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Venezuela builds forces near border with Guyana despite agreement to de-escalate

<i>Roberto Cisneros/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Aerial view of the Essequibo region taken from Guyana on December 12
Roberto Cisneros/AFP/Getty Images
Aerial view of the Essequibo region taken from Guyana on December 12

By Vasco Cotovio and Allegra Goodwin, CNN

(CNN) — Satellite images show Venezuela has bolstered its military presence near the border with Guyana, despite Caracas saying it would pursue a diplomatic avenue to try and resolve the long-standing territorial dispute over an oil-rich piece of Guyanese land.

Imagery from Maxar collected in January showed an expansion of operations at Venezuela’s Anacoco Island military base, on the Cuyuni river, which borders Guyana, with several new sections of rainforest cleared recently and others being bulldozed when the images were captured.

The pictures also show new infrastructure and several armored vehicles present on site.

While the base’s airstrip appeared unchanged, a helicopter could be seen on it, and access roads were improved.

North of the base, on the Cuyuni River crossing that provides land access to the base, a heavy river ferry is visible, and large swaths of rainforest have been cleared. Large stockpiles of what appear to be construction supplies are visible on the side of the road, as are three armored vehicles.

In January, Venezuela bragged about expanding its military presence in the region in propaganda videos released on its army’s social media accounts, showing bulldozers clearing land, as well as light tanks and infantry fighting vehicles on the move and an Mi-17 military transport helicopter.

“[The expansion of the base] promoted by the 11th Armoured Brigade together with the 6th Venezuelan Army Corps Engineers, is improving the response system of the FANB in this important border area with the state of Guayana Esequiba and repelling any eventuality that attempts against the Republic,” the Venezuelan Army said in a post on X.

The expansion of Venezuelan operations along the disputed border was first reported by the Washington-based think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Tension over the land, which amounts to about two-thirds of Guyanese national territory, mounted last year after a Venezuelan referendum in which voters assented to creating a Venezuelan state within the disputed region. Guyana had called the move a step towards annexation and an “existential” threat as the specter of armed conflict loomed over the region.

Venezuela later reached an agreement with Guyana on December 15 to avoid escalation and try to settle the dispute between the two countries without force.

In a joint declaration, both sides agreed to “not threaten or use force against one another in any circumstances” and “refrain, whether by words or deeds, from escalating any conflict or disagreement arising from any controversy between them.”

CNN has reached out to the Venezuelan foreign ministry for comment.

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