This is what the Essequibo looks like 1:01

(CNN Español) -- Tensions have soared in South America in just three days, from the announcement of the results of a consultative referendum on Sunday in Venezuela to President Nicolas Maduro's remarks Tuesday about the creation of a new state in Guyana Essequiba. The area is controlled by Guyana and one question is on the minds of many: what will happen now?

Venezuela has a territorial dispute with Guyana over control of Guyana Essequiba, a territory located in northern South America that is rich in hydrocarbons and minerals. The dispute dates back to the mid-19th century and was first with the United Kingdom.

But in recent months, and especially on the eve of a year of presidential elections in Venezuela in 2024, the controversy has accelerated and on Sunday Venezuelans voted in favor of not only ratifying their historic claim and choosing the mechanisms to resolve it, but even rejecting Guyana's recent plans to dispose of the disputed areas.

"The people have made the decision to create the state of Guayana Esequiba and to nationalize all citizens who are in that territory with their Venezuelan identity cards. Recognize them as brothers of our homeland," Maduro said on Tuesday, in a speech before the General Assembly of the Federal Council of Government of Venezuela, where he also showed a "new map of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" that includes Guyana Esequiba as full territory and not in claim, as has been in the books until now.

  • This is the "new map of Venezuela"

Maduro then ordered the creation of a new state through the Organic Law of Guyana Esequiba and also a "High Commission for the Defense of Guyana Esequiba," among other measures.

In a statement released after Maduro's announcement, Guyana's President Mohamed Irfaan Ali said it was "a direct threat to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Guyana, and a violation of the fundamental principles of international law enshrined in the UN and OAS Charters."


"Guyana will intensify precautionary measures to safeguard its territory. In addition, we have reached out to the Commonwealth and many of our bilateral partners, including the United States, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and France. The Guyana Defense Forces are on alert and have reached out to their military counterparts, including the U.S. Southern Command," he added.

  • Venezuela criticizes Guyana for presence of U.S. command in Essequibo

Guyana's Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud told CNN on Wednesday that Maduro's behavior was "desperate" and that "Guyana was taking all precautions." We are working closely with our partners. The Essequibo is an indisputable part of Guyana," he said.

This is the first time that we have

The chips look like plays, what can happen now?

"What the Government of Venezuela has been doing in recent weeks is a series of demonstrations or announcements that have been nothing more than symbolic than anything else. However, from the way some Venezuelan authorities speak, it seems that there is a certain willingness to carry out concrete actions in the territory in question," Lauren Caballero, an internationalist from the Central University of Venezuela, told CNN.

"After the referendum it became more than clear that the government is not willing to go to the (International Court of Justice) to resolve the dispute and that opens the door to uncertain scenarios," he added, referring to the proceedings initiated at the ICJ by Guyana against Venezuela in 2018.

For Caballero, however, "it is not clear how Venezuela will execute the actions announced." "If it is done militarily, which seems to be the only possible option, that would bring a response from the states involved there, such as the United States, the United Kingdom but also China and Brazil."

Michael M. Mcarthy, president of the consulting firm Caracas Wire and a professor at George Washington University, told CNN that the situation "is still very uncertain. It's not clear what the process of physically taking control of the territory might look like."

"I get the feeling that Maduro's government is interested in creating a new international framework to renegotiate the issue. It's a way to put pressure on the process of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, using diplomatic channels," he said.

The Weight of Venezuela's Elections

For his part, Caballero also highlighted the importance of the upcoming Venezuelan presidential elections in 2024. "I am convinced that the government has managed the timing to gain an advantage over the opposition." Precisely, in the opposition, primaries were held in October and there are those who consider that the candidate (although disqualified) María Corina Machado presents a risk to Maduro.

"We don't know the electoral calendar. We don't know if it could be brought forward or suspended as a result of an internal decision linked to the claim," he added.

Article 338 of the Venezuelan Constitution grants the President of the Republic the power to declare a state of internal commotion "in the event of internal or external conflict." In such an eventuality, the Magna Carta grants the Government the power to restrict the guarantees enshrined in the Magna Carta, including the right to vote, established in Article 63.

Andrei Serbin Pont, PhD in International Relations and president of the Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research, told CNN that "everything that has to do with external conflict, with a neighbor, in one way or another, the narrative of Chavismo relates it to internal instability," he said.

"What we are seeing is that Venezuela is facing an electoral process next year and that could lead to a crisis of representation within the country, and that is what Chavismo wants: to instrumentalize through externalization, the armed conflict.

For Serbin Pont, there is thus a risk of escalation "due to domestic conditions mixed with the strategic conception and what is a legitimate claim from decades, even centuries, on the part of Venezuela, on the sovereignty of the Essequibo and the effective exercise of that sovereignty."

How Guyana will react

"Guyana is very active in seeking international support. This makes sense because we have to understand that it has almost non-existent Armed Forces. In other words, its defensive capacity is almost symbolic and it has neither the means nor the personnel to defend itself against an aggression by Venezuela," Serbin Pont said.

"Venezuela has a much larger conventional armed force, yes, but with enormous logistical problems, human resources, maintenance, operability in general," he added.

McCarthy, on the other hand, stressed that Guyana does not have military power, but it does have important allies in the Caribbean and an "important and emerging" bilateral reaction with the United States. "It has the important support of a diplomatic and military coalition. But no one wants to see an armed conflict right now."

Brazil, third

Both Serbin Pont and McCarthy agreed that a regional escalation in the face of an eventual annexation will have a major effect on Brazil, which shares a border with Venezuela and Guyana, and the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Brazil, in fact, reinforced its northern border due to tensions between the two countries, the country's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

"It impacts Brazil's interests under Lula: obviously his intention to reactivate regional integration schemes, which are strongly dependent on the conceptualization of the region as a zone of peace, is broken," Serbin Pont said.

"But it also puts Lula in a difficult situation from the point of view of how he projects himself internationally, because part of that international leadership that he has sought has depended heavily on projecting himself as a leader who keeps his neighborhood in order," Serbin Pont said.

While McCarthy pointed out that the situation "may create a headache for Lula that he does not need at the moment, given Brazil's ambitious global project as a BRICS country and spokesperson for the global south: they prefer not to be so involved and have to mediate in the region."

"It could be a before and after with Maduro's Venezuela. Before, Lula was seen as the person who was going to include Maduro, but we will have to see if he remains so open to building bridges," he concluded.

EssequiboNicolás Maduro