Venezuela confirmed on Friday, December 1, the holding of a referendum on Sunday on the annexation of Essequibo, an oil-rich region under the administration of Guyana, despite the order given by the highest UN court to abstain of any change to the status quo. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which sits in The Hague, on Friday ordered Caracas to “refrain from undertaking any action which would modify the situation prevailing in the disputed territory”, without however mentioning the Venezuelan consultation on Sunday .
“Nothing in international law allows the Court to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela, nor to claim to prohibit or modify a sovereign act,” said Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, reading an official document during the 'a press conference. “Venezuela, as it announced (...), will continue all preparations with a view to holding the consultative referendum,” continued Ms. Rodriguez, who was accompanied by Defense Ministers Vladimir Padrino Lopez and Foreign Affairs Ministers Yvan Gil.
Caracas has for decades claimed the Essequibo, a region of 160,000 km2 representing more than two thirds of Guyana's territory and where around a fifth of its population lives, or some 125,000 people. The December 3 referendum is supposed to be about the rejection of a court decision dating back to 1899 which fixes the country's border with Guyana, a former colony of Great Britain and the Netherlands.
In hearings earlier this month before the ICJ, Guyana found the consultation posed an “existential threat”. The country asked the court to force Venezuela to “urgently” stop the referendum “in its current form” and to refrain from any action aimed at taking control of the territory.
But Caracas invokes an agreement signed in Geneva in 1966 with the United Kingdom, before Guyana's independence, annulling the 1899 court decision and laying the foundations for a negotiated settlement. Venezuela's claim has become even hotter since the discovery of oil in the Essequibo by ExxonMobil in 2015.