo is administered by Georgetown and claimed by Venezuela.
Patrick Fort – Agence France-Presse and Esteban Rojas – Agence France-Presse in Caracas
The Venezuelan president launched military exercises with some 5,600 troops in Guyana's border area on Thursday, in “response to the provocation” of the United Kingdom, which sent a warship to Guyana in the midst of crisis on the Essequibo.
“I ordered the activation of a joint action of all the Bolivarian [Venezuelan] National Armed Forces in the Eastern Caribbean, on the Atlantic coast, a joint action of a defensive nature, in response to the provocation and threat of United Kingdom against the peace and sovereignty of our country,” President Maduro said during a radio and television broadcast, in which he showed images of warships and fighter jets on patrol.
The British patrol vessel “HMS Trent” will arrive in Guyana on Friday and is scheduled to participate in military exercises in Guyanese waters for “less than a week”. It is not planned for it to dock in Georgetown, said a Guyanese Foreign Affairs source.
The HMS Trent, usually based in the Mediterranean, was sent to the Caribbean at the beginning of December to fight drug trafficking.
In a statement, the Venezuelan government had “categorically rejected the arrival of the ship […] which constitutes an act of hostile provocation”.
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“The presence of this military vessel is extremely serious”, therefore “Venezuela urges the Guyanese authorities to take immediate steps for the removal of HMS Trent, and to refrain from further involve military powers in the territorial dispute,” the text adds.
Tension rose after the launch of oil tenders by Guyana in September, then the referendum organized in response on December 3 in Venezuela on the annexation of the Essequibo, a territory of 160,000 km2 rich in oil and natural resources. , administered by Georgetown and claimed by Venezuela.
Some 125,000 people, or a fifth of Guyana's population, live in Essequibo, which covers two-thirds of the country's land area.
Venezuela maintains that the Essequibo River should be the natural border, as in 1777 during the time of the Spanish Empire. Guyana argues that the border, dating from the English colonial era, was ratified in 1899 by an arbitration court in Paris.
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met Dec. 15 in a summit that helped ease pressure — a pledge not to use force — but did not resolve the dispute, with both countries camped on their positions.
According to Mr. Maduro's broadcast, the first phase of the Venezuelan military exercises included 5,682 fighters with F-16 (American) and Sukhoi (Russian) warplanes patrolling the area.
The United Kingdom, the former colonial power, had already shown its support by sending its Secretary of State for the Americas, David Rutley, there on December 18.