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Esequibo Referendum: Venezuela's Low Turnout Highlights Public Indifference

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Nimrah Khatoon
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Esequibo Referendum: Venezuela's Low Turnout Highlights Public Indifference

In a largely deserted referendum, the Venezuelan public was asked to voice their stance on the integration of the disputed Esequibo region into the country. Despite the government and military's efforts to encourage participation, the turnout remained significantly low, underscoring the challenges faced in garnering public support for this contentious issue.

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The Controversial Esequibo Referendum

The consultative referendum, backed by President Nicolas Maduro's administration, aimed to settle the long-standing border dispute with neighboring Guyana over the potentially oil-rich Esequibo region. The referendum included a question rejecting the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) jurisdiction to decide the rightful ownership of the Esequibo territory. The ICJ, on the other hand, had declared in April that it held jurisdiction, albeit a final ruling could be years away. The Venezuelan government maintained that the dispute should be resolved bilaterally by the two countries involved.

The Quest for Sovereignty

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This referendum also marked an attempt by the Venezuelan government to claim sovereignty over a large swath of neighboring Guyana. The vote asked Venezuelans if they supported establishing a state in the disputed territory, providing citizenship to current and future inhabitants, and rejecting the UN's top court's authority in settling the disagreement between the two South American nations. The Venezuelan government promoted the referendum for weeks, framing participation as an act of patriotism, often conflating it with a show of support for President Maduro.

The Outcome: A Show of Indifference

However, the Venezuelan public's response was underwhelming. Many polling stations across the country's 11,122 voting centers remained virtually empty, with few or no people waiting in line. The lack of engagement highlighted the difficulties the government faces in rallying public support for the issue of Esequibo integration. Despite the Maduro government's assurances that it does not seek justification to invade or annex the vast territory, the exercise has raised apprehensions in Guyana and around the region about Venezuela's ultimate intentions over the contested territory.

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