Brazil took on its leadership and will waste energy mediating talks between Venezuela and Guyana, says experts

The second meeting between the two countries in Brasilia consolidates the Brazilian government as a mediator

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
Hugg Todd, Yván Gil e Mauro Vieira
Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hugh Hilton Todd (left) and Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yván Gil (right) attended the meeting. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil - Ministério das Relações Exteriores do Brasil

Venezuela and Guyana held a second meeting on Thursday (25) at Itamaraty Palace, in Brasilia, in the wake of discussions about the Essequibo region. Mediated by Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira, the meeting lasted about 7 hours and concluded with a statement released by the Brazilian ministry saying the negotiations will continue. 

According to Foreign Affairs professor Roberto Goulart, from the University of Brasília, Brazil’s mediation is important, but puts the country in a situation that consumes the political energy of the Lula government. 

“Brazil has internal issues that demand effort [to be solved]. We had a coup attempt seven days after Lula’s inauguration ceremony. So, the president has not much political energy to waste on foreign affairs issues,” said the professor. 

In a joint statement released by Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the two countries reinforced their commitment to the Argyle Declaration, signed in December 2023, to maintain peaceful negotiations. 

In the meeting at Itamaraty, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hugh Hilton Todd and Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yván Gil presented proposed agendas for the Joint Commission’s work, which will be discussed at a future meeting in Brazil.

The Venezuelan minister said the meeting “was a step further in diplomatic talks”. According to him, possibilities were discussed regarding the Essequibo territorial controversies. 

To Gilberto Maringoni, a professor of Foreign Affairs at the ABC Federal University (UFABC), the issue will last throughout 2024, something good for both Venezuela and Guyana. 

“It may last for months, even after the elections in Venezuela, which is good for Maduro, because, during the elections, he will say he is fighting to reunify [the country]. It's not bad for Guyana either because it prolongs a debate through diplomatic channels," Maringoni said.

Brazil as a mediator

Maringoni points out that it is important for Brazil to position itself as an articulator, but the situation is difficult to resolve.

“The fact that it has been brought to Brasilia is relevant because it places Brazil as an articulator on the continent at a time when it is under attack from the Argentinian government. This is a very important chess game. There's a tense situation internally, but it's difficult to reach an understanding," he said. 

For Professor Menezes, this issue poses a negative agenda that the Lula government would not like to be resolving.

“The government's priority is discussing regional integration, not a negative agenda. Besides the internal issues, South American relations are difficult with Javier Milei [the Argentinian president]. Lula can't put a positive agenda on the Guyana discussion because it's very complicated," he said.

To Menezes, Lula’s decision to approach it was fundamental to not reinforce its neighbor’s isolation and bring Venezuela to international diplomacy. However, the government has to avoid a political cost greater than the efforts expended.

“Now that the country has approached the issues, it has to continue negotiating. Lula has always presented Brazilian territory as open to hosting negotiations, but that doesn’t mean the country will succeed. The Brazilian government cannot allow itself to be manipulated by Venezuela, because that would pose a very high cost to Brazilian diplomacy," he said.

Referendum and foreign interference 

In December 2023, the Venezuelan government held a referendum to discuss the issue. Venezuelans answered five questions about whether they agreed with Caracas on how to deal with the territorial dispute.

Of the 10,5 million voters who participated in the referendum, 95.93% supported the decision of the Venezuelan government. Only 4.07% disagreed.

Shortly after the referendum, the United States carried out military exercises in Guyana through the Southern Command and the United Kingdom sent a warship to the region.

Yván Gil said that it was necessary to avoid the participation of third parties unrelated to the issue, such as the US and the UK. He also defended the result of the Venezuelan referendum.

Essequibo has 160 km² and borders the Venezuelan states of Bolívar and Delta Amacuro with the Essequibo River. The region has about 120,000 inhabitants and a low population density, since it is mostly covered by forests. To Guyana, the Essequibo represents two-thirds of its territory, but to Venezuela, it is part of its borders, and was supposedly stolen by British rule when the neighboring country was still a colony of the United Kingdom.

Edited by: Matheus Alves de Almeida