U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed support for Guyana amid efforts by Venezuela to annex an oil-rich region. Photo by Justin Tafoya/U.S. Department of State/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged support for Guyana and its sovereignty in a growing dispute over the oil-rich Essequibo region that Venezuela is now claiming after a referendum.
In a call with Guyana President Mohamed Irfaan Ali on Wednesday, Blinken said he reaffirmed the United States' "unwavering support for Guyana's sovereignty."
In a readout of the phone call between them, Blinken urged for a peaceful resolution to the dispute and for all parties to respect the 1899 arbitral award determining the land boundary between Venezuela and Guyana "unless, or until, the parties reach a new agreement, or a competent legal body decides otherwise."
Guyana has controlled the disputed region since 1899 when it was a British colony, but Venezuela, behind its embattled President Nicolas Maduro, voted to annex Essequibo.
"The 1899 award determined the land boundary between Venezuela and Guyana should be respected," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. "We would urge Venezuela and Guyana to continue to seek a peaceful resolution of their dispute. This is not something that will be settled by a referendum."
In the meantime, Guyana has sought out the United Nations for help to prevent Venezuela from taking over the territory, which currently comprises of two-thirds of Guyana, while putting its military on full alert.
"I have spoken to the secretary general of the United Nations and several leaders, alerting them of these dangerous developments and the desperate actions of President Maduro," Ali said in a nationally broadcast speech.
Maduro, though, has moved ahead with plans to occupy the Essequibo region, producing a new map with the annexed territory. He instructed the state oil company to draft a map of the exploration and exploitation of resources in the region to issue extraction licenses.
He claimed the region is now occupied by Guyana and the British Empire.