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US defense official in Guyana amid Venezuela border row

A US Defense Department official was due in Guyana Tuesday for a two-day visit as the South American country remains embroiled in a border row with Venezuela over the oil-rich Essequibo region. Daniel Erikson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere, will meet members of the Guyanese government and military, as well as leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) bloc headquartered in Georgetown, the US embassy said in a statement. “His visit to Guyana underscores the continued importance the United States places on the US-Guyana bilateral defense and security partnership in support of regional stability,” it added. The visit to ally Guyana comes a month after joint US-Guyana military exercises were denounced by Venezuela as a “provocation,” stirring fears of an escalation in the neighbors’ long-running row. Caracas has long laid claim to Essequibo, which has been administered by Guyana for more than a century and is the subject of border litigation before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The region makes up about two-thirds of Guyanese territory and is home to 125,000 of the country’s 800,000 citizens. The squabble was revived in 2015 when US energy giant ExxonMobil discovered huge crude reserves in Essequibo. President Nicolas Maduro’s government then called a controversial, non-binding referendum which overwhelmingly approved the creation of a Venezuelan province in Essequibo. The presidents of the neighboring countries agreed at a meeting mid-December not to resort to force to settle the dispute. But the arrival two weeks later of a British warship off the coast of Guyana prompted Caracas to deploy more than 5,000 troops to the border for a “defensive” exercise.

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