Low voter turnout dominates the Essequibo referendum

The president of the Electoral entity, Elvis Amoroso, said that 139,027 officials had been activated, including polling station members and operational technical personnel throughout the country, “everything works perfectly. We are proud of this beginning,” VTV reported.

It was precisely that number of personnel that was most abundant in the voting centers, while the common citizen, at least in the morning, preferred not to go. In most centers there is no line and people on social networks make ironic comments “were you waiting for me?”, to reflect that when they go to their corresponding voting station, there is no one else voting.

Most of the centers have been active since 6 in the morning, “but what is missing are voters,” was the headline of the media La Patilla, in a report that reports on the small number of people in the voting centers in Caracas and in several regions of the country.

Some 20.6 million Venezuelans over 18 years of age, registered within the country, are eligible to vote in the referendum called by the National Assembly with the purpose of involving citizens in the dispute of Venezuela with Guyana for a territory rich in oil, gold, diamonds, timber and other abundant natural resources.

“Today we are going to come out stronger as a country, speak hard, clear, powerful and the voice of Venezuela will become one, here a people is deciding,” said Nicolás Maduro, after voting at a voting center, located in the Fuerte Tiuna de Caracas, the largest military complex in the country. The president came accompanied by his wife Cilia Flores, and several of his closest collaborators.

Venezuela and Guyana dispute the so-called Essequibo, a continental territory of about 159,500 square kilometers (61,600 square miles), which the Venezuelans have claimed as theirs since 1897, since that region was under their jurisdiction during the Spanish colony.

He further points out that since 2015 both countries have faced successive frictions as a result of oil exploration carried out by a subsidiary of the American company Exxon Mobil in part of the disputed area.

Maduro insists on Venezuela’s historical position of resolving the dispute through negotiations within the framework of the so-called Geneva Agreement signed with the United Kingdom on February 17, 1966, just 98 days before achieving its independence. At that time, London recognized Venezuela’s claim, opening the possibility of finding a diplomatic and satisfactory settlement for the parties.

It was not clear how the Venezuelan authorities intend to implement this idea of ​​exercising jurisdiction over that territory once it is declared part of Venezuela, currently made up of 23 states and a capital district, one of the questions asked in the referendum.

President of Guyana

On the other hand, the president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, said this Sunday that his country had “nothing to fear” from the referendum called by its neighbor Venezuela to reinforce a century-old claim of sovereignty over the oil-rich Essequibo region.

“I want to assure Guyanese that there is nothing to fear in the coming hours, days, months,” the president said in a live broadcast on Facebook from the disputed area. “Our vigilance will be maximum, but we are working tirelessly to ensure that our borders remain intact and that the population and our country remain safe.”

Thousands of Guyanese formed human chains, called “uniting circles”, to show their attachment to the Essequibo. Many wore T-shirts with phrases such as “Essequibo belongs to Guyana” and waved the country’s flags. Ali participated in one of these demonstrations.

Venezuela’s claim has intensified since the American energy giant ExxonMobil discovered oil in disputed waters in 2015. This area has oil reserves comparable to those of Kuwait and tops the list of per capita reserves in the world.

“We have always seen diplomacy as our first line of defense and we are in a very strong position in this first line of defense,” Ali said, citing the international support he claims his country has received in this controversy.

Guyana asked the ICJ to suspend the referendum, which includes among the five questions asked to the population one about whether they agree with the creation of a Venezuelan province called “Guayana Esequiba” and granting nationality to its inhabitants.

What are the questions of the consultation?

Do you agree to reject by all means, in accordance with the law, the line fraudulently imposed by the Paris Arbitration Award of 1899, which seeks to deprive us of our Guayana Esequiba?

Do you support the 1966 Geneva Agreement as the only valid legal instrument to reach a practical and satisfactory solution for Venezuela and Guyana regarding the controversy over the territory of Guayana Esequiba?

Do you agree with Venezuela’s historical position of not recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to resolve the territorial controversy over Guayana Esequiba?

Do you agree to oppose, by all legal means, Guyana’s claim to unilaterally dispose of a sea pending delimitation, illegally and in violation of international law?

Do you agree with the creation of the Guayana Esequiba state and the development of an accelerated plan for comprehensive care for the current and future population of that territory that includes, among others, the granting of citizenship and Venezuelan identity card, in accordance to the Geneva Agreement and international law, consequently incorporating said state on the map of Venezuelan territory?