Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is facing a staggering array of problems far too numerous and severe to list here. Things were already going badly before global oil prices tanked, so now they’re a lot worse.
With Venezuelan crude down to about $50 a barrel, Maduro’s government has been devouring its foreign currency reserves and plunging deeper into debt, though not fast enough to keep supermarkets stocked. Annual inflation is the highest in the world, and the country’s largest bank note, 100 “Strong Bolivars,” is now worth just 17 U.S. cents on the black market. The country’s may soon run low on beer.
It might come as something of a surprise, then, to see that the Venezuelan president’s most pressing concern in recent days is not a shortage of milk, surgical supplies or contraceptives. It is a vigorous and noisy campaign to take control of a large swath of South American savannah and jungle, known as the Essequibo, that belongs to neighboring Guyana.
For the past several days, Maduro has been assuring Venezuelans, many of whom are busy queuing up for groceries and basic goods, that his government is working to achieve a “great victory” and take control of the disputed Essequibo, an area equal to two-thirds of Guyanese territory.
Possession of the Essequibo — named for the big jungle river flowing through it — was granted to Guyana, then a British colony, by an arbitration judge in 1899. Venezuela challenged the ruling as unfair in 1962, and the dispute has been quietly simmering ever since.