Guayana Esequiba: Geo-economics of an Occupation

By Irene León on December 2, 2023

The Esequiba is ours

An air of bonanza has raised the projections of the Exxon Mobil corporation, which accumulated around 414 billion dollars in 2022, an unprecedented income in its history, which represents 44.8% more than the previous year. It is a gigantic increase if compared to its crisis in 2020, when its losses put its place in the stock market in jeopardy. Also from the research of that American corporation, it is said that Guyana could become “the country that produces the most barrels of oil per inhabitant in the world, surpassing Kuwait, in that case, when measuring the wealth per capita of its 800 thousand inhabitants, it would become a rich country, since in 2021 its GDP increased by 57.8% and in 2022 by 37.2%”.

However, in both cases, the bonanza comes mainly from the oil and gas exploitation that the corporation and the country have activated in the disputed Esequiba region sitting in Venezuelan waters. It is a territory and sea that England has been coveting since the 19th century, later the United States placed it in the axis of the Monroe Doctrine and now it is deploying a joint onslaught with its corporations, seeking to legitimize a situation of ‘accumulated facts’ that has intensified since 2015.

It is a multiform incursion, but with the invariable modality of “licenses” granted by Guyana, mainly to the U.S. corporation Exxon Mobil, but also to Chevron, which also registers important revenues from this onslaught. Other corporations such as the Spanish Repsol or the British Tullow, report substantial revenues from upstream projects in the Upper Essequibo as well.

With the facilities granted by economic liberalization, private corporations have multiplied their dividends, what is more, in addition to the well-known ability of transnationals to evade the taxation of the countries, these end up ‘compensating’ them through additional exemptions in free zones, so that corporations recover their investment in less than 5 years and start receiving net profits, usually up to 80% of the benefits, while the producing countries barely collect the balance.

In the case of Guyana, only 25% of the profits remain in the country and there is evidence of a derisory redistribution of this income, to the point that in 2019 its human development index was the lowest in South America, while extreme poverty affects 35.1% of the population, while the emigration rate reaches 55% and up to 80% of people with higher education live outside the country.  Clearly, “the creation of a liberal, rules-based economic environment” and the ceding of Guyana’s sovereignty mainly benefits US corporations and other transnational corporations.

Under these conditions, ExxonMobil has come to assume the Esequiba as its own in the territorial dispute that Guyana maintains with Venezuela and also with Suriname, because in the first case, a sovereign energy policy obliges the State to operate for the common good and not on the basis of corporate interests. This explains the communication, legal and political mobilization that positions their hypothetical view that Venezuela wants to confiscate up to two thirds of the Guyanese territory.

Things have gone so far in the positioning of this story, that Guyana has gone to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to dissociate itself from the recognition of the existing boundary dispute and to avoid the imperative of the consent of both parties to outline the resolution mechanisms, as stated in the Geneva Agreement, contrary to the validity of the ‘Paris Award’ (1899), promoted by William McKinley, US president of the time, without the participation of Venezuela.  Furthermore, Guyana tried to have the ICJ interfere in Venezuelan internal politics and suspend the popular consultation that the country had called for the people to pronounce themselves on this issue, the ICJ did not do so, which constitutes a gain for sovereignty.

For its part, Venezuela argues that this is not only a matter of national and energy sovereignty but a problem that concerns regional geopolitics, since it directly involves the attempt to make corporate interests prevail over the historical certification of a State.  According to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, “…more than Guyana, it is Exxon Mobil and the Southern Command that are trying to take the sea that belongs to Venezuela”, hence his call for dialogue with the neighboring country.

Exxon Mobil, an emblematic corporation of the United States, with its eyes set on reserves of some 11,000 million barrels of oil, abundant gas and ecosystems with high projection for the production of clean energies, has assumed as its own the judicialization strategy undertaken by “Guyana”, among the evidences is the payment of some 15 million dollars for the legal defense of Guyana.

It is a case of regional interest, among others, because it highlights the scenarios of dispute between the thesis of corporate power: the “international order based on rules” versus international law and historical legitimacy, from whose source Venezuela sustains its defense. The United States, sorry Guyana, is taking this decision to a scenario of fait accompli and not to the resolution of international law, knowing that in the so-called arbitration tribunals, which are instances created by corporations to coax States, corporations win 90% of the time.  According to Venezuelan historian Omar Hurtado, in 1899 the arbitration took place between powers, without Venezuela.  And without Venezuela, the Paris Award granted Great Britain (now Guyana) 90% of the disputed territory, without the concurrence of evidentiary legal elements.

Latin America: epicenter of a “new” oil geopolitics

Specialized business projections speak of a new oil geopolitics for 2028, with Brazil (Pre-Salt), Guyana (Esequibo) and Argentina (Vaca Muerta) at the top, in that order, while predicting a relegation of Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, arguing the decrease in their production, as well as the management through public companies committed to the national economy and not to a stateless transnationalization for the benefit of corporations.  In all cases, the epicenter of this oil prospective is Latin America and the Caribbean.

Historian Pedro Calzadilla interrelates the Paris Arbitral Award (1899) with the beginning of the concrete application of the Monroe Doctrine (1823), inasmuch as the justification of the arbitral award and the demonstration of U.S. military force not only marked the exclusion of Europe, but also defined the hemispheric zone that the United States considers to this day as its area of influence: “America for the Americans”.  This fact is evidence that with the Monroe Doctrine, the consolidation of the U.S. geopolitical project to establish itself as a hegemon began.

This approach to the fact is very relevant now, when the maturing of the interrelation between corporate power and the U.S. military project, which act as articulators of the capitalist restoration project, becomes evident.  Precisely, in the case of Guayana Esequiba, Exxon Mobil enters without mediation in the territorial dispute, in addition, the onslaught initiated in 2015 coincides with an offensive of economic pressures, mainly the application of unilateral coercive measures that the United States inflicts on Venezuela.

For 140 years, the now called Exxon Mobil has been growing through a process of monopolistic mergers, whose path includes the Standard Oil Company (1870) created by Rockefeller and associates. Steve Coll, author of Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and the American Power (2013) emphasizes that these are two indivisible pieces of a whole: “It is a corporate state within the American state that has its own foreign policy rules” and a project to control energy resources on a global scale.

This association is perceptible in different strategic episodes such as the military incursions committed by the United States, in Iraq for example, and more broadly in the Middle East, ExxonMobil turned out to be the Pentagon’s maximum supplier (1999 – 2005). Also, in the energy projections that the North American country exhibits, this corporation even appears among the most important for the current and future management of clean energies, even if its field of expertise is the exploitation of fossil fuels. However, even in the context of the proposed energy transitions, it is estimated that the demand for crude oil has significant future economic projections. According to the IEA, by 2028 global oil production will increase by 5.8 million barrels per day and a quarter of the supply will be Latin American.

Exxon Mobil is known as the author of the most emblematic ecological disasters, as well as for its denialist stance on climate change and even for accusations of manipulating information on climate risks and affecting investors.  According to OMAL, “The history of this oil corporation, which is part of the U.S. Military Industrial Financial and Communications Military Complex, is a history of dispossession, tax evasion, interference, aggressions against the environment and systematic violations of international law, as well as being closely linked to the State Department and the ultra-right-wing sectors of the U.S.”.  And, this is the profile of the geo-economic actors that maneuver to consummate a territorial appropriation of great magnitude in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Source: La Jornada translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English