Venezuela ups the ante in border flap with Guyana
CARACAS (Reuters) -- Venezuela said Wednesday it would grant oil exploration
concessions in a large disputed border area that is currently part of Guyana,
raising the stakes in a bitter war of words with its eastern neighbor.
Venezuela has angrily denounced plans by Guyana to set up a commercial
launch site, operated by a U.S. company, in the unpopulated Essequibo region,
an area the size of Florida subject to a long-standing territorial dispute.
Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel told a television interviewer that
government "will grant oil concessions in the area which is not delimited," in
reference to Essequibo, a 61,500-square-mile (159,000-sq-km) mineral-rich area
of tropical jungle that covers 75 percent of Guyana's territory.
"We've warned oil companies that have accepted concessions there from Guyana
that we would take measures," the minister added, without giving details.
No official comment on his remarks was immediately available in Guyana,
former British colony on the northeastern shoulder of South America, which
rejects Venezuela's claims on Essequibo as historically unfounded.
However, a Guyanese government source said Venezuela's increasingly strident
recriminations sounded like political maneuvering ahead of Sunday's general
elections in which President Hugo Chavez is seeking reelection.
"The feeling is that Venezuelans are upping the elections rhetoric," the
said in Guyana's capital of Georgetown.
Venezuelan ambassador to Guyana, Hector Azocar, told Reuters that his
government had expressed its concern with Exxon Mobil, the No.1 U.S. oil
company, about an offshore concession granted by Guyana in the Orinoco delta.
However, the Guyanese source said "there is no immediate cause for concern
Guyana and companies that have concessions offshore" in the Essequibo.
The Venezuelan claim, probably the last major territorial dispute in the
is rooted in 19th century colonial history but was revived in 1999 by Chavez.
The Venezuelan leader, a tough-talking nationalist, reiterated on Tuesday
government would not "tolerate" the construction of the rocket-launch site.
He has argued the site could be used for military purposes, a claim that
dismissed, saying it would be a commercial facility and its security private.
However, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry stressed in a statement issued
Wednesday after Rangel's comments that Caracas would never use force to
recover the Essequibo, saying "an armed conflict with Guyana would be
irresponsible and stupid."
Dallas-based Beal Aerospace Technologies Inc. signed a deal with Guyana
May to build the launch facility for commercial satellites and plans to invest $100
million in the site.
The company chose the location because of Essequibo's sparse population
proximity to the equator, which allows rockets to send heavier payloads into
The dispute was thought to have been resolved in 1899, when an international
Tribunal of Arbitration set the boundary between the two countries at a Paris
The disagreement resurfaced in 1949 after the death of a U.S. lawyer who
represented Venezuela at the talks. He said in a letter opened posthumously that
the settlement was void because it was the result of a secret deal between
Britain, then the colonial power in Guyana, and Russia.
Venezuela formally raised questions about the validity of the 1899 accord
United Nations in 1962, four years before Guyana won independence from
Britain. The world body named a mediator in the dispute in 1989.