“Remain calm & rational” – PM Phillips urges Guyanese ahead of Venezuela’s referendum

Prime Minister, retired Brigadier Mark Phillips, who is currently performing the duties of President, has urged Guyanese to remain “calm and rational”, reassuring them as the date for Venezuela’s December 3 referendum seeking to annex Essequibo approaches.
The Prime Minister issued a statement on Thursday, noting that concerns have been expressed in various communities regarding the safety of the country. According to the Prime Minister, a former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defense Force (GDF), such messages have the potential to stoke fear.
“Recent messages shared amongst communities have raised concerns regarding the safety and security of our nation, particularly in anticipation of the upcoming referendum concerning the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy. These messages can potentially spread unnecessary fear and anxiety among our citizens.”
“I wish to emphasize the importance of relying on official sources for national security and public safety information. We are working tirelessly to ensure that the interests of every Guyanese citizen are safeguarded, and we encourage everyone to remain calm and rational during this period,” Phillips said in his statement.
While he expressed appreciation, on behalf of the Government of Guyana, for the vigilance and concerns expressed by Guyanese, he also urged them to “remain composed and informed through the official channels.”
Phillips echoes what President Dr. Irfaan Ali (currently in Dubai for the COP28 meeting) himself said during a recent visit to communities close to the border with Venezuela. During a visit to Mabaruma last week, President Ali had assured that Guyana is working with its international partners and is adding to its military capacity. The President referenced conversations he has had with regional and international partners, noting that Guyana’s partners are solidly behind Guyana.
While making it clear that his government isn’t taking anything for granted, the President had also expressed the view that based on their assessments they do not believe Venezuela will act recklessly. Further, the President stressed the importance of residents not succumbing to the Venezuelan narrative and giving in to fear.
“We want our population to be assured of what we are doing. To be assured that our partners are solidly behind us. There’s a series of activities you will see, that will demonstrate how solid this relationship is. And I am engaging many leaders. Even yesterday, I spoke with many leaders in the region. Many leaders internationally, on this matter,”
According to President Ali, these international partners have all, once again, strongly condemned “any action or any behaviour by Venezuela”, that could be interpreted as recklessness. Further, President Ali recounted that in conversations with him, these international partners have been adamant that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) process should be respected.
“We have all of these international partners on our side. So, we can’t allow the Venezuelan narrative… because their narrative, what they want is to create fear in your minds and the communities. And we can’t allow them to win by responding to that fear. When we respond to those narratives, we feed into the propaganda,” President Ali had said.
Since President Ali visited these communities, the United States (US) military itself has arrived in Guyana. At present, members of the US military from the US Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), are in Guyana helping the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) to build capacity against any territorial threats.
SFAB, which is a specialized unit of the US army that has assisted allies of the US in the past, arrived in Guyana this week. It is expected that they will conduct several joint training exercises with the GDF to strengthen its capacity and capability at the tactical and operational levels. This is particularly important considering the threat Guyana faces from Venezuela on the border.
Only recently, Guyana’s Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud met with US Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols during an official trip to Washington that also took him to the White House.
On December 3, Venezuelans will go to the polls in a public referendum to tell their government if they agree with Caracas’ position to incorporate the disputed Essequibo territory as part of Venezuela, rename the state Guyana Essequibo, and grant its population, currently Guyanese nationals, Venezuelan citizenship.
Guyana’s Spanish-speaking neighbour has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region, and to a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered largely by United States oil giant ExxonMobil.