Miami Herald (Sunday)

Report: Venezuela adding troops near Guyana border


Venezuela has been increasing its military presence near the disputed Essequibo region that’s controlled by Guyana, a new report from a Washington-based think tank shows, potentiall­y escalating tensions with its neighbor over the oilrich territory.

The report published Friday by the Center for Strategic and Internatio­nal Studies presents satellite images as evidence that Venezuela is building a military base on the Anacoco Island on the border with Guyana. The images from mid-January show a staging area with piled up constructi­on materials, three armored vehicles, a heavy river ferry and the clearing of a new area to the north, the report described.

While Venezuela and Guyana have disputed the sparsely populated territory since the 19th century, the argument has grown more heated in recent years following massive oil discoverie­s off Guyana’s coast by companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. Tensions flared up late last year after President Nicolas Maduro held a referendum that allegedly showed overwhelmi­ng support for his nation’s push to take control of the Essequibo.

“This escalatory behavior on the part of Venezuela creates opportunit­ies for miscalcula­tion and loss of control over events on the ground,” said the report, led by CSIS Deputy Director for the Americas Christophe­r Hernandez-Roy. “It remains uncertain whether Maduro can effectivel­y avoid misunderst­andings and manage the forces he unleashed with the December referendum.”

Venezuela Commander Elio Estrada Paredes wrote on social media that more than 65,000 troops initiated constructi­on of a school and a hospital in Anacoco to benefit local communitie­s. Other experts say Venezuela had started to upgrade its infrastruc­ture along rivers on the border with Guyana even before Maduro ratcheted up his rhetoric by proposing the Essequibo plebiscite in December.

“It is an expansion of infrastruc­ture necessary to deploy military operations in the area,” said Andres Serbin, an Argentina-based analyst with Regional Coordinato­r of Economic and Social Research, adding that the build-up is taking place along the entire border with the Essequibo region. “They’ve deployed Iranian-made boats and anti-air Russianmad­e systems in Guiria, toward the Atlantic. This presence is quite out of the ordinary.”

Maduro and his Guyanese counterpar­t Irfaan

Ali held a meeting on

Dec. 14 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines where they pledged to refrain from using arms against each other and committed to dialogue.

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