How Venezuelans See the Esequibo Campaign

In the slums of Caracas and in towns closer to the border with Guyana, people remain focused on their many other problems, and see the chauvinistic campaign as a bad thing

Miguel lives in Charallave, south of Caracas, and works as a contractor. He didn’t vote in the December 3rd referendum on the Esequibo, because he thinks that any voting, at this point, is unworthy of the effort: “voting is not fighting”. He’s sure that the referendum was made to test how many people will back Maduro in the 2024 election. His brothers, for instance, “who are still Chavistas”, voted in the referendum, and exactly as they were told to do.

Humberto, a carpenter, didn’t vote either. No one in his family went to the poll stations that Sunday. They live in one of Petare’s barrios. The government offered a Transmiranda bus service for free, from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, but they didn’t use it. The only thing he knew about that referendum is that he was supposed to vote YES five times. In his community, people were talking way more about the takeover of the Tocorón jail, “because that is a real problem, not a trap like Esequibo, that the government invented because they are trying to get a slice of the oil they just found there.”

Carlos Jesús, from La Vega, guesses that this matter has to do with “another thing, like creating a war to postpone the 2024 elections or suspend them via a martial law. And, anyhow, Guyana is backed by the U.S.” José, a security guard from Cúa, thinks that this looks like what the government does when they increase the price of something, like gas or the power bill. He sees no relation between the Esequibo issue and people’s everyday needs. Pedro, a janitor in Chapellín, Caracas, doesn’t care if Venezuela conquers the territory. “Will it mean I will earn more or eat better? What does it mean that Esequibo is mine? I remain poor!”

Closer to the action

In San Félix, Bolívar state, another worker told Caracas Chronicles that this issue only concerns the Venezuelan government, even if “Esequibo is Venezuelan territory under claim, but only Guyana is profiting from it. If the Venezuelan government takes Esequibo, it would be to explode it the same way they are doing with Southern Bolívar, reaping it all to benefit themselves and no one else”. People are starting to wonder if a war is coming, but “the hunger we are already suffering is like a war, and we won’t be used as cannon fodder in a conflict that will have no other purpose than distract ourselves from the results of the opposition’s primary.” 

Also in Bolívar state, at the town of El Palmar, where there are not a single ambulance, not a single branch of a bank, everything is “totally quiet”, according to Mahirran Lindo, the owner of a mini market and the president of the local commerce chamber. “I don’t know how this would affect us. We don’t share a border with Esequibo. Some people think we’re going to an armed conflict, just because they watched a video where the Venezuelan army is seen transporting troops and equipment. But I don’t see that coming, a conflict is too expensive. What I know, from Venezuelan miners who are working closer to Esequibo, is that people there are feeling more Guyanese than Venezuelan thanks to all this.”

Alberto, a farmer, has perceived some changes on the Venezuelan side of the border with Esequibo. The military has declared many things as goods of strategic value, and you need a permit from the military-controlled Corporación Venezolana de Minería to sell, buy, possess or move vehicle parts, machinery, pumps, industrial-use oxygen tubes, etc. “CVM even forbids the purchase of new motorcycles, lest you buy them from people who have the permits. They’re paralyzing everything.”

In Ciudad Bolívar, the capital of the state, hairdresser Lisbeth sees no change, and people disconnected from the issue, focused on their many other problems. 

Meanwhile, the border town of Tumeremo is being prepared to become the capital of the new Venezuelan state: Guayana Esequiba. The government opened a SAIME office, launched the first campaign to issue Venezuelan IDs, and is installing the local military authorities, through a brand new ZODI (Integral Defense Zone) and a REDI (Integral Defense Network). The commercial activity with the Brazilian border remains the same. Mario, who works in a local commerce, has seen more military officers and government workers coming to town, to open PDVSA and CVG offices. “Will that improve our access to power, water and good roads? We hope so.”