In a historic move, Venezuelans flocked to the polls on Sunday for a non-binding referendum regarding the long-standing dispute over the Esequibo territory with neighboring Guyana. This resource-rich land, spanning almost 160,000 square kilometers, has been the bone of contention between these South American nations for over a century.
Voices from the Ground
In the heart of Caracas, voters expressed fervent hopes for a favorable outcome. Oscar Guzmán, a 76-year-old retiree, echoed the sentiment of many, voicing his enduring hope for the Esequibo to return to Venezuelan sovereignty. The referendum posed critical questions, including the possible annexation of the disputed territory to the Venezuelan map.
The Voting Process
Despite some delays in opening certain voting centers in Caracas, the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Elvis Amoroso, confirmed that 75% of the 15,857 polling stations were operational by 6:00 AM local time. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was among the early birds, casting his vote and expressing hope for a stronger Venezuela post-referendum, and a peaceful negotiation with Guyana's President, Irfaan Ali.
The electoral process entailed responding to five pivotal questions on a voting machine, which then printed a vote receipt to be deposited in a box. A total of 20.69 million citizens were eligible to vote, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with maps that encompassed the disputed territory and slogans supporting Venezuela's claim.
The Venezuelan government left no stone unturned when it came to ensuring the safety and integrity of the referendum. A total of 356,513 military personnel were deployed, bolstered by an additional 51,778 police officers, to safeguard the voting process. This heightened security was a precaution against potential sabotage plans.
The referendum also proposed an expedited plan to address the needs of the population in the disputed area, including the provision of citizenship and identification documents. The polls were scheduled to close at 6:00 PM local time, with possible extensions for active queues.
This non-binding referendum, sanctioned by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, represents a monumental step towards asserting sovereignty over the disputed land, despite the International Court of Justice's order against any action that could alter Guyana's control over the Esequibo.