Guyana Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo.
Associated Press / Mary Altaffer/ File

Top American and Guyanese military officials have completed two days of talks aimed at sharpening the CARICOM nation’s readiness and its abilities to respond to any security threats, the US Embassy said here Tuesday.

The talks on Monday and Tuesday were held less than a week before neighboring Venezuela, which has for decades claimed Guyana’s western Essequibo County as its own, holds a referendum to decide whether it should annex the area by force, issue Venezuelan national identification cards to Guyanese in the area and grant them citizenship. The vote is scheduled for Sunday. Guyana has in recent days moved nearly all of its very limited military might to its western border regions after authorities had said they had noticed a massive Venezuelan troop build-up across the bordering Cuyuni River in recent weeks.

The embassy said the talks had involved the US Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), which is a specialized unit to advise and assist partner nations “to enhance both countries’ military readiness and capabilities to respond to security threats.” Guyana which has taken the border row to the World Court in The Netherlands for a once and for all settlement, has also separately approached the court for a ruling to stop Venezuela from holding the referendum as its only purpose was to obtain responses that would allow it to ignore any court ruling and move to annex the Essequibo region. A ruling is expected this week.

In recent days, Guyanese government officials have boasted about promises from international partners to assist the country of just under a million people should war between the neighbors break out.

“We are interested in maintaining peace in our country and our borders but we are going to be working with our allies. We will have from the United States Department of Defense (this week). We will have two visits to Guyana by two teams and then several other visits in the month of December and high-level presence representation from the Department of Defense here,” Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo said at the weekend as he gave hints that the US will come to Guyana’s defense.

Since 2015, the former British colony has found world class deposits of oil and gas. Daily production has now reached 600,000 barrels following the commencement of production at a third offshore oil field this month. American supermajor ExxonMobil is the lead operator of the fields. It has vowed to continue ignoring Venezuelan cease work orders saying that the concessions were granted to it by Guyana.

Earlier this year, the US Southern Command based in Florida was the lead player in military exercises held in Guyana. Several of Caribbean Community countries had participated in the exercise. Venezuela has also repeatedly accused the US of planning to establish a military base here, charges that VP Jagdeo has denied.