Venezuela’s government has accused neighboring Guyana of granting illegal oil exploration concessions in territory that the two countries dispute.
The comments came on Sunday after Guyana said on Saturday that it had satellite images showing Venezuelan military movements near the South American country’s eastern border with Guyana.
Venezuela’s statement did not deny Guyana’s claims that there would be a military and infrastructure buildup. Instead, he said he was within his rights to strengthen his border forces.
Venezuela claimed that Guayana had granted “illegal oil concessions…in an indisputably Venezuelan maritime zone.”
Oil giant ExxonMobil said it would continue to increase production in offshore fields off Guyana despite the escalating territorial dispute.
The two sides have been fighting over borders for decades. Venezuela claims the mineral-rich Essequibo region, which covers about two-thirds of Guyana’s land area.
Both sides accuse each other of violating the Caribbean peace deal signed in December to ease tensions around border lines.
Under the terms of the Argyle Accord signed on the island of St. Vincent in December, the two countries agreed not to use force or threaten each other. The talks were brokered by the governments of Brazil and the Caribbean.
The latest developments came hours after satellite images released by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showed Venezuela expanding its base on the island of Ankoko, half of which Venezuela had conquered in the Guyana in the mid-1960s, and in nearby Punta Barima. more than 80 kilometers from the Guyanese border.
The images show significant improvement in road infrastructure and other facilities near the two areas, CSIS said. Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Persaud noted that “Guyana will continue to respect the Argyle Declaration and hopes that Venezuela will do the same.”
Guyana says an international boundary commission dating from 1899 settled the border demarcation once and for all.
But for more than 60 years, Venezuela has accused the commission of expelling it from the Essequibo region.
Guyana took the matter to the Netherlands International Court for a final ruling, while Venezuela said it preferred direct bilateral negotiations as the way forward.
The Venezuelan Defense Ministry on Friday accused Guyana of threatening the St. Vincent Accord through irresponsible actions and media deception, saying “Essequibo is ours.”
He also said ExxonMobil, which produces 645,000 barrels of offshore oil daily from Guyana, is working with the government and the U.S. military to exploit oil and gas resources in waters claimed by Venezuela.
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali is expected to meet his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro in March for a second summit on the border issue.
Several senior officials from the US administration and military have visited Guyana in recent weeks as a show of support.
The United States also provided military overflights to monitor Venezuelan troops and other activities at the height of tensions in December, in the days leading up to Venezuela’s Dec. 3 referendum authorizing the annexation of Essequibo.