The Idaho-sized South American nation of Guyana could very well be the next global flashpoint. This may come as a surprise to many, if not most Americans, who are unfamiliar with Guyana’s history and geography. But the nature of today’s supply chains means any country blessed with critical natural resources can become a key player in the global economy, Guyana included.
At issue is Venezuelan narco-dictator Nicolás Maduro’s threat to seize, by force if necessary, Guyana’s resource-rich Essequibo region, which makes up nearly two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass. Maduro held a sham referendum to claim sovereignty over the area in December. He also activated military personnel under the pretense of an invasion. For now, Maduro has agreed to not use force. But anyone who knows anything about this tyrant knows that his word is meaningless.
Like most failed dictators contemplating international aggression, Maduro is looking to divert attention from his domestic struggles, project strength abroad, and further enrich himself.
Maduro has destroyed Venezuela through oppression and incompetence. The country has the world’s largest proven oil reserves and should be one of the globe’s wealthiest states—instead, it is among the poorest. Since 2014, its gross domestic product has shrunk by three quarters, and its currency is still inflating at around 360 percent. That the Venezuelan economy is now slightly improving is only a sign of what a low base it’s starting from.
By contrast, Guyana is booming. In 2015, ExxonMobil and its partners discovered that the nation was sitting on the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves. Immediately, Guyana strengthened ties with American companies, which are now heavily invested in long-term petroleum extraction. This has already pumped more than $1.6 billion into an economy of less than one million people. By 2040, it will mean more than $150 billion on an annual basis.
This is good news for the people of Guyana. But it also represents a challenge for the Biden Administration’s foreign policy.
For the past three years, President Biden’s advisors sought to normalize relations with the criminal Maduro narco-regime. They sent a secret delegation to Caracas, lifted sanctions on the Venezuelan oil industry, and released Maduro’s narco-nephews—as well as notorious money launderer Alex Saab—from prison.
Unfortunately, the administration granted all these concessions while Maduro continued to detain American citizens and host FARC and ELN narco-terrorists. It sends the message that bad behavior will be rewarded. If the White House continues on this path, the consequences could be disastrous––for the United States, for the Venezuelan people, and for Guyana.
To date, the Biden Administration has provided support to the Guyanese. American warplanes have been conducting joint operations with Guyana’s air force, and the State Department has agreed to help the former British colony “create a more organized and better equipped military in the coming months.” These are all productive steps, in line with the recommendations I made after meeting with Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali last September. They are also firmly in America’s national interest.
However, President Biden must communicate to the American public why these actions are in our national interest. On principle, no American wants to see a sovereign nation invaded by a hostile power. In practical terms, Guyana is rich in some of the 21st century’s most important resources—resources that Maduro would gladly leverage against us or funnel to our adversaries if given the chance. Remember that Maduro sponsors anti-American narco-terrorists, works with totalitarian regimes like those of Cuba and Nicaragua, and has made himself a pawn of China, Russia, and Iran.
Guyana has roughly 11 billion barrels of oil, billions of dollars’ worth of gold, and a rare supply chain of bauxite—the ore that is used to produce aluminum and gallium, two crucial mineral components for modern technology—that is not controlled by China. If Maduro seizes Essequibo, all of these and more will be less accessible to the United States and more accessible to adversaries like Beijing. What’s the good of shoring up domestic production of electronics, for instance, while effectively strengthening a criminal regime that intends to help China monopolize control over their base materials—in this case, bauxite?
If we’re going to maintain America’s strength throughout the 21st century, we need allies like Guyana to be free, dictators like Maduro to be deterred, and supply chains in their entirety, from the mine to the assembly line, to be secure. Only a four-hour flight from the United States, Guyana represents a serious test for the Biden Administration, one that it cannot afford to fail.