By Dennis E. Adonis
CARACAS, Venezuela — A Venezuelan government source with close ties to President Nicolás Maduro has suggested that the arrest of 14 Venezuelans in the Essequibo region by Guyanese officials may have been a breach of international norms since Venezuela views the area as disputed territory.
His comments were made in response to the publication of an article in the Guyana Guardian on Monday, which highlighted the plight of several food seeking Venezuelans being stranded at an illegal border crossing at Turumban, as they pondered whether to enter Guyana via the Essequibo where 14 of their countrymen were arrested by Guyanese border police.
While presenting a unofficial map that shows the Essequibo as being a part of Venezuela, the official maintained that the Venezuelans, who may be using the Cuyuni river to enter Bartica, were doing so legally since Venezuela considers the entire Essequibo region as historically theirs.
He did not specify whether any future arrest of Venezuelans in the Essequibo region would provoke a response from Venezuela or whether he was speaking officially for the Venezuelan government.
Nonetheless, even though Venezuela has never officially commented on the arrest and deportation of the Venezuelan 14, Maduro himself has maintained that the Essequibo is a part of his country’s territory.
However, contrary to his claim, the jungle-covered and mineral-rich region was awarded to Guyana via an 1899 tribunal that settled the boundaries between the two countries. And by all international accounts, the Essequibo region continues to be recognized globally as an integral part of Guyana.
While some has considered the border issue as a political rhetoric, many Venezuelans who are already in Guyana seeking food, medicine and other supplies maintained that they are not a part of any such conflict and is afraid that raising the issue now would only make it harder for the ordinary people like themselves.
Since the start of the Venezuelan food crisis, an estimated two to three thousand Venezuelans cross illegally into Guyana weekly via the Essequibo region in search of food and medicine.
For the most part, Guyanese police and soldiers monitoring the border often ignored their illegal entry and allow them in, even though this is against the country’s official policy.
An unprecedented number of Venezuelans have since taken up temporary shelter in the capital city of Georgetown and the town of Bartica, where many Guyanese opted to provide them with food and shelter in hope that some economic normalcy may soon be restored to Venezuela, so that they can return to their families soon.