Guyana, a tiny South American nation home to more than 800,000 people, made big headlines in December.
The reason? Its neighboring country, Venezuela.
Venezuela’s autocratic leader Nicolás Maduro called for a referendum in the first week of December 2023 to seek approval to annex Essequibo, which makes up two-thirds of Guyana’s land. Venezuelans approved it despite the dispute already being resolved by an international tribunal in 1899.
“What has happened is that it’s been exacerbated by the discovery of oil (in Guyana),” said Dr. Terrence Blackman, founder and CEO at Guyana Business Journal. “This discovery has made it seem more attractive to Venezuela to pursue this course of action.”
The 2015 oil discovery made Guyana the world’s fastest-growing economy, recording the world’s highest real GDP growth rate in 2022 and 2023. The story is different across Guyana’s border. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but that hasn’t stopped its economy from collapsing since Maduro took power in 2013.
“Venezuela doesn’t truly have sources of support in its ambitions to take over that territory of Guyana, whereas Guyana, it seems, has international public law on its side, as well as the alliance with the United States,” said Valerie Marcel, director at New Producers Group. “So I think that at this stage, the fears that Guyana felt in the past are much less. It feels more confident against its big neighbor.”
Guyana’s sudden economic progress has also been on the watch list for oil experts. While Guyana’s remarkable GDP growth appears impressive on paper, critics highlight that the country’s weak democratic institutions and deeply divided politics along ethnic lines could cause the only English-speaking country in South America to suffer from the so-called resource curse.
“Guyana is at a crossroads in its history,” said Gregory Brew, energy analyst at Eurasia Group. “It is about to become one of the most exciting and important oil-producing countries in the world.”
Watch the video above to dive deep into Guyana’s oil economy, its ongoing escalation with Venezuela, what the country’s oil means for the U.S. and more.