There are quite a few present-day villainous dictators. Two of the most well-known are Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, and perhaps lesser known is Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. Yes, they all share the title of president to shroud themselves in a false cloak of legitimacy. Yet, at the end of the day, they are, in fact, the iron-fisted despots of their respective countries. Among the negative attributes these men share is the lust for territory in a neighboring country and the willingness to seize it. Putin has invaded Ukraine, while Xi is preparing his military to invade Taiwan and lock its people in the shackles of communist oppression. Maduro, for his part, has, since late December last year, been threatening to invade and seize about two-thirds of neighboring Guyana.

New Life for the Essequibo Controversy, Simmering since 1899

The Essequibo region of Guyana is a vast landmass. It is primarily composed of 150,000 square kilometers (57,915 square miles) of untouched, mountainous rainforest (Da Cruz, 2015, p. 2). This region not only makes up roughly two-thirds of the country, but in terms of sheer size, it is larger than England. The dispute over this territory began in 1899 when Essequibo was awarded to Guyana by international arbitration (Da Cruz, 2015, p. 1). Since that time, Venezuelan leaders have persisted with the notion that the region is, in fact, part of Venezuela.

The now 125-year-old dispute received new life in 2015 when ExxonMobil discovered massive deposits of high-quality oil and natural gas deposits off the shore of Essequibo. The dispute was exacerbated when ExxonMobil increased its earlier estimate from 6 to 8 billion barrels of oil (Paraskova, 2020).

The Big Steal

Knowing full well that Venezuela has vast resources of “heavy” oil (meaning it is more difficult to pump and, therefore, more expensive to refine), President Maduro has put Essequibo in his crosshairs. On December 3, 2023, he put the “Consultative Referendum” on the ballot. This referendum asked voters “among other things, whether they supported incorporating Essequibo as a new Venezuelan state, granting citizenship to current and future residents” (Insanally, 2024, p. 1). Despite reportedly low voter turnout, Venezuelan authorities nonetheless claimed overwhelming public support for the referendum.

Initial Venezuelan Military Deployment

Amid persistent propaganda about Essequibo belonging to Venezuela, President Maduro has initiated military action and put forth concrete plans to incorporate the region as part of Venezuela (John, 2024). The Venezuelan government has created new military commands and legal structures to administer the region.

According to analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in late March 2024, satellite imagery revealed that the Venezuelan military made initial and provocative moves toward Guyana. Maduro’s soldiers began deploying to Anacoco Island, situated approximately halfway down the Guyana-Venezuela border. The island is now:

Dotted with over 75 field tents, enough for a battalion-sized unit of several hundred personnel. According to a press release from the Venezuelan Air Force on April 21, a C-130 Hercules was involved in a training mission to land and take off from the dirt runway. Meanwhile, the aircraft and the base at Anacoco were used to train paratroopers and special operations personnel and simulate land and maritime operations (Berg et al., 2024).

In addition to the deployment of what appears to be a battalion of soldiers, armored and support vehicles have also been seen on the island. These vehicles include Scorpion-90 light tanks, V-100 armored vehicles (which can carry nine passengers and three crew members), 8×8 tactical trucks, and supply vehicles (Bio, 2024). This coincides with the deployment of at least two Iranian-built Peykaap III (Zolfaghar) fast missile boats that have been seen just 40 miles from Guyana’s northern coastal border (John, 2024). At first glance, readers may be tempted to surmise that initial elements of a larger invasion force are forming and preparing to enter Guyana.

Guyana’s Natural Shield

The forward-deployed units on Anacoco Island, or any potential future invasion force, will have to contend with a formidable obstacle. On the other side of the river from Anacoco Island lies nearly 58,000 square miles of dense, mountainous, and disease-infested jungle in the Essequibo region. This region is also nearly devoid of human life, as 90 percent of the Guyanese population lives within the coastal region (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2021).

This all means that any potential land invasion would entail entering a vast region with a nearly nonexistent transportation infrastructure that would be needed to move any invasion and occupation force swiftly. This is particularly true since the only road leading into Guyana is in the south and must be accessed via Brazil. To head off any potential use by either Venezuela or Guyana, a total of 600 soldiers and armored vehicles of the Brazilian army have been stationed at both border points to block access (STRATFOR, 2023).

Fumble in the Jungle

While the 1954 edition of the Army Jungle Operations Field Manual is indeed dated, some truths are timeless, namely: “It is not uncommon to spend 2 hours of hard travel in traversing a distance of one-half mile through the jungle where roads, trails, or tracks are not available” (Department of the Army, 1954, p. 14). This is precisely the terrain a potential Venezuelan invasion force would immediately encounter upon entering the Essequibo region.  Thus, the largely conscripted Venezuelan infantry would make negligible daily progress while being systematically worn down by the jungle.

Additionally, previous wars the U.S. has engaged in have demonstrated that jungle warfare is synonymous with disease (i.e., malaria, dengue fever, and typhus). For example, 65 percent of battlefield medical admissions in the Pacific Theater during World War II and the Vietnam War were attributed to “Disease and Non-Battle Injuries” (Grooms et al., 2023, p. 21). Venezuelan combat operations in Guyana will be no different as malaria alone is an ever-present danger, last year in 2023, there were approximately 23,000 recorded cases of malaria in Guyana (World Health Organization, 2023, p. 10).

Any Venezuelan attempt to conquer the Guyanese jungle region of Essequibo would be a painfully slow, demoralizing, disease-infested slog, not promising for an army that has, in recent years, suffered from desertion and low morale. The lack of quality transportation routes or effective air support (due to lack of maintenance and spare parts) would expose the long Venezuelan army patrol columns to well-placed ambush groups, taking full advantage of the terrain.

To highlight this danger, in 2021, the Venezuelan army was deployed to the border region with Colombia to dislodge remnants of the FARC (the now defunct Marxist-Leninist revolutionary group from Colombia). The operation went poorly for the ill-led Venezuelan soldiers; they suffered eight fatalities (presumably with many more injured) as they were outmaneuvered and attacked by the well-positioned and seasoned FARC guerillas. These were the blood-soaked results of an engagement with the holdovers of a stateless guerilla group; the results of an attack against soldiers fighting for their country would be much more costly.


There is a debate about whether Venezuela will actually invade Guyana. Some commentators have noted that President Maduro is whipping up support and creating a reason to “rally to the flag” prior to the presidential election scheduled for this July. He depends on the support of the military, particularly the army. Without such support, his election chances would be slim since, under his leadership, Venezuela has witnessed great suffering. While an invasion of Guyana may never be launched, Maduro is creating a dangerous situation where de-escalation may be difficult and ripe for miscalculation on both sides. This has the potential to lead to a military confrontation, with the added danger of drawing in other regional states.


Berg, R.C., Hernandez-Roy, C., Ziemer, H., Bledsoe, R., Bermudez, J.S., & Jun, J. (2024). The Essequibo pressure cooker: Runaway nationalism and Maduro’s compellence strategy. Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bio, D. (2024, May 19). Guyana increases level of alert following Venezuela’s new troop deployment near its border. Latin Times. us/news/world/guyana-increases-level-of-alert-following-venezuela-s-new-troop-deployment-near-its-border/ar-BB1mFOk6

Da Cruz, J.D.A., (2015). Strategic insights: Guyana-Venezuela: The Essequibo region dispute.

United States Army War College: Strategic Studies Institute. United States Army War College Press.

Department of the Army (1954). Jungle Operations (FM 72-20).

Department of the Army.

Grooms, B., Harper, K., Mogensen, K., & Wren, W.K. (2023, Fall). Jungle medicine course trains for the austere. Infantry 112(3), 20-23.                                                         

Insanally, R. (2024). The Guyana-Venezuela border crisis.

Institute of the Americas.

John, T. (2024, May 14). Venezuela expands military presence at Guyana border in ‘perpetual prewar footing,’ says report. CNN.                                                                                        

Paraskova, T. (2020, January 27). Exxon strikes it big in Guyana, Ups resource estimate to 8   billion barrels.

STRATFOR. (2023, December 8). Venezuela’s reach for Guyana’s territory. STRATFOR.

United Nations Children’s Fund. (2021). Draft country and programme document: Guyana and   Suriname. United Nations: United Nations Children’s Fund.            Guyana_and_Suriname_draft_CPD-EN-2021.11.15.pdf

World Health Organization (2023). Regional data and trends briefing kit: World malaria report 2023. United Nations: World Health Organization. malaria-report-2023-regional-briefing-kit-eng.pdf?sfvrsn=299150e7_4&download=true

Author’s Bio

Chris MartinAuthor Pic

Christian P. Martin is a Michigan-based military researcher and writer. He earned his Master’s degree in Defense and Strategic Studies from the University of Texas at El Paso. His professional interests are history, land, and naval warfare, both conventional and unconventional, with a focus on the developing world and an emergent China.