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Forecast podcast: Tensions spiral as Venezuela moves to takeover oil-rich region of Guyana

A man holds up a printed map of the northern portion of South America as he presents in lecture hall or speaking room.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jeff Landset discuss Venezuela’s move to annex the oil-rich Essequibo region of Guyana, plus more on by-elections in Zimbabwe, Egypt’s presidential election, a confidence vote for the Polish prime minister and marriage equality legislation in Thailand..

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Ahmed Namatalla,  Jess Fino and Halmia Mansoor. Sophie Perryer contributed additional writing. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is December 7th.

In this week’s forecast we’re discussing a territorial conflict between Venezuela and Guyana, by-elections in Zimbabwe, Egypt’s presidential election, a confidence vote for the Polish prime minister and marriage equality legislation in Thailand.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.

Venezuela/Guyana territorial conflict

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the territorial conflict between Venezuela and Guyana. For more on that we’ve got Factal editor Jeff Landset.

JIMMY: Hi, Jeff. 

JEFF: Hi, Jimmy, how are you? 

JIMMY: I’m good, or, I will be after you get us all caught up on what we need to know about this dispute between Venezuela and Guyana. It seems like things have heated up. Before we get into the latest on it, though, can you give us a bit of a recap on how we got here?

JEFF: Sure. This dates back to 1899. There was a ruling by international arbiters that set current boundaries when Guyana was still a British colony. And since then, Venezuela has actually claimed what we are talking about – which is the Essequibo region. It is a densely forested area about two-thirds the size of Guyana’s national territory, approximately the size of Florida. And in that region, is highly rich with natural resources, such as oil, diamonds, minerals. So there are a lot of things that certain countries would be interested in taking over this region and Venezuela for several years has been interested in this. Venezuela claims the territory based off of a later ruling in which the two countries said that they would decide who owns the territory and Venezuela claims that that decision supersedes the 1899 ruling.

JIMMY: What’s the latest then? How are things looking at the moment?

JEFF: Yeah, so the biggest development lately was this referendum that was voted on over the weekend. Venezuela claimed, without much evidence, that more than 10 million people voted ‘yes’ to take over this area of Guyana and claim it as national territory. It has been an international nightmare, mostly, for Guyana. They have called the referendum an “existential threat”. They have also asked for international courts to come in and rule. The International Court of Justice based in The Hague has actually ruled and told Venezuela not to modify the situation that currently prevails. However, Venezuela ignored that and went ahead with the referendum last weekend. And now, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has gone ahead and claimed victory and is actually beginning to order oil companies to go ahead and start drilling in the area.

JIMMY: What have reactions been like in Venezuela and Guyana? And on that same topic, how has the international community responded to this?

JEFF: Sure, yeah. Venezuela – there is a difference between the Venezuelan Government and the Venezuelan people. Venezuelan government has been very excited about this for a long time. You know, they’ve been having history lessons televised based off of this Essequibo region. Maduro has been pumping up this referendum for weeks and weeks now, and is basically trying to rally the troops, as it were, to try to take over this territory. Now, even though the Venezuelan government said 10 million people voted yes on that, there were eyewitness accounts that all these polling places were essentially not very full and there was no indication that, you know, several million people went to vote, even in places of the country that are very pro-Maduro. Life has gotten hard in Venezuela recently and there has been some hunger, an appetite, for an opposition candidate to come in. Earlier this year, there was a presidential primary in which an opposition candidate did quite well ahead of, you know, a planned election in 2024. And so the people of Venezuela likely see this referendum as not necessary and not very helpful to help them with their day-to-day lives. As for Guyana, you know, they see this as a huge threat. The politicians in the country have been rallying around what’s going on. There is a video of the president going to the top of a mountain that overlooks the region and raising the flag and essentially, kind of saber rattling, I guess it could be described as, and so yeah, so there are, you know, indications that this – that there’s a lot of tension between the two countries. Internationally, you know, Brazil has started to bring some troops to their borders in advance of all this. And like I said, the International Court of Justice, they have asked Venezuela not to do anything to disrupt the status quo and have also said that they will have a further ruling and trial later in the spring of 2024. So they are trying to calm the situation, but Venezuela, as they’ve shown, is not partaking in that form of justice.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next then?

JEFF: Yeah, so a lot of the analysts are seeing all of this and just calling it a political maneuver by Maduro to try to shore up popularity ahead of this planned election in 2024. A lot of the observers are seeing this and they are saying that Maduro is trying to rally the people to him with a nationalist type of agenda. They are also saying that this might portend a way for Maduro to try to cancel the election. If he says that the dispute is getting too hot and heavy, as it were, you know, he could press the button and cancel the election. And so as it stands, you know, we want to believe that violence in the region is unlikely – and hopefully that’s the case – but we are certainly looking out for it. And at the very least, there will be humanitarian impacts in the region, especially to the people who live in the Essequibo region. There may be economic consequences. And yeah, we may see some international organizations kind of step in and release some statements calling for peaceful resolutions and diplomatic interventions.

JIMMY: Well, Jeff, we’ll stop there for today, but I’m sure we’ll have you back if things continue to escalate. Always appreciate your coverage.

JEFF: Thanks, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care

Zimbabwe by-elections

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Zimbabwe will hold by-elections across nine constituencies on Saturday. The votes are to fill seats left empty by the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change party. 

The elections were called after 14 Citizens Coalition for Change party candidates were deregistered in October. Zimbabwean law allows parliamentarians to be removed if they are no longer represented by a political party.

During the campaign, at least one Citizens Coalition for Change party activist has been abducted and killed. The government has also been accused of intimidating opposition candidates.

If the ruling ZANU-PF party wins all these seats, it will have a two-thirds majority in parliament. This threshold is required to change Zimbabwe’s constitution.

Some analysts suspect the government could use this power to remove the presidential two-term limit and allow President Emmerson Mnangagwa to stay in office after 2028. The government denies it plans to do this.

Further by-elections are scheduled for February 2024.

Egypt’s presidential election

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is standing for re-election on a Sunday. It’s a vote he is almost certain to win after eliminating all political opposition.

Sissi’s only legitimate challenger, opposition candidate Ahmed el-Tantawy, dropped out of the race in October after failing to secure enough support. He accused security forces of arresting his supporters and preventing him from holding campaign events.

Of course, the election comes at a time of severe economic crisis for Egyptians, with a debt crisis and inflation at a record high. The situation is likely to get worse after Sissi’s re-election, as he’s expected to impose more austerity measures such as a currency devaluation to access international loans from bodies including the IMF.

The country is also walking a fine line with the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Sissi’s government continues to voice its support for the Palestinian cause, while also maintaining tight control over the Rafah border crossing.

Sissi’s almost-certain victory in Sunday’s vote will keep him in office until 2030.

Polish prime minister faces confidence vote

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki will face a confidence vote in parliament on Monday in hopes to secure enough support to form a government. 

That, after last month’s disputed elections in which the opposition bloc led by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk defeated the ruling far-right PiS party.

Morawiecki is expected to make a speech in parliament, followed by a floor debate, before lawmakers vote to appoint the current prime minister or a new one.

Now, if the vote fails, which some analysts say is likely, the lower house will appoint another candidate. 

Lawmakers will have to submit a list of candidates who need the backing of at least 46 members and then elect a new prime minister. 

A new vote of confidence is likely to take place the following day. 

A possible Tusk-led government is expected to focus on mending relationships with the European Union as several disputes are blocking 36 billion Euros in EU funds. 

Meanwhile, the additional time Morawiecki has had in office since the election has given him an opportunity to secure his position within the PiS party ahead of April’s local elections.

Thailand expected to begin debate on marriage equality bill

Information compiled by Halima Mansoor

JIMMY: Same-sex marriage will be high on the agenda for Thailand’s parliament when it reconvenes on Tuesday.

Back in November, the Thai cabinet approved a draft bill that would swap out the words “men” and “women” in its civil code for “individual” and “spouse”. 

The legislation will now be debated by parliament and must get royal assent before it becomes law.

This is the second time Thailand has attempted to expand the definition of marriage. Parliament debated similar legislation back in 2021 but failed to take it to a final vote.

If this law passes, it will make Thailand the first country in southeast Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

It’s not clear how long it would take to implement, but it could pave the way for more rights for LGBTQ couples including access to adoption and surrogacy.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Ahmed Namatalla, Jess Fino and Halmia Mansoor. Sophie Perryer contributed additional writing. Our interview featured editor Jeff Landset and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: In November, Guyanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugh Todd formally rejected Venezuela’s claim to the Essequibo region during a parliament session. (Photo: Guyana Department of Public Information)

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