CARACAS/GEORGETOWN (Reuters) – Voters in Venezuela rejected the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the territorial dispute between the country and Guyana and backed the creation of a new state in the potential oil-rich Essequibo region in a referendum on Sunday. .
This week, the court banned Venezuela from taking any action that would change the status quo in the region, which is the subject of a case pending before the International Court of Justice, but the government of President Nicolas Maduro went ahead with a five-question “consultative” referendum.
All questions were approved with more than 95% approval, according to Elvis Amoroso, who said at least 10.5 million votes were cast for “yes,” but did not confirm the number of voters.
Some political and security analysts described the referendum as a show of Maduro’s power and a test of support for his government before the presidential elections scheduled for 2024.
The court said in April that it had jurisdiction, although a final ruling on the matter could take years. Venezuela said the issue should be resolved between the two countries.
Maduro cheered the vote’s “total success” late Sunday evening.
“The Venezuelan people have spoken loudly and clearly,” he told a crowd.
The issue in question is an area of 160,000 square kilometers (61,776 square miles), much of which is dense forest. Venezuela has reactivated its claim to the region in recent years after the discovery of offshore oil and gas.
“The goal of the (Maduro) government is to send a message of strength to Guyana,” said Ricardo Sucre, a professor of politics at the Central University of Venezuela, adding that Maduro is also considering possible developments in the field of oil and gas.
The maritime borders between the two countries are also disputed.
There was no organized campaign against the referendum, and analysts expected that voters who opposed it would stay at home.
There are more than 20 million eligible voters in Venezuela.
Reuters witnesses visited voting centers across the country, many of which had few or no people waiting in line.
In Maracaibo, in the oil-rich state of Zulia, poll workers told Reuters that the turnout rate was low.
“We have to vote to defend our nation because the Eskimo belongs to us and we cannot leave it to the Americans,” retiree Carmen Pereira (80 years old) said at a voting center in Caracas.
The authorities extended voting for two hours.
“The government is holding the referendum for internal reasons,” said Benigno Alarcón, director of the Center for Political Studies at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas. “It needs to test its electoral machinery.”
“If the opposition is united and there is a willingness to participate (in the 2024 elections) on the part of Venezuelans, Maduro will exit,” said security analyst Rocio San Miguel. “It activates a conflict scenario,” perhaps to suspend the elections.
Sunday’s elections sparked anxiety in Guyana, with the government urging citizens to remain calm.
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali took part in a national march on Sunday, joining hundreds of flag-waving supporters. He said Friday’s International Court of Justice ruling prohibits Venezuela from “annexing or encroaching on Guyanese territory.”
Some in Georgetown expressed their relief after the International Court of Justice’s decision.
Vegetable seller Kim Rampersaud (41 years old) said, “I feel that the court made the right decision… I can breathe a little now.”
Brazil said on Wednesday it had intensified its “defensive actions” along its northern border amid the territorial dispute.
(Reporting by Daisy Buitrago, Vivian Siqueira and Myla Armas in Caracas – Prepared by Mohamed for the Arabic Bulletin) Mariela Nava in Maracaibo; Mercili Guanipa in Maracay; Tibisay Romero in Valencia; Kianna Wilburg in Georgetown; Writing by Julia Sims Cope. Edited by Diane Craft and Stephen Coates
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Daisy reports on oil, energy and general news from the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. She is also interested in reporting on politics and the environment. Daisy has been with Reuters in Caracas since 2001, where she began writing about violent anti-government protests, the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and problems at the state oil company PDVSA, among other topics. She loves animals like dogs and cats! Contact: +584241334490
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