Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that the country needs to start seizing resources in a neighboring territory “immediately,” the Associated Press reported.

Maduro’s referendum to claim sovereignty over Essequibo, an oil-rich region internationally recognized as part of Guyana, passed with overwhelming support on Sunday. Maduro told Venezuela’s state-owned companies to swiftly start mining for oil and minerals in Essequibo, according to the AP.

Maduro said that he would grant state-owned companies “operating licenses for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mines in the entire area of our Essequibo” and ordered them to create individual divisions to operate in the region, according to the AP. He also ordered the creation of a Comprehensive Defense Operational Zone to operate in Essequibo and proposed a law that would force Guyanan companies to leave, Reuters reported.

Maduro’s orders come alongside Essequibo civilians’ fears of a potential invasion and a military conflict. Guyana has increased its troop presence around its border facing Venezuela, and Brazil has reinforced its northern border, according to Reuters.

International law does not recognize Venezuela’s claim to Essequibo and the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) has barred Venezuela from annexing the region, according to the AP. Guyana reported Maduro’s comments to the ICJ, claiming he was showing “blatant disregard” for his ruling.

“Guyana will be reporting this matter early in the morning. We will write the U.N. Security Council and the court,” Guyanese President Irfaan Ali said in a national broadcast on Tuesday, according to Reuters. “The Guyana Defense Force is on high alert … Venezuela has clearly declared itself an outlaw nation.”

Maduro’s referendum and orders to seize resources in Guyana is also an attempt at amassing support for his regime, whose support has dropped dramatically since he took office in 2013. Venezuela’s economy has plummeted under Maduro and approximately a quarter of the country’s population has emigrated elsewhere.

The Biden administration made a deal in October to provide Venezuela with oil sanctions relief if Maduro’s regime holds fair and democratic elections next year. The deal was agreed to on Oct. 18 and sanctions reliefs were provided, but a Venezuelan court suspended the results of Maduro’s opposition leader’s primary election victory weeks later.

Jake Smith on December 6, 2023

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