Canadian mining companies have for some time had a presence in Guyana’s Essequibo region, with several of them either exploring for or producing gold.
According to a senior functionary in the Canadian High Commission, however, it continues to be business as usual for these companies in the face of Venezuelan threats.
In an exclusive interview with this publication, Chargé d’Affaires of the Canadian High Commission, Jake Thomas was asked about the feedback from Canadian companies in Guyana, after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a number of measures aimed at annexing Essequibo.
“We’ve tracked the matter, for sure. But it’s business as usual for our firms. We’ve noticed that. From what we’ve seen, from what I’ve heard, it’s business as usual for our firms. We’ve noticed no difference in their operations. Staff are all present. And carrying on with their obligations,” Thomas said.
Further, Thomas reiterated that Canada supports the International Court of Justice (ICJ) process of settling the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy. He also said that, like other countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has also had discussions with Canada on the situation.
The Canadian gold mining companies with a presence in Guyana include Reunion Gold, which has its Oko West Project in the North West of Guyana and Barricks Gold, which had actually partnered with Australian mining company Troy Resources. That was before Troy Resources subsequently absconded from Guyana, owing billions of dollars to the State.
Aurora Gold Mine, another Canadian company, was at one time the largest gold producer in Guyana. Operating out of the Guyana Goldfields in Region Seven, the company was producing over 120,000 ounces of gold in 2019. However, in 2020 the company sold its operations to Chinese mining company Zijin Mining, after another Canadian mining company, Silvercorp, was unable to close the deal.
CGX Energy and Frontera Energy are meanwhile both Canadian companies that are exploring for oil in Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a portion of which Venezuela has laid claim to. They have operations in the Corentyne Block and, until the first quarter of this year, CGX also held the Demerara and Berbice Blocks, before having to relinquish them.
Earlier this year, the two joint venture partners had amended their Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) in the Corentyne Block, resulting in Frontera increasing its ownership within the block by 4.7 per cent.Previously, CGX held a 32 per cent participating interest in the Corentyne Block while Frontera held the remaining 68 per cent. But following the JOA amendment, Frontera now holds 72.7 per cent and CGX, 27.3 per cent.
Guyana’s Spanish-speaking neighbour has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region, and to a portion of its EEZ in which nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered largely by United States oil giant ExxonMobil.
Over the past few weeks, Guyana has been informing regional and international partners of the referendum Venezuela carried out on December 3, which has been criticised by the United States, Caricom, and the Organisation of American States (OAS), as well as several other nations in the Region, including Brazil, for seeking to, among other things, gain a national consensus to annex Essequibo.Following the referendum, Maduro had announced that he would now authorise oil exploration in Guyana’s Essequibo River, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) not yet pronouncing on the validity of Venezuela’s claims.
On December 5, Maduro asked the state oil company to issue extraction licences for Venezuelan companies to explore for fossil fuels and minerals in the Essequibo region and proposed that the National Assembly pass a Bill to make the area part of Venezuela.
Companies already in Essequibo were also given three months to vacate the area.The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has been clear that investors should ignore Venezuelan rhetoric, noting that Essequibo has for over 100 years been Guyana’s territory and will continue to belong to Guyana.
A meeting has meanwhile been announced between President Dr Irfaan Ali and the Venezuelan President. Set for December 14, the meeting will be held in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Importantly, the fact that Essequibo belongs to Guyana and that the case continues before the ICJ, is not up for negotiation at the meeting.