Venezuela objects to oil exploration off Guyana

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, right, greets supporters during a rally outside of Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015.
Associated Press / Fernando Llano

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) _ Guyana said Sunday that neighboring Venezuela is objecting to oil exploration in contested waters off the smaller South American country’s coast.

Thre has been a decades-long territorial dispute between South America’s biggest oil producer and sparsely populated Guyana, one of the region’s poorest nations.

Guyana’s foreign affairs ministry said that Caracas objects to plans for an exploratory well to be drilled in an area it contends is within Guyana’s territorial waters. A subsidiary of U.S.-based Exxon Mobil Corp plans to conduct exploratory drilling later this month under a Guyana concession.

Guyana said it is requesting that Venezuela “desist from taking any actions that could only result in the stymieing of the development of Guyana.”

Venezuela has for decades claimed two-thirds of Guyana’s territory as its own, arguing that the gold-rich region west of the Essequibo River was stolen from it by an 1899 agreement with Britain and its then-colony. The area, roughly the size of the U.S. state of Georgia, is often shown in 19th-century maps of Gran Colombia, the short-lived republic revered by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, has previously described the dispute as a relic of the colonial era and vowed to peacefully resolve the issue in accordance with international law. But the issue is not going away.

About two years ago, a ship conducting a seismic study for Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. under a concession from Guyana was detained by Venezuela. Guyana said the ship and its 36-man crew, including five Americans and workers from Russia, Indonesia and Brazil, were well within its territorial waters at the time. The vessel was released after a week.

Weeks later, Guyana temporarily placed its troops on alert after a report that Venezuelan soldiers might cross into a Guyana-held area along the Essequibo River. Guyana’s government had not taken such a step since 1982, when Venezuelan military planes flew over parts of the area it has claimed in the sprawling border dispute.

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