The U.S. will conduct joint military flights with Guyana as growing border tensions with Venezuela create the potential for a Venezuelan invasion of the country. Both countries share claims to the Essequibo region, with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognizing the oil-rich region as part of Guyana. Despite the international community's recognition of Essequibo as Guyanese territory, Venezuelans voted to expand Venezuela's borders in a referendum on December 3. The referendum is considered to be illegitimate due to low voter turnout and Venezuela's authoritarian regime preventing true freedom of expression.
The U.S. Southern Command, the Department of Defense's division that handles military operations in Central and South America, announced plans to conduct flights with Guyana's military. Venezuela rejected this decision as violating its internal affairs. Essequibo is an attractive location due to the recent discovery of massive oil reserves by multinational companies such as ExxonMobil.
The U.S. Embassy in Guyana's capital, Georgetown, released this statement about the flights:
"This exercise builds upon routine engagement and operations to enhance [the] security partnership between the United States and Guyana, and to strengthen regional cooperation."
Guyana has a small aviation industry due to its small size and population. The country used to have a flag carrier named Guyana Airways, but it ceased operations in 2001. Cheddi Jagan International Airport (GEO) near Georgetown is the country's largest airport. GEO offers flights to 11 destinations across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Latin America, and the Caribbean. Major carriers serving Guyana include American Airlines, British Airways, and soon United Airlines.
Many of the direct flights are to destinations with large Guyanese communities. The U.S. is home to the largest population outside Guyana, with the largest number of Guyanese Americans living in the New York City metropolitan area. Three airlines offer nonstop flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) alone. At the same time, two carriers serve the Guyanese population in South Florida through direct service to Miami International Airport (MIA).
GEO also offers nonstop flights to London Gatwick Airport (LGW) and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) for the Guyanese communities in the U.K. and Canada, respectively. Guyana's oil reserves continue to attract international businesses, especially considering that United Airlines plans to launch direct flights from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) on April 1, 2024. Houston's role as a global hub of the oil and gas industry is the likely reason for introducing this route since Texas has a relatively small Guyanese community. IAH is known for experimenting with direct flights to oil-producing countries, including the Houston Express charter route that served Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (LAD) in Luanda, Angola, for 17 years.
Guyana is expected to see its aviation industry grow as oil reserves continue to be discovered. In 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that Guyana already has the world's 23rd-highest GDP per capita and second fastest-growing economy. This ranking places Guyana ahead of well-known wealthy countries, including Canada, France, and South Korea. Time will tell whether Guyana can effectively handle its newfound oil wealth since it still has significant poverty levels. Guyana will likely see a major influx of business travel in the coming years, assuming Venezuela does not invade the country.
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