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Guaido envoy slams Venezuela’s Maduro over ‘false recording’ on Essequibo region

Published: Updated:

A recording of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s ambassador to the UK allegedly recommending to give up the country’s claims to Essequibo, a disputed oil-rich region, to neighboring Guyana in order to gain the UK’s political support is false, said Dr. Vanessa Neumann to Al Arabiya English on Saturday.

Dr. Neumann, Guaido’s appointed ambassador and chief of diplomatic mission to the UK, was accused by Maduro’s government of saying in a purported months-old recording that, after speaking with the British Foreign Office, she recommends “dropping the topic.”

“Giving up the claim to Guyana has never been under discussion with anybody - not the Brits, not the party, nobody. Not even what they broadcast [from the alleged recording] supports their allegation. The Essequibo claim is not in play … it’s before various international organizations … so the Essequibo issue is a matter of historic public record and no one has requested or discussed the validity of that claim,” Neumann told Al Arabiya English.

Essequibo was granted to Guyana by an arbitration judge in 1899. Venezuela contested the ruling in 1962, stating that the region was stolen from their country following the break-up of Guyana, then a British colony. The dispute has been ongoing ever since.

When Exxon Mobil began exploring for crude oil in the border region of Essequibo in 2008, opposition groups at the time had accused the government of then-President Hugo Chavez of having a weak stance, and remaining silent.

“Hugo Chavez in 2004 publicly stated and signed a document that he would relinquish all rights and claims to the Essequibo and he agreed that with the government of Guyana in 2004. So, ironically, they [Maduro’s government] are perverting history and they’re the ones who did not defend the claim in the courts in the last year,” Neumann explained.

“Not only have they not defended the claim in 2018 and 2019, they rather explicitly signed it over in 2004. So once again it is the murderous torturing terrorist-supporting regime who is lying, triggering a nationalist sentiment over something that is not true, and is actually something they did,” she added.

Many argue that claims to Essequibo were compromised by Venezuela after then-President Chavez visited the country in 2004, after which his government announced that the Venezuelan government would allow Guyana to allow multinational companies to begin development on the contested territory. He also began providing generous oil subsidies to Guyana as part of the country’s Petrocaribe oil assistance program.

Chavez struck up a friendly relation with Guyana’s then-President Bharrat Jagdeo, selling him oil on advantageous terms to gain his political support, which sparked accusations by opposition groups that he was taking a conciliatory stance on the heated issue.

Backed by his then-Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Chavez was accused of being complicit as Guyana allowed mining companies to explore minerals including bauxite and gold in the Essequibo, which heightened contention among those opposing him.

However, since ExxonMobil announced that it has made one of the world’s largest oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana in 2015, Maduro’s interest in the disputed region increased.

Chavez’s successor’s rhetoric drastically changed, where he stated following the announcement in 2015 that Venezuela “will take back what our grandparents left us,” and “achieve a great victory.”

More recently, following the release of the purported recording by his Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, Maduro has said that unless Guaido and Neumann “rectify their position, they will not see our faces.” This comes as talks had been underway between Maduro and Guaido’s representatives in Norway since April.

“It’s a sidetrack. It’s creating noise to distract from their own material support for terrorism and their human rights abuses, which those two issues in particular, have really mobilized the international community or greater support for our democracy,” Neumann told Al Arabiya English.

“Right now, this coming week, there is a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva where Bachelet is presenting another human rights report and that’s what they fear. They fear the growing international condemnation over their human rights abuses, which are thousands of extrajudicial killings,” she added.

When asked if she was worried that the purported recording struck a nationalist nerve among Venezuelans, Neumann replied that the Maduro regime’s human rights violations trump that, and will not distract the opposition’s objectives.

“I think that human rights abuses and the violations and the persecutions that we have seen will actually help garner international support. I think that the repression and the targeting of people who are constitutionally appointed, who are recognized by democracies in the world and received by those democracies, is actually going to prove the fatal strategic error for them,” Neumann said.

She was referring to Manuel Avendano, Guaido’s aide, whom the Maduro government had claimed Neumann was speaking to in the recording.

Avendano has reportedly went to the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas since the recording was released. Venezuelan opposition activists have been known to seek protection at foreign embassies out of fear for their safety under Maduro’s rule.

“The regime has a history of going after advisers of the legitimate president (Guaido), and he’s always going after people in the international arena so you just need to look at the past and that would explain the targeting of Manuel- he’s both close to the president and the international strategy,” Neumann said.

When asked if she spoke to Guaido about the controversial recording, Neumann said: “All I will say is we work as a team, and we are aligned.”