Image of Kaieteur Falls, located in Kaieteur National Park in Potaro-Siparuni, which is located in a section of the Amazon rainforest in the Potaro-Siparuni region of Guyana, taken on Sept. 24, 2022. - Despite the dispute with Guyana, the Essequibo region is a migration destination from Venezuela. (Credit: Patrick FORT / AFP)

(CNN Español) -- The government of Nicolás Maduro has called a referendum to reaffirm its rights over the Essequibo territory, which has been in dispute with Guyana since the late 3th century. In that popular consultation, which will take place on December <>, Venezuela will ask its citizens if they want to annex Guyana Essequiba and grant the people who live there the citizenship of that country.

  • How to vote in Venezuela's referendum on the Essequibo, the territory it disputes with Guyana?

Venezuela claims that it was stripped of its territory in 1899 in the Paris Arbitral Award, which it described as null and void when denouncing alleged defects in the procedure before the UN in 1962. For its part, Guyana rejects this referendum and has asked the International Court of Justice to issue an emergency order to stop the referendum, since, by right, the territory belongs to it.

What is the territory of the Essequibo and how long has it been disputed? Here are some historical facts and milestones to understand the controversy.

Map of the dividing lines from 1824 to 1899. (Credit: Guayana Essequiba Report - History of a Dispossession / Government of Venezuela)

Basic Facts

* The territory claimed by Venezuela is around 160,000 km2.

* The estimated population of the Essequibo is 125,000, out of more than 791,000 inhabitants of Guyana.


* Current political leaders of the disputing parties: Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela) and Irfaan Ali (Guyana).

*Guyana has controlled the area claimed by Venezuela since 1966, when it gained independence from the United Kingdom, and represents approximately two-thirds of its total area.

* Language: English is spoken in the area under claim, which is one of the few territories in South America with that official language, in addition to the Malvinas-Falklands. Meanwhile, Spanish is spoken in Venezuela, as in much of the region.

What's in the disputed area?

The area claimed by Venezuela, marked on the country's maps with diagonal stripes, is located west of the Essequibo River, which is located in Guyana.

Despite the fact that it is a territory mostly made up of a practically impenetrable jungle, it is at the same time prosperous and rich in natural and mineral resources, with a varied flora and fauna.

  • What is Guyana Essequiba and where is it? What You Need to Know About Venezuela's Oil-Rich Region with Guyana

In 2015, ExxonMobil reported the discovery of oil off the coast of Guyana.

The area has agricultural potential and additionally has reserves of diamonds, gold and bauxite.

Historical Milestones:

1810 –– Venezuela declares its independence from Spain in the territory that in 1777 corresponded to the Captaincy General of Venezuela. Included in that declaration was the area that reached the left bank of the Essequibo River.

1814 –– In the midst of the War of Independence, the British took possession of the colonies of Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo, which then in 1831 became part of what was called British Guiana, the territory east of the Essequibo River. Prior to that, the Dutch East India Company was home to what is now Suriname.

1840 –– As the western boundary of British Guiana was not defined, the United Kingdom commissioned Robert Shomburgk, a German explorer, who years earlier had carried out botanical studies in the area, to draw up a map of the boundaries between British Guiana and its neighbors, including Venezuela. The result is still known today as the Shomburgk Line, which locates the boundary of Venezuela at the mouth of the Orinoco River. In 1841, Venezuela reacted by stating that it had been stripped of its territories located west of the Essequibo.

1850 –– The United Kingdom and Venezuela agreed that the disputed area would not be occupied and defined it as disputed territory.

1897 –– With the mediation of the United States, Venezuela and the United Kingdom undertook to respect the outcome of an international arbitration with the participation of England, Russia and the United States, the latter representing Venezuela.

1899 –– The Paris Arbitral Award granted the British sovereignty over the entire disputed area and left Venezuela a portion of land to the south and the mouths of the Orinoco River.

1962 –– Venezuela complained to the United Nations that there were defects in the arbitral proceedings and made it clear that it considered the ruling of the Award null and void. He argues that a posthumous letter from one of the U.S. arbitrators evidenced what he claims was an alleged compromise between the Russian president in court and British representatives to achieve a unanimous decision contrary to Caracas.

1966 –– The Geneva Agreement is signed, in which the United Kingdom recognises that there is a dispute over that territory.

That same year, Guyana achieved its independence and a direct negotiation began between the two countries over the territorial dispute.

1970 –– With the good offices of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, Venezuela, Guyana and the United Kingdom signed the so-called Protocol of Port of Spain on 18 June, which established a period of 12 years from the initialling during which "no claim arising from the provisions of article 1 of the Geneva Agreement would be asserted and article 4 of that agreement would be suspended".

1986 –– The parties went back to the UN to unblock the dispute and agree on the appointment of a good officiant who could mediate. From that moment on, three officiants were appointed. The last of them, Norman Girvan, died in 2014 without having achieved solutions to the territorial dispute. There were also no new requests from the parties to the UN for a new mediator to be appointed.

2015 –– ExxonMobil discovered oil in the area claimed by Venezuela.

2018 –– Guyana sued Venezuela before the International Court of Justice to have that body confirm the validity of the Paris Arbitral Award of 1899.

2020 –– In December, the International Court of Justice ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case, something Venezuela does not recognize.

2021 –– The government of Venezuela issued a statement reaffirming dominance over the Essequibo. Guyana reacted to such a declaration as a threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

2023 ––In September, Venezuela's National Assembly called on its citizens to a referendum on the Essequibo.

2023 –– In October, Guyana applied to the International Court of Justice to suspend the consultative referendum promoted by Venezuela.

2023 –– On November 15, 2023, Venezuela presented its arguments before the international court on the holding of the referendum. Vice President Delcy Rodriguez defended her country's right to "consult and listen to each other" and denounced that Guyana has granted oil and gas concessions in the disputed area.

2023 –– On December 1, 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will issue a ruling in response to Guyana's request for provisional measures in response to the consultative referendum called by the government of Venezuela.

2023 –– December 3 Venezuela plans to hold a referendum that poses 5 questions.

What are the questions of the referendum called by the government of Venezuela?

First question: Do you agree to reject by all means, in accordance with the law, the line fraudulently imposed by the Paris Arbitral Award of 1899, which seeks to deprive us of our Guiana Essequiba?

Second question: Do you support the Geneva Agreement of 1966 as the only valid legal instrument to reach a practical and satisfactory solution for Venezuela and Guyana regarding the dispute over the territory of Guyana Essequiba?

Third question: Do you agree with Venezuela's historical position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve the territorial dispute over Guyana Essequiba?

Fourth question: Do you agree to oppose, by all means in accordance with the law, Guyana's claim to unilaterally dispose of a pending sea to be delimited, illegally and in violation of international law?

Fifth question: Do you agree with the creation of the state of Guayana Esequiba and the development of an accelerated plan for comprehensive care for the current and future population of that territory, which includes, among others, the granting of Venezuelan citizenship and identity cards, in accordance with the Geneva Agreement and international law? consequently incorporating this state into the map of the Venezuelan territory?