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Venezuela says US building ‘secret’ bases in disputed Essequibo region

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to supporters on the day he registered as candidate in the upcoming presidential election to secure another six-year term, in Caracas, March 25, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

Venezuela has said the United States is setting up "secret" bases in the disputed Essequibo region.

"We have information proving that in the territory of Guyana Essequibo, temporarily administered by Guyana, secret military bases of the (US) Southern Command... a body of the CIA, have been installed," Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said.

Essequibo is an oil-rich region located between Guyana and Venezuela, disputed between the two countries.

Maduro said the US bases were being set up to prepare for an escalation against Venezuela, describing the move as a direct aggression against the people of the southern and eastern part of the Latin American nation.

The Venezuelan parliament held a ceremony commemorating a recent law that lays out the defense of Guyana Essequibo, four months after Caracas held a referendum in December in which the nation overwhelmingly voted for the creation of a Venezuelan province in the disputed region.

Maduro also said Guyana's President Irfaan Ali runs a puppet regime governed by the “Southern Command, the CIA and ExxonMobil,” the US-based energy company which discovered oil in Essequibo in 2015.

Guyana's presidential office serves as a military consultant to the Guyana Defense Force, coordinating “security cooperation engagement activities” and providing military support and training.

The United States and Guyana say they will not resort to force to settle the border dispute, which is currently in their hands. But US forces recently held joint drills with Guyana in the region.

Essequibo was a British and Dutch colony for more than a century. It covers two-thirds of the Guyanese territory and is just 160,000 square kilometers. It is home to 125,000 of Guyana's 800,000 population.

Caracas claims that the Essequibo River to the region's east forms a natural border recognized as far back as 1777.

The territory around the Essequibo River gained significance after the discovery of offshore oil and gas.

The territorial dispute between the two neighboring countries has been referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

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