What You Need to Know About Venezuela's Essequibo Referendum 3:32

(CNN) -- Polls are open in Venezuela for a referendum in which citizens will decide whether they want to annex oil-rich Guyana Essequiba, in a move that has been denounced by Guyana as a step toward annexation.

The territory in question, the Essequibo Forested Region, represents approximately two-thirds of Guyana's national territory. Venezuela has long claimed the zone and rejects the 1899 decision by international arbitrators who set the current boundaries.

  • History and disputes between the United Kingdom, Guyana and Venezuela over the Essequibo

Voting began at 6 a.m. on Sunday and is scheduled to be open until 6 p.m. (local time), according to the referendum's electoral schedule.

The referendum will consist of five questions and a total of 20,694,124 people are eligible to vote, according to Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE).

At campaign rallies and in a series of patriotic messages on social media, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expressed anti-imperialist sentiment regarding the referendum, arguing that Venezuela's historic rights over the region have been unfairly rejected. Guyana has called the threat annexation "existential."


  • Venezuela's Essequibo Vote Raises Concerns About Potential Military Conflict in South America

"Our vote is to show respect for Venezuela," Maduro said Sunday in Caracas. "Let us feel that national spirit, the spirit of national unity that has brought us together again, and let us achieve a powerful consensus in a feeling of defense of what is ours."

The vote is expected to turn out in favor of the government's position, although its practical implications are likely to be minimal, analysts say, with the creation of a Venezuelan state within the Essequibo being a remote possibility.

Still, the escalating rhetoric has prompted troop movements in the region and saber-rattling in both countries, prompting comparisons from Guyana's leaders to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.