War Drums: Venezuela Deploying Tanks and Missile Ships Against Outgunned Neighbor Guyana

Will President Joe Biden’s next crisis be in our own hemisphere, in our own backyard? It’s beginning to look that way.

According to a Friday report in The Wall Street Journal, Venezuela’s military isn’t just talking about annexing an oil-rich portion of neighboring Guyana, but is “backing up its threats to … secure access to some of the world’s largest oil finds in more than a decade by moving light tanks, missile-equipped patrol boats and armored carriers to the two countries’ border in what is quickly turning into a new security challenge for the Biden administration.”

The recent military deployment was revealed Friday in satellite images that had been posted by Venezuela’s military on its social media accounts.

As CNN noted in a December report, the border between Venezuela and Guyana was set by international arbitrators in 1899. However, the recent oil discovery — combined with Venezuela’s extreme poverty and other issues related to the failures of the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro — has caused Caracas to abandon any pretense of respecting that 125-year-old arbitration ruling.

According to The Associated Press, Maduro’s government won an internal referendum on annexing Essequibo in December — although the wire service noted “lackluster turnout suggested his government is losing influence and is tone deaf to people’s needs.”


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“Venezuela’s National Electoral Council on Monday reported participation in the referendum of about 10.5 million voters, which would have been just over half of the 20.6 million eligible people. But those figures defied what people witnessed at voting centers, where long lines typical of Venezuelan elections never formed,” the AP reported.

Nevertheless, given Venezuela’s 130,000 front-line troops compared to Guyana’s 3,000 troops total, Guyana is clearly outgunned. And, while the United States pledged some support in the form of joint exercises shortly after the referendum: “In collaboration with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) will conduct flight operations within Guyana on December 7,” a Dec. 7 news release from the U.S. Embassy in Guyana read.

“This exercise builds upon routine engagement and operations to enhance security partnership between the United States and Guyana, and to strengthen regional cooperation,” it continued, adding that “USSOUTHCOM will continue its collaboration with the GDF in the areas of disaster preparedness, aerial and maritime security, and countering transnational criminal organizations.

Will Venezuela and Guyana go to war?

“The U.S. will continue its commitment as Guyana’s trusted security partner and promoting regional cooperation and interoperability.”

That commitment may soon be tested. According to satellite imagery obtained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Maduro is building up his military forces in Essquibo and surrounding waters.

According to CSIS’ Friday report, while Venezuela and Guayana met in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, for bilateral talks on Jan. 25, Venezuela had spent the prior few weeks “building up a military presence on Anacoco Island.”

“The island, awarded to Guyana as part of an 1899 arbitral award but seized and administered by Venezuela since 1966, has long been a point of tension between the two countries. A video, linked to the Bolivarian National Guard dated January 15, 2024, shows a staging area across the Cuyuni River from Anacoco Island where construction materials are piled up.


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“Three armored vehicles, likely V-100/150 Commando amphibious armored personnel carriers (APCs) are also visible in the staging area. Maxar satellite imagery of the area from January 13, 2024, also shows the APCs, construction materials, a heavy river ferry and the clearing of a new area to the north, likely where Venezuelan military engineers intend to build a Mabey Compact 200 bridge to the island.”

“More recently, videos shared from Venezuelan military and government social media accounts on January 24 and 25 (the day of the meeting in Brasília) show an exercise taking place on Anacoco under the supervision of General Domingo Hernández Lárez, commander of the Strategic Operational Command of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB), who reports only to President Maduro and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López,” CSIS reported.

“Another earlier video from January 19 explains that what is being built on Anacoco Island is a jungle tank base with a 3.8-kilometer track (2.3 miles) with 14 obstacles, which will be used to train Venezuela’s armored units,” the report continued.

“The highly produced videos and coordinated social media campaigns suggest that the FANB is actively displaying its activities on Anacoco as part of an information operation. With videos boosted relentlessly by military social media networks featuring logos, music, and editorial flourishes, the Venezuelan armed forces are intentionally crafting a message for external consumption, with one key audience being the Guyanese government.”

Another audience is likely President Joe Biden — or, more likely, whoever is currently digesting information for the president, considering this was his performance at a White House media briefing just hours before the revelations, addressing a special counsel report that indicated the president would be unfit for trial for willfully retaining classified information due to his decreased mental faculties.

Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that “[i]n recent months, U.S. officials from the Defense Department and White House have visited Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, for talks on increasing cooperation. [Guyanese President Irfaan Ali] said his government would soon purchase American helicopters, drones and other defense equipment.”

“Supporting Guyana to strengthen its defensive capability as it continues to bring enormous oil windfall on the market is something we have a direct interest in,” said Juan Gonzalez, a senior Biden adviser, on Monday after meeting with the Guyanese president. “We certainly don’t want to escalate tensions, but we have our own strategic relationship with Guyana.”

However, consider how the carrot-and-stick relationship between Venezuela and the Biden administration has worked thus far. Recently, the U.S. has relaxed some of its economic sanctions in hopes that Maduro will acquiesce to fair elections and take back illegal immigrants from Venezuela that the United States has deported.

“Instead, rights groups say, Maduro has jailed dissidents and banned rivals from running against him in presidential elections that are supposed to take place later this year,” the Journal reported.

The carrot hasn’t worked. Unfortunately, it appears we’re about to see how well the stick works — and one doesn’t have much confidence in the man wielding it.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he’s written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.

C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he’s written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).


Morristown, New Jersey


Catholic University of America

Languages Spoken

English, Spanish

Topics of Expertise

American Politics, World Politics, Culture

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