CARACAS/GEORGETOWN, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday he would allow oil exploration in an area disputed with Guyana, which said it would report his comments to the United Nations and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). .
Maduro’s pledge to allow development around the Essequibo River came after his government held a weekend referendum in which voters rejected the ICJ’s jurisdiction over the dissent and backed the creation of a new state in the territory.
Although Maduro has repeatedly said the referendum is binding, the ICJ – whose full decision on the case could be years away – last week barred Venezuela from taking any action that changes the status quo in the oil-rich region.
State oil company PDVSA and state iron and steel producer CVG will set up divisions for the disputed region, Maduro said.
The state-owned companies “will immediately proceed to establish the division PDVSA Esequibo and CVG Esequibo, and we will immediately proceed to grant operational licenses for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mines in our Guyana Essequiba,” he said on state television.
Maduro also said he had proposed a law to the government-controlled legislature to create the new state, and companies already operating in waters in the area would have three months to leave.
Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali said in comments later on Tuesday that Maduro was showing “blatant disregard” for the ICJ ruling.
“Guyana will report on this matter early in the morning. We will write to the UN Security Council and the court,” Ali said in a national broadcast. “Guyana Defense Forces are on high alert… Venezuela has clearly declared itself an outlaw nation.”
He has already spoken to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Ali said.
Venezuela has reasserted its claim to the 160,000 square kilometer (61,776 square mile) territory in recent years following the discovery of oil and gas offshore. The maritime border between the two countries is also disputed.
A consortium led by Exxon Mobil ( XOM.N ) began producing oil off the coast of Guyana in late 2019 and exports began in 2020.
Guyana, which currently produces about 400,000 barrels per day of oil and gas, this year received bids for new shallow and deepwater blocks from local and foreign companies in its first international round of tenders. Exploration licenses for these areas have not been signed.
Ali said investors in Guyana have nothing to worry about.
“Our message is very clear, your investments are safe,” he said. “Our international partners and the international community are ready and have assured us of their support.
“Border issues should be decided by governments and relevant international organizations,” an Exxon spokesman said in response to questions.
Analysts said the vote was an attempt by Maduro to gauge his government’s support ahead of a 2024 presidential election.
Reporting by Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Kiana Wilburg in Georgetown, additional reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston, writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sonali Paul
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