With little influx of voters, the non-binding consultation posed by Nicolás Maduro on the Essequibo dawned, a territory administered today by Guyana but in dispute since colonial times. “I ask God to bless us so that election day is a battle of light and peace for our people,” harangued the revolutionary leader, who has flirted for weeks with turning this dispute into his own Venezuelan Malvinas. Chavismo maintains that Guyana is a “de facto” occupier of the Essequibo.

These are the keys to a referendum that has put on alert not only the two countries that claim the territory and its projection in the Atlantic Ocean, but also the Caribbean and Latin American neighbors.

The Spanish, commanded by Alonso de Ojeda, began to explore the territory they claimed back in 1499, before the Dutch and the English. In fact, the river that gives its name to the Essequibo was named in honor of another explorer, the Sevillian Juan de Esquivel, a surname that was difficult to pronounce for the indigenous people, who called him Essequibo.

Guyana was colonized by the Dutch in 1616, but the British also took a position in 1796. Both attacked Spanish positions for years until the Treaty of Munster (1648) placed the Essequibo River as the border between them. The Captaincy General of Venezuela counted among its territories Essequibo, a territory located west of the river.

It would be in 1814 when the English took the Dutch colonies and added the Essequibo, ratified a year later by the Treaty of Vienna. London took advantage of the war of independence led by Simón Bolívar to plant its flag in the territory now in dispute, mostly jungle, “mountain and snake” as they say on the border. All these historical vicissitudes are key to understanding why Venezuela considers Essequibo a part of its country (“The sun of Venezuela rises through Essequibo!” shout the military), something that all Venezuelans believe in because they know it that way. They taught in schools.

The independence feat of the liberator Simón Bolívar unified Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador in Greater Colombia in 1825. Essequibo figured in that integrative dream, which dissolved six years later. London took advantage and by officially creating British Guyana he imposed a new map in which the Essequibo was annexed. For decades it was a source of discord until at the end of the century US mediation and international arbitration arrived with the Paris Award, which ruled in favor of British Guyana and which Caracas does not recognize.

In 1966, independent Guyana was born, recognized by Venezuela, although the dispute continued over the almost 160,000 square kilometers west of the Essequibo River. With the Geneva Agreement, the Guyanese administration was extended and both sides committed to a peaceful settlement.

For two decades, Chavismo forgot about the claim over the Essequibo. First, because Fidel Castro, Guyana’s historical ally, asked the “supreme commander” to do so. And second, because Chávez opted to obtain the votes of the fifteen countries that make up the Caribbean Community (Caricom), fundamental in the Organization of American States (OAS) and in the UN. On his visit to Guyana in 2004, Chávez blamed Washington for the historical disputes and authorized the Georgetown government to exploit minerals and search for oil. Since 2013, Maduro continued the same policy as his political godfather.

The American ExxonMobil began its prospecting and finds oil in the Essequibo maritime area, which is also under discussion. But the discovery is historic, reserves of more than 11,000 million barrels are estimated. Guyana is currently experiencing the greatest economic miracle on the planet, with expected GDP growth of more than 20% for several years.

Saudi Guyana, which was the poorest country in the region, is a fact for experts, who calculate that the production of black gold in Guyana will surpass that of Venezuela in a few years, over a million barrels in a country that It does not reach one million inhabitants. The UN decided in parallel that its main court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, would decide the dispute. In its ruling from April of this year, it initially agreed with Guyana. The final ruling is expected next year.

Chavismo took advantage of the national situation to impose a non-binding consultation of five questions, among which is the lack of knowledge of the ICJ and, above all, the most worrying, the one that proposes the creation of a state (region) called Guyana Esequiba, which It would be annexed by Caracas. In principle, Maduro seeks to increase his popular support for next year’s presidential elections and dynamite the opposition after the emergence of María Corina Machado.

Maduro has turned the million-dollar campaign on Essequibo into a great act of patriotic fervor, in which warlike threats have been mixed. Georgetown has responded with the announcement that it will install military bases, supposedly from the United States, in the territory in question. Chavismo plays with accusing all those who do not respond to its nationalist call of treason.

The new leader of the democratic opposition, María Corina Machado, was one of the great defenders of the Venezuelan Essequibo during the government of Chávez and Maduro. Now she has opted for the suspension of the referendum, in which she does not plan to participate. On the other hand, other leaders have bowed to the presidential requirements. While the social democrats Democratic Action (AD) and Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) are committed to participating, the centrist Primero Justicia (PJ) granted freedom to its voters and Voluntad Popular (VP), the party of Leopoldo López and Juan Guaidó, has shown itself against going to the polls.

Chavismo is more alone than ever in international matters, where it does not even have Cuba and China. On the other hand, Guyana adds the support of the US, Caricom, the OAS, the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom and with the silence of Maduro’s classic allies. Brazil, which shares borders with both countries, has expressed its concern about the militarist escalation.

Regardless of how Bolivarian propaganda translates participation at the polls, analysts predict that Maduro will prolong the conflict with Guyana to declare a state of emergency if necessary to suspend the presidential elections. There are also fears that the supposed patriotic fervor will be taken advantage of to persecute the Democrats. Some do believe that the threat of invasion is imminent.