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The U.S. held military exercises with the South American country of Guyana after Venezuela voted to take over an oil-rich part of its neighbor.
“In collaboration with the Guyana Defense Force, the US Southern Command will conduct flight operations within Guyana on December 7,” the American embassy in Guyana wrote in a statement.
“This exercise builds upon routine engagement and operations to enhance security partnership between the United States and Guyana, and to strengthen regional cooperation,” the statement continued. “In addition to this exercise, USSOUTHCOM will continue its collaboration with the GDF in the areas of disaster preparedness, aerial and maritime security, and countering transnational criminal organizations.”
“The U.S. will continue its commitment as Guyana’s trusted security partner and promoting regional cooperation and interoperability,” the statement concluded.
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Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez on Thursday declared the drills a “provocation” that proves “another step in the wrong direction.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to pro-government supporters after a referendum regarding Venezuela’s claim to Essequibo, a region administered and controlled by Guyana, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. Voters answered five questions about the future of the disputed land, including whether they support turning it into a Venezuelan state. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
“We warn that we will not be diverted from our future actions for the recovery of the Essequibo,” he wrote on X.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro held a referendum vote last week to determine if his country would try to lay claim to the Essequibo region, part of Guyana with rich oil reserves.
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The ruling party declared victory and participation of roughly 10.5 million voters – around half of all eligible voters – which many have rejected after reports of empty voting centers across the country.
A man places his electronic voting receipt into a ballot box during a referendum about the future of a disputed territory with Guyana, at a polling station in Caracas, Venezuela, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
The ruling party has not yet revealed what actions it might take to enforce its claim, but Venezuela and Guyana agreed on Wednesday to continue discussing the issue to avoid an escalation, France 24 reported.
Venezuela’s top diplomat Yvan Gil spoke with his Guyanese counterpart Hugh Todd about the “territorial dispute,” and both parties agreed to “keep the communication channels open.”
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A Guyanese military helicopter went missing on Thursday amid the heightened tensions, German news outlet DW reported. Seven people were aboard the helicopter, which was traveling along the border with Venezuela before its disappearance.
Guyanese President Mohamed Irfaan Ali addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Authorities have so far attributed the disappearance to bad weather, but that has not prevented tensions in the region from increasing. Brazil reinforced its military presence in the border cities of Pacaraima and Boa Vista to “guarantee the inviolability of the territory.”
The U.S. has stressed that it favors a “peaceful resolution” to the dispute, urging both countries to respect the 1899 demarcation “unless or until the parties come to a new agreement or a competent legal body decides otherwise.”
“This is not something that will be settled by a referendum,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters this week.
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Miller added that the U.S. is still seeking commitments from Venezuela to uphold its part in an agreement that would provide some much-needed sanctions relief for the country.
“They have not carried out their part of the agreement,” Miller said. “We urge them to do so, but at the same time, we are considering the matter and will suspend some of the sanctions relief that we put in place earlier this year if we determine that adequate progress to the commitments they made to us have not been made.”
The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet in a closed-door session Friday afternoon to discuss the growing tensions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Peter Aitken is a Fox News Digital reporter with a focus on national and global news.