A clip from Venezuela’s campaign in the disputed region

Guyana’s President Muhammad Irfaan Ali attends the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York City on September 20, 2023. (Bryan R. Smith)

A caricature of Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali carrying a briefcase full of dollars bearing the logo of US oil company ExxonMobil was broadcast on Wednesday in Venezuela as part of a campaign in the regional dispute over Essequibo.

The image was posted in a video on X, formerly Twitter, by the Minister of Communications, Freddy Nunez, and the Speaker of the Venezuelan Parliament, Jorge Rodríguez.

“Who is Irfan Ali? Here we tell you,” Nanez wrote when publishing the video in which the President of Guyana was accused of “corruption” and seeking to “steal” the Essequibo region, a region rich in oil and natural resources that both countries enjoy. They have been fighting for over a century.

“In 2018, he was accused of conspiring to defraud the state, illegally selling land for $174 million, and having ties to ExxonMobil contractor Nizar Muhammad,” the one-minute audio and video clip says.

The Venezuelan government, which is campaigning for a referendum scheduled for December 3 to consult residents on the territorial dispute, accuses ExxonMobil of “financing” Ali to “steal” the Essequibo ship from them.

It has an area of ​​160,000 square kilometers, is rich in minerals and oil, and is currently administered by Guyana.

The non-binding consultation proposes the creation of a new state in the region called “Guayana Esquipa” and granting Venezuelan citizenship to its residents.

The conflict, which began more than a century ago, worsened after ExxonMobil discovered important oil deposits in the region in 2015.

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In September, Guyana announced a round of tenders for oil concessions in the area, and Venezuela protested, arguing that the waters were in dispute.

The Venezuelan government then called for a referendum.

Guyana defends that the waters claimed by Venezuela belong to it because this was agreed upon in an arbitration award in Paris in 1899, but Venezuela rejects this and demands a treaty signed in Geneva in 1966 with the United Kingdom, before Guyana’s independence.

The debate is now in the hands of the International Court of Justice.

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