MAKICHUK: War in Venezuela? Another flashpoint rears its head

Venezuelan ground forces are spearheaded by 21 combat brigades.
Venezuelan ground forces are spearheaded by 21 combat brigades.Handout photo

There is war in the Ukraine.

There is war in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Iran and the Houthis are causing trouble in the Middle East.

Countries such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria are all currently experiencing civil wars.

Over in Asia-Pacific, a belligerent China, bent on retaking Taiwan, is flexing its military muscle which, as Henry Kissinger warned, could lead us into “a great power confrontation.”

Supercharged by AI, the two sides have five to 10 years to settle upon principles that can establish a new world order, Kissinger said.

It seems the US, like an Ed Sullivan plate spinner, is spinning too many plates, making the job of deterrence even more difficult and costly.

But war in Venezuela? Against Guyana?

Are you kidding me?

Mainly covered by dense rainforest, the country of Guyana, on the North Atlantic coast of South America, is not an obvious flashpoint.

However, a referendum in neighboring Venezuela has led to genuine fears about a possible land grab by authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro, who has his eyes on a portion of Guyana containing extensive oil and mineral reserves, according to a report in The WarZone.

The territory in question, known as Essequibo, is roughly the size of the US state of Alabama at 61,600 square miles and makes up around two-thirds of Guyana, the report said.

Around 120,000 of Guyana’s population of approximately 800,000 people live there, equivalent to 15%.

Venezuela has long argued this land was stolen when the border was drawn up between the two countries at the end of the 19th century, the report said.

As well as valuable minerals — primarily gold and copper — the territory provides access to significant oil reserves in the Atlantic.

The territory known as Essequibo.
The territory known as Essequibo.Wikimedia Commons

Fuelling the fears of an invasion, the claims over Essequibo have become a rallying point for Venezuela’s Maduro, a president who has been accused of authoritarianism by the US government.

In a recent referendum, Maduro asked the Venezuelan population if they supported establishing a state in the disputed territory, granting citizenship to current and future residents and rejecting a United Nations ruling that attempted to solve the disagreement between the two countries.

Media reports have cast doubt on the validity of the referendum, suggesting the turnout appeared to be very low.

However, the country’s National Electoral Council claimed more than 10.5 million ballots were cast, out of a total of 20 million eligible voters.

True or not, the result showed Venezuelans approved the claim, increasing concerns, in that Maduro may now act militarily in the Putin sense, potentially invading the territory or otherwise promoting instability that could lead to annexation.

“It has been a total success for our country, for our democracy,” Maduro told supporters after the results were announced.

Ahead of the referendum, officials in Guyana were voicing their alarm.

Foreign Minister Hugh Todd saying “Maduro is a despotic leader and despotic leaders are very hard to predict.”

Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) warned Venezuela against taking any action that could undermine Guyana’s control over Essequibo — a warning that holds little weight, unfortunately.

ICJ President Joan E. Donoghue said Venezuela’s government appears to be “taking steps with a view toward acquiring control over and administering the territory in dispute.”

An Sukhoi Su-30MKV Flanker from Venezuela.
An Sukhoi Su-30MKV Flanker from Venezuela.Illustrative Handout Image

“Furthermore, Venezuelan military officials announced that Venezuela is taking concrete measures to build an airstrip to serve as a ‘logistical support point for the integral development of the Essequibo,’” she added.

The establishment of a new airstrip at La Camorra, in the state of Bolívar, close to the border with Guyana, has been identified as a possible preparation for a military move, the report said.

Brazil, which shares borders with both Guyana and Venezuela, has also responded to the situation with military measures.

The Brazilian Ministry of Defense has announced it has “intensified its defence actions” and increased its military presence in the region, including deploying more troops closer to the border region.

The border dispute has long and complex roots, the report said.

The current frontier dates back to 1899 when international arbitrators — not including Venezuelan representatives — established it. Before that, during the Spanish colonial period, Essequibo was within Venezuela’s borders.

In military terms, Venezuela totally outclasses Guyana, with what is, on paper, one of the most capable armed forces on the continent.

Venezuela has steadily increased its defence spending in recent years, from an estimated 1.8% of GDP in 2015 to 5.2% in 2019. This supports a force of between 125,000 and 150,000 active military personnel, while approximately 200,000 to 225,000 more serve with the Bolivarian Militia.

More recently it has forged close military relationships with China and Russia, which have provided various items of advanced equipment, including Su-30 multirole fighters and S-300V air defense systems, as well as other support and cooperation, the report said.

Venezuelan battle tanks.
Venezuelan battle tanks.Twitter

Powerful Venezuelan ground forces are spearheaded by around 21 combat brigades that include armour, artillery, infantry, motorized cavalry and special operations forces, while the Venezuelan Navy is geared toward coastal defence and includes two frigates and a handful of ocean-going patrol ships.

In contrast, the Guyana Defence Force receives only around 0.6% of GDP and has approximately 3,000 active-duty military personnel. Much of its equipment is procured secondhand and it operates no combat aircraft, tanks or heavy artillery.

A military operation against Guyana of such magnitude, would be a fait accompli. Unless, the US got involved.

In a statement, Vladimir Padrino López, Venezuela’s interior minister, stoked tensions earlier this month by telling soldiers: “We are ready to defend [Essequibo] to the last drop of blood and sweat.”

One could say, if Ronald Reagan was US president, such an action would be a very dangerous step for Venezuela.

It would not be tolerated, in any way, shape or form.

But with 'Sleepy' Joe Biden in command, Maduro’s forces could very well overrun Essequibo in a week.

Venezuela may be on the wrong side of international law, but that makes no difference whatsoever in the real world.

The fact is, the US is vulnerable.

It has so many other issues to deal with around the world, Maduro might just get a free pass and secure these valuable resources with a well-planned, quick-strike invasion.

Emboldened by the result of a referendum, there’s an even bigger fear as to what might happen next.

The US can’t even find the money to support the two carrier groups currently backing Israel in the Mideast. Congressional dysfunction means the Pentagon has no money to pay for the buildup.

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